Minnesota Grower Donates 18 Tons of Potatoes for Thanksgiving

Published online: Nov 20, 2018 Articles Heidi Clausen
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Source: The Leader-Telegram 

Between the whims of Mother Nature and below-average commodity prices coupled with ever-rising input costs, there’s plenty to keep central Minnesota potato grower Brett Edling up at night.

“We are constantly faced with many challenges,” he said.

But Edling, who farms with his brothers, Jeff and Mark, and father, Jerome, knows he’s been blessed. Each Thanksgiving, his family shares some of their bounty with those less fortunate.

“At the end of the day, if you can help someone else out, why not?” he said. “I believe it was Jesus Himself who said to help your neighbor and take care of the poor.”

On Nov. 12, about 36,000 pounds of potatoes donated by Edling Farms near Clear Lake, Minn., were trucked to the Union Gospel Mission Twin Cities’ Men’s Campus in downtown St. Paul.

The No. 2 Russet potatoes — those with irregular shapes or sizes or with a cut or blemish on them — were delivered in 17 large totes, each weighing about 2,100 pounds.

At the mission, potatoes were packaged along with all the other fixings needed for a traditional Thanksgiving meal, including a frozen turkey; canned vegetables and cranberries; and stuffing, gravy and dessert mixes, into grocery bags that help feed about 60,000 people on the holiday.

This is believed to be the largest Thanksgiving food effort in Minnesota.

Edling said his family has donated potatoes to the cause for the past seven years. Initial donations were about half the size that they are now.

Along with Union Gospel Mission, they also supply Second Harvest Heartland and several charities in St. Cloud, Minn., where Beumer Properties buys potatoes from the farm at a discount and distributes them. Second Harvest loads are funded by the state’s Farm to Food Shelf program.

“On a typical year, we will send Second Harvest 15 loads and St. Cloud one full load,” Edling said. “Since our season is completed, we can store about 10 semi loads. Of those, five are for the charities … . I have been sending Second Harvest a load a week since the end of August.”

While the donated potatoes may not be perfect enough to fetch top market price, they’re perfectly good to eat.

“These potatoes are usually shipped as bulk to a processor for frozen hash browns, etc.,” Edling said, but the farm, which harvests about 420 acres of fresh-market potatoes annually, puts some of these lower-grade spuds into totes to cover area food shelves.

“We do what we can because you never know. One day, we might need some help,” he said.

Thankful for donation

The Edlings’ generosity doesn’t go unnoticed at Union Gospel Mission.

“It’s a huge, huge help,” said Dan Furry, communications and marketing manager. “We take it for granted.”

He said it takes about 800 volunteers throughout the month leading up to Thanksgiving to sort and pack the meals into about 11,000 grocery bags for distribution.

“It’s really an extended and concentrated effort,” he said.

People in need of the meals register with the mission starting in late-October and can pick up their bags on one of five different days just before the holiday.

“We estimate everything in there is about a $35 value,” Furry said.

He said the need for this free service continues to grow in the Twin Cities, as more people are struggling with homelessness, poverty and addiction.

“We really do see the need growing,” he said.

He said the faith-based Union Gospel Mission provides a “starting point” for people to improve their lives by first satisfying their immediate physical needs, including food and shelter.

“When people are really struggling with hunger or homelessness, they really can’t think what the future might look like for them, if they don’t have their physical needs met,” Furry said.

After that, he said, the mission provides opportunities for people to talk about their situation — how they got where they are and how they can turn their lives around and become contributing members of society.

Life skills and occupational training are offered, as well as mental health treatment. As many as 65 percent of the homeless deal with some degree of mental illness, he said.

“We believe God has a productive plan for everyone,” Furry said. “Our approach is an holistic one. Food and shelter are not really the solution; providing that is only a first step. The ultimate solution is to help them become self-sustaining.”

Furry said the mission has provided Thanksgiving meals every year since 1958, and the effort continues to grow. Along with the bags designated for those who sign up, they serve about 2,000 free hot meals on-site and bring dinners to senior and low-income housing residents.

“We want to make sure we have enough for everyone,” he said. “We want to make sure we don’t run short.”

Rick Berggren, a development associate for the mission, said a Thanksgiving meal often is out of reach for many families as their budgets are simply stretched too thin.

“This helps people who are struggling week to week to make ends meet,” he said.

Farm dates to 1963

Edling said his family’s farm was started in 1963 in the Osseo, Minn., area by Jerome and his brother, John Edling. They moved to Clear Lake in 1969 and grow red, yellow and Russet varieties of potatoes, along with soybeans, corn and seed corn in rotation.

The farm ships about 300 semi loads of potatoes annually, totaling about 12.5 million pounds.

Minnesota’s Sherburne County, with its sandy soils and abundant water supplies, is very conducive to plentiful potato production, according to Edling.

“Everything is irrigated,” he said. “There are 10 fresh-market potato farms like ours in the area and five process farms.”

The potato harvest takes place from late-July through mid-October. All potatoes are washed, graded and sized fresh out of the field, Edling said. They’re packaged in large tote bags for bulk shipment, as well as in 50-pound cartons and bags and 10-, five-, four- and three-pound bags.

Furry said Union Gospel Mission also would like to partner with other area farmers with surplus produce in smaller quantities to share, not just around the holidays but throughout the year. For more information about donating, call Food Services Manager Janice Kanjanavivitch at 651-789-7595 or visit ugmtc.org.