Columbia Basin Grower Gives away Potatoes

Published online: May 12, 2020 Articles
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Source: Columbia Basin Herald

Frank Martinez has around 7,000 tons of potatoes to get rid of.

So he’s giving them away. One bag, or bucket, or truckload at a time.

“We’re just trying to survive,” said Martinez, 69, who has been growing potatoes since he was 12 and has run his own farm in the Warden area for nearly 40 years.

Martinez said with the closure of restaurants across the world in reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic, big potato processors like McCain Foods and Lamb Weston have very nearly shut down, leaving a lot of potatoes sitting in storage sheds like his.

“I’m looking at the future, and if these potatoes are going to waste, I might as well give away as many as I can,” he said. “So that’s what’s going on.”

Since he announced on Tuesday that he was giving away potatoes, Martinez said that around 100 people — many from food banks on the west side of the state — have come to his giant potato storage shed on the north side of Warden to get what they can.

Martinez said some have come with bags and buckets and boxes, while a few have come to get their empty pickup trucks filled with potatoes.

“I just fill the back side,” he said. “I’ve had about 10 or 12 of those.”

One worker at a Yakima medical clinic came up to get a half-ton of potatoes to share with everyone at the clinic, he said.

Martinez’s son Juan added they’ve had people from as far away as Idaho and Montana come and get potatoes.

“They’re just bored,” he said.

Mid-Friday morning at Frank Martinez’s giant storage shed on the corner of Road U and Basin Street in Warden finds him loading roughly 30 tons of potatoes into a truck, bound for use as fodder at a local dairy. The giveaways are making a tiny dent in the state’s huge, 200,000-ton potato stockpile.

But allowing restaurants to open, even in just rural parts of the country, would be a big help, Martinez said.

“I wish the governor would stop treating us like the West Side,” he said. “We’re open country.”

A second Martinez storage facility lies empty, he said, thanks to an earlier major sale to Canadian potato processors.

“Early on they had a shortage of potatoes because of the frost,” Martinez said. “Now they have plenty.”

But Martinez added he will still need the storage space this summer.

“There’s a new crop coming in July,” he said.