Potatoes for the People in Basalt | AspenTimes.com

Potatoes for the People in Basalt

Courtesy Beth PhillipsBen Hill and Ella Gruel plant potatoes as part of an effort by their congregation at St. Peter's of the Valley Episcopal Church in Basalt. The church expects to reap 500 pounds of spuds, which they will share with Roaring Fork Valley families in need.

BASALT ” When the Basalt Episcopal Church decided to help feed families in need, members of the congregation decided against simply handing over a check or dry goods to a food bank. They wanted to grow what they give.

So members of St. Peter’s of the Valley plowed up the back yard of their church in Elk Run this spring, and on Sunday they planted 50 pounds of the Red McClure potato, a variety that nearly disappeared decades after being developed in the Carbondale area early in the 20th century.

Rev. Margaret Austin said the parish wanted to provide something that every family can use.

“What’s more basic and a staple than potatoes?” she asked.

Parish members Lynne Mace and Sissy Sutro, who share a love of gardening, coordinated the program. Sutro organized a community garden in the back yard of St. Peter’s last year and wanted to revive the effort this year. Mace, who recently joined the congregation, raised the prospect of using the plots to grow food for Roaring Fork families in need. Sutro and Austin loved the concept, and “Potatoes for the People” ” as Mace dubbed it ” was born.

Mace consulted her friends and master gardeners Gayle Shugars and Rose LeVan for advice. “The potato concept was fresh on my mind,” Shugars said. She was aware that the Roaring Fork chapter of the Slow Food movement was attempting to bring the Red McClure back into circulation after the potato was rediscovered in the San Luis Valley. She got Mace fired up for the Red McClure.

David Frey reported in the Aspen Daily News in March that Thomas McClure grew potatoes in the Catherine area and developed his namesake variety in 1910. The Red McClure was popular until the 1940s, then almost disappeared. The Slow Food movement, which promotes, among other things, growing crops, tracked down the obscure spud in the San Luis Valley and is reviving it in the Roaring Fork Valley.

Mace said it’s perfect that St. Peter’s will be growing Red McClures this summer because it is the 100th anniversary of Carbondale’s Potato Days festival, and the 99th anniversary of the Red McClure.

Shugars said potatoes fit the bill for St. Peter’s initiative because they are easy to grow ” they are planted in the spring, harvested in the fall and need little attention in between. Some parish members will weed the potato patch occasionally through the summer. The town of Basalt provided a grant to provide the water needed for the potatoes.

Children in the parish were the primary planters Sunday. Anything smaller than a hen’s egg was plopped whole into the ground; anything larger was cut into pieces that included at least two eyes.

The 500-square-foot potato patch is expected to produce about 500 pounds of spuds, Shugars said. Mace said the harvest will be shared by parishioners with Lift-Up, which operates food banks in Garfield County, and other charitable organizations. The bounty of the crop will come in late September or early October.

“We want to do what we can to help people,” Austin said. “Now the needs are so much more visible. People are really thinking about other families and how bad the needs are going to be before it’s all over.”


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