It might seem like a strange time to be thinking about potatoes, but here at the Cupp Farm, we spend a lot of our time thinking about them! We plant more potatoes than any other vegetable. While we do not have a commercial operation, we do plant a good many potatoes for a small, family farm! Farmer Mike carefully prepares the soil even before it is officially spring. Then, if the weather cooperates, we try to have the potatoes planted in the ground by St Patrick’s Day in March.
First we have to cut up all the seed potatoes. That takes a lot of time because we do each one by hand. Our hands get very stained and dirty and stiff from holding the knife.
Then, we have an antique planter that we use to put the potatoes into the ground. It’s a lot of fun to do that part! Someone gets to drive the tractor and two people get to ride on the back to make sure that the seed potatoes are being distributed correctly as the machine goes round and round and drops them into the ground.
The machine covers them up and then Farmer Mike goes back and “hills” them by piling more dirt on top of them. Then, the potatoes are left to grow all summer. (In warmer climates, farmers can plant potatoes twice a year with an early and a late crop. Here we only plant once.) In the fall, the hard work begins. This is the part that isn’t very fun. Farmer Mike has a potato digger that digs the potatoes up and out of the ground, takes them down a long conveyor belt while shaking some of the dirt off of them, and then drops them gently back on the ground. Then, someone has to go along behind the tractor and bend over in the dirt and pick up every single potato by hand and place them in bushel bags. At first it’s easy, but as the bag gets heavier and heavier as you move down the row, it gets more and more difficult to pull it along. Once the bag is filled and weighs about 60-70 pounds, they are tied and left standing like soldiers guarding the empty rows. Then, Farmer Mike drives a truck down beside the row and places each bag of potatoes carefully on the truck. Once they are taken back to the storage unit, they are stacked in a cool, dark place where they will keep most of the winter. Those potatoes not only feed our family, but many of our friends, neighbors, and people in the community buy our potatoes. We even have families that drive from other states to get our potatoes most every fall. We usually grow Kennebec, Russet, a variety of red potatoes, Yukon Gold and often sweet potatoes as well.
There is a great book called Stone Fox written by John Reynolds Gardiner. The book tells the story of a boy named Willy and his grandfather. The grandfather, who was ill, was desperate to find the money to pay the taxes on his potato farm or he would lose the farm. In order to help his grandfather, Willy entered a sled dog race in which he had to face Stone Fox, a Native American man, who never lost a race.
The book sold over 3 million copies and was named New York Times most notable book of the year for 1980. It is a great book for 9-10 year olds or even older children.
Resources and Activities:
The Potato Story is an interactive site for teachers and students.
Lesson Plans for using Stone Fox in the classroom.
Additional Lesson Plans for using Stone Fox in the classroom.