By: Lauren Mangion
CLICK HERE FOR VIDEO: Meet the Locals – Poplar Bluff Organics
Potatoes are the most consumed vegetable in North America, mostly because of our unfaltering adoration of the french fry. But what most people don’t realize is that the potato world reaches far beyond the Russet Burbank variety we are most familiar with. If anyone has watched or read, “The Botany of Desire”, you will recall the strange, alien looking tubers grown in the Andes, for instance. Closer to home, in Strathmore, Alberta, there is a potato farm trying to stretch people’s potato horizons- Poplar Bluff Organics.
Poplar Bluff has been in operation since 1985, under the competent eye of enthusiastic farmer/owner Rosemary Wotske. Rosemary had wanted to be a farmer since the age of twelve when she visited a family farm and was so enamored she had to be physically placed in the car to go home. Her undergraduate studies in physiology and biochemistry and a Masters in genetics adds to her knowledge and willingness to experiment with lesser known potato varieties. At one time she was growing up to 30 different potato types. We learned from Rosemary that where she is located near Strathmore is called the “Palliser Triangle”, with a high cold desert climate. It is challenging to produce high yields, but does contribute to sweeter, better tasting root vegetables with a higher mineral content.
Though the farm has followed organic practices since its inception in 1985, Rosemary was one of the pioneers of the organic certification in 1998. At this time she noticed growing support for organic methods and she didn’t feel like such a “lone voice in the wilderness”. She’s had great success with growing organically, and it allows her to exercise her science background and knowledge of nature’s systems. She’s even found that she’s been able to influence some of her neighboring farms. 2 years ago, after a hailstorm decimated many crops and left many farms in a state of turmoil, Rosemary hired a crop plane to fertilize the soil with sugar and fish fertilizer. She was able to save a large number of her crop, which was enough evidence for several of her neighbors to employ the same technique. Rosemary is a great believer in leading by example, and not preaching. She feels a lot of hope in the fact that in her farming community, farmers are starting to be financially viable once again by moving into the organics industry.
After all these years, Rosemary still gets a thrill at harvest time when the potatoes emerge from the soil. I’m quite certain that the immense flavor and freshness will give those of you new to Poplar Bluff a thrill as well. Look for them in the grocery section of Community Natural Foods, sporting CNF’s new red “local” tags to help you to more easily identify the many local producers we carry and support!