Like many farmers and ranchers in Idaho, Ryan Cranney began feeling the effects of COVID-19’s disruption in the restaurant supply chain in mid-March. What was supposed to be a good year for Cranney Farms’ crops quickly turned into a surplus he couldn’t sell.
That is when he took to Facebook and put out a call for anyone to come get those surplus potatoes — for free. The move resulted in national attention and the arrival of hundreds of people at his farm.
“I knew these potatoes were not going to have a home. So rather than store them, I decided to place them on the ground and give them away,” Cranney said. “We’ve done about 8,000 hundred-pound bags at 10 pounds per person, and that is about enough to feed 70-80,000 different families.”
At first it was a lot of individual people coming, Cranney said, but then word spread with more media coverage, and the farm started to hear from food banks and soup kitchens.
“Everyone that has come has come to get potatoes to give to someone else, and that’s what has made this experience fun for me to see,” Cranney said.
What also surprised him was the distance people were going to get his potatoes. People traveled from Las Vegas, for instance, and most recently, a charity in the Bronx filled a semitrailer.
“I think people have been locked up at home and are tired of watching the news, and they want to get out and do something for other people,” Cranney said. “People are craving that doing good things for other people. … It’s more about that than potatoes or anything else.”
Feeding friends and neighbors during coronavirus
Helping people was certainly on the mind of Enid Rawlings, a Blaine County resident who recently visited Silver Creek Seed farm in Picabo to gather potatoes for her friends.
Rawlings had been sheltered at home with her two children for weeks when one of them saw a Facebook friend post about Silver Creek’s giveaway.
“We decided to go kind of for an adventure, just check it out and see if you drive by and see what it looks like,” Rawlings said. “We basically saw a mountain of potatoes. There were just a handful of people there when we were there, and they (farmers) were saying, ‘Take as many as you can take.’”
Rawlings and her kids loaded up several boxes to put on their porch, and called several friends and neighbors to come by to pick up what they needed.
Mark Johnson has owned Silver Creek Seed since 2006. Just like Cranney, he was expecting a good season for his crops. However, as processors started cutting contracts in the wake of slowing restaurant business — a result of dine-in closures due to the coronavirus pandemic — the demand dropped greatly.
Johnson’s farm manager put a post on Facebook and it “snowballed from there.”
“First, we put out 40,000 pounds (of potatoes), and it was gone in four days,” Johnson said. “It’s just been crazy. I can’t believe how many people have come out. There’s probably been hundreds of cars over the past few weeks.”
Johnson, like Cranney, has even seen people drive a great distance to his farm.
“I had people come here from Colorado yesterday. … I am just glad we can help out,” Johnson said.
Johnson said he has been donating potatoes for about two weeks and is expecting to continue for several more. In order to pick up potatoes, all anyone needs is a container and proper personal protection, according to Johnson.
“It’s really a beautiful thing to open it up to people in the community around the farm who are in need,” Rawlings said. “And it just made us grateful for that potato farmer … not far from our house who we never had any connection to, but now we do.”
©2020 The Idaho Statesman