Potato Day 2023
Moses Lake, Washington— January 30, 2023 — Every year, potato farmers from across the region migrate to Olympia, Washington to share this year’s potato harvest and celebrate Potato Day. On February 21, 2023, the staff from the Washington State Potato Commission (WSPC) will accompany farmers to Olympia to help hand out baked potatoes with all the fixings. Potato Day is a fan favorite and according to Matt Harris, Assistant Executive Director at the Washington State Potato Commission, they expect to serve 1,600 potatoes that day and what they don’t serve at the Capitol Building won’t be wasted but delivered to a local food kitchen. On Potato Day, farmers are happy to share what might be the world’s most loved vegetable along with their personal stories of triumphs and struggles growing, harvesting, and packing potatoes.
This day is not only a day for our Washington potato growers to share the bounty of their crop, but it is an opportunity for them to start a conversation with the legislature on issues confronting them throughout the state. “The most viable voice in Olympia is a farmer,” says Chris Voigt, Executive Director at the Washington State Potato Commission. Matt Harris added, “The personal stories growers share with legislators resonate and are important.” This year, some of the biggest issues facing Washington potato farmers is the ag overtime law and riparian buffers on working lands. Ag overtime was enacted too quickly, and farmers are under hardship managing all new on farm expenses and market disruptions. This has impacted competitiveness growing food for all Washingtons to enjoy.
“What’s impacting growers today is understanding how to manage agricultural overtime when our perishable potato crop must be harvested in late Fall before the first hard frost. Managing riparian habitat on working ag lands adjacent to bodies of water for salmon recovery is also a difficult challenge. We need sensible voluntary stewardship programs,” said Harris. Understanding how ag overtime and riparian buffers will affect Washington farmers is both complex and intertwined.
For Washington farmers, the ag overtime law is problematic because many other states pay a low minimum wage, with no overtime. Workers in Washington enjoy one of the highest minimum wages across the nation at $15.74. Also problematic, adding mandatory buffersaimed at reducing stream temperatures providing habitat for salmon migrating and spawning on land not connected to salmon bearing streams. “We need voluntary conservation principles that benefit both farmers and the environment,” said Harris. “Farmers need more direct technical expertise from local conservation districts.” Finding solutions that balance the needs of individual farms and the environment is a necessity.
Washington potato farmers want to have an open conversation about how these issues will affect farm families. Over the years, the perspectives shared by potato farmers on this day have helped advance the discussion on riparian buffers and needed research infrastructure improvements to Johnson Hall at Washington State University. It has also brought attention to needed soil health initiatives, provided support to rescue the Odessa aquifer, and helped transform the transportation infrastructure over Snoqualmie Pass leading to the ports of Seattle and Tacoma. Historically, Potato Day has contributed in positive ways by allowing growers and legislators to meet face to face and start a conversation on issues to produce positive outcomes for our state, environment, and our farms.
So, on February 21, 2023, Washington potato farmers will again migrate to Olympia Washington to share a baked potato. If you can join, come treat yourself to a baked potato topped with what you love. Voigt’s favorite way to top his potato is with salsa and chili; while Harris likes to top his potato with more traditional toppings: butter, sour cream, green onions, bacon, and a little salt and pepper. Expect a festive atmosphere, a few laughs, and a whole lot of potato talk. In addition to the enjoyment of a baked potato, you’ll depart with an entirely unique perspective on potatoes.