P.E.I. Growers Open Cellars to Neighbors

Published online: Mar 03, 2022 Articles Melissa Heald
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Source: West Prince Graphic

A potato warehouse in Bloomfield, Prince Edward Island, was a busy spot on Saturday morning.

With potatoes piled up to the ceiling, the warehouse, owned by WP Griffin, was one of five locations on P.E.I. taking part in an event on Feb. 26 dubbed ‘Come Fill Your Boots’, where potato growers were opening up their storages to the local community as a way to thank Islanders for their support during the potato wart crisis.

“No matter how many people show up, I really don’t think there will be a visible difference on the pile because of the shear amount of the product,” said Colton Griffin, co-owner of the Elmsdale company.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) closed the U.S. border to Island potato exports back in November following the discovery of potato wart in two Island fields. In February, the USDA allowed shipments of Prince Edward Island potatoes to Puerto Rico, but the U.S. mainland border continues to be closed to Island potato exports.

People on Saturday arrived with bags, boxes and bins to fill up on table stock potatoes otherwise destined for destruction.

“We thought this was a great idea,” said Griffin. “Lots of people don’t understand the actual volume that we have to destroy.”

Griffin said this particular warehouse, located on O’Halloran Road, stores around four and half million pounds of potatoes.

“We’ve destroyed about the equivalent of three of these piles already,” he said, adding later that’s around 15 million pounds. “We still have to do more.”

Tina Blanchard was there with her two sons. Blanchard has worked for WP Griffin for 16 years.

“What we have gone through I have never experienced,” she said. “It’s really a crushing feeling when you have all of this work and markets are gone with a pen stroke.”

Blanchard said the support from Islanders though has been wonderful.

“A lot of people were saying how come we can’t give them away, but we are giving them away,” she said. “We’ve given to the food banks, that’s something we do every year, but there’s so much. Having people come out and actually see what a pile looks like, and see the magnitude of one pile of potatoes, and we’re talking 300 million being destroyed across the Island, and this is just a small percentage, it’s an eye opener for everybody.”

Miranda Perry was also there with her husband Josh and son Weston.

They were picking up potatoes for themselves and were planning to take some to their family in Nova Scotia.

“It’s just too bad this is what it is,” said Perry. “I’m hoping next season will be better for the farmers.”

Griffin said his company ships very few of their potatoes to Puerto Rico and while some of the pile in the Bloomfield warehouse will be saved for their Maritime markets this summer, they are hoping before they have to finish destroying potatoes the US border will reopen.

Despite this, Griffin said the turnout on Saturday was awesome.

“It’s a much better feel than putting them through a snowblower,” he said.