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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Taters for the taking: Droves flock to the mound of free potatoes ditched by the Hutterites

A mound of potatoes unloaded from 10 semitrucks by the Hutterite community just west of Airway Heights on Friday has sparked a free-food frenzy, with droves of people bringing trailers and buckets to get their free taters.

Located west of West Sprague Road and North Wood Road near Deep Creek, the potato pile drew hundreds of people throughout the weekend and more showed up Monday afternoon. Some brought trailers and filled them to the brim with spuds. Others climbed the mound with bags and cardboard boxes. Kids covered in dirt ran around with buckets and giggled to their parents.

“It’s like an Easter-egg hunt!” one mother told her son.

Another man yelled to the onlookers, “Have you ever seen this many taters in your life?”

Nearly all those at the potato pile had seen a viral Facebook post made by Denise Bennett, who lives just up the road, telling people to “come get them.” As of Monday, her post had been shared about 1,400 times .

Bennett is a neighbor with those from the Hutterite community, she said. The group practices communal living and does not use social media, but reached out to her to spread the word about the free potatoes and were able to “bless the Spokane community.”

Ed Gross, a livestock manager and Hutterite member, said more than 900 people came throughout the weekend to get their share, making the road “look like a little freeway” – a totally unexpected result of the oversupplied potato industry. They would have stored them, but “you can’t keep them in storage forever,” he said. None of the food processors could take extra, either.

Potato buyers had cut contracts with seed growers this year, Bennett said, which meant they could only sell 60% of their entire crop and have to count the rest as a loss. The Hutterites could have thrown them away, buried them or fed them to cows, but she said it was done “out of the kindness of their hearts.”

“All of Spokane feels that pinch of groceries. So (they) told us to come out. And it’s just been absolutely insane,” Bennett said as she pointed to the people on the potato mound, grabbing as many as they could carry.

Kelly Page was one of the several people taking as many potatoes as he could on Monday afternoon. He backed his pickup in near the pile, took out a shovel, and began scooping potatoes into the back of his truck.

“I saw the post on Facebook,” Page said. “My uncle got a hold of me, too. And he asked, ‘Hey, what are you doing tomorrow?’ And I said, ‘Well, if you’re getting a hold of me, that means I’m getting potatoes.’ ”

Page’s family owns a hog farm near Seven Mile, he said. The farm, where they also butcher their own animals, supplies his family, his uncle’s family, his niece’s family and his cousin’s family with food.

He has six pigs right now, he said, and a truckload full will likely feed them for a week.

“We do farm fresh food. We don’t like to pay the price for store-bought,” Page said. “And, it just tastes better when you do it yourself.”

What’s even better, Bennett said, is there are more trucks coming with even more potatoes. Russet potatoes dominated the mound, but some people were scrounging for the Yukon Gold potatoes.

“You’ll be amazed because there are no eyes. There’s no blight. There’s no sprouting, and there’s no green skin,” Bennett said. “They’re absolutely gorgeous, table ready, seed potatoes.”

If those who take the potatoes start planting them, they will have fresh potatoes by June or July because it’s a fast-growing variety, Gross said Monday. And it’s the gift that keeps on giving – people are already giving the extra potatoes to friends and family and passing them around within their own communities.

“We are happy we can help the people out,” Gross said. “It’s a good thing any time you can do that. It’s a blessing.”