Wood Prairie Farm

 Wood Prairie Farm Seed Piece Newsletter              In This Issue of The Seed Piece:    
   Organic News and Commentary
                           Maine Tales: National Geographic & Aroostook.
           Friday, February 11, 2011                                         Recipe: Roasted Garlic & Potato Soup.

Close to mother earth. Baby Caleb rides with mom, Megan Gerritsen, digging Rose Gold potatoes on Wood Prairie Farm near Bridgewater, Maine. Leland Daugherty, an intern sponsored by an organic growers association, helps out. Megan and husband Jim sell 17 potato varieties, harvesting by hand to avoid bruising. Certified organic by two trade groups, the farm grows potatoes, grains, and clover in rotation. Soil fertility is sustained with barnyard manure, fish scales, sawdust, and plant residue, known as green manure. - Caption and photo from National Geographic, December 1995.

Maine Tales.            National Geographic & Aroostook. Bridgewater, Maine.                  Circa 1994.

     Some harvests are more memorable than others.  Take 1994 for instance.  We didn’t know it at the time but that Fall marked the end of the Late Blight epidemic that rattled Maine and the Northeast for three wet years beginning with the crop of 1992 when the miserable A2 strain first made it’s way north from Mexico.  Well, next year beginning in late Winter, 1995 turned out to be hot and dry (one of the three driest years last century) and inhospitable to blight. The blight died out that year and Maine was free of blight pressure for another five or six years and times were good.

    Megan had just had our second boy, Caleb, born after potato planting and during haying at the end of June. Sometime during that wet summer we got a call from the National Geographic.  They were doing a big story on sustainable agriculture and they wanted to send up a photographer up during 'digging', as harvest is known here in northern Maine.  We said send away.

Camera Content

     Back then we dug with a tractor-pulled John Deere 30 two-row potato digger.  With a small crew we gathered up into buckets the potatoes gently laid on top of the soil by the digger. Then buckets of potatoes were poured into 12 peck cedar potato barrels.  Then barrels were hoisted (‘histed’) with a hydraulic grapple onto a potato trailer. Then barrels were hauled into the potato house.  Then barrels were rolled inside and barrel-fulls of potatoes were dumped through strategic holes in the floor through canvas chutes down into ten foot deep wood-walled bins in the underground cellar below.

     The photographer, Jim Richardson from the Front Range in Colorado, was a very affable fellow.  One of the benefits of ‘diggin’ by hand’ is the quiet and steady work allows for good and very long conversations. Jim regaled us with a year’s worth of tales of traipsing back and forth across rural America photographing farmers as they worked. In the three days he spent with us he took 800 photographs.  After Wood Prairie Farm his final stop was at Joel Salatin’s place in Virgina.  Then Jim was to get marching orders from his boss at NG headquarters in Washington DC before heading home to sort a year’s worth of photographs.

American Agriculture

     One comment that Jim mentioned to me provided confidence that Megan would get in the magazine. He said that in shooting a story, if you didn’t go out of your way and make sure to include women that an article about American agriculture would end up having all shots of men. As active as Megan is, doing everything from driving tractors and trucks to running barrel hoist to picking taters, from then on I knew she’d make the cut. She and three-month-old Caleb appeared as a two page spread in the December 1995 issue.

     Back then they printed an amazing nine million copies of National Geographic each month which would equate with about one out of every 12 or 15 American homes. Well, this photo elevated our status in hometown Bridgewater like nothing else before or since.

Steady Employment

     For months after, we did get notes and calls from friends and farmers all over the country. The common refrain was ‘Boy, didn’t know your soil was so rocky.’ Now it’s true: the glaciers came through northern Maine and left us all with wonderful soil and a mess of rocks. Fact is, we have been picking rocks here steady for 35 years.  And others before us picked for another sixty years going back to when our fields were first cleared of trees in order to grow potatoes around World War I. And those pretty Rose Gold potatoes happen to be setting on one of our ‘cleanest’ (cleaned of rocks) fields.  So while it wasn’t done on purpose, those comments did kinda hurt our feelings. Not that you’d know that. Being as how it pains us powerful to let our feelings show. Afterall, that’s not the way we do things in Aroostook.  Jim

Fall 2010. Caleb's 17th potato harvest on Wood Prairie Farm.
Recipe: Roasted Garlic & Potato Soup.

1 large garlic head, unpeeled

6 T extra-virgin olive oil

2 bay leaves

1/4 loaf day-old baguette, cubed

3/4 tsp salt, plus more to taste

1 medium red onion, chopped

1 small carrot, chopped

1 1/2 pounds Carola potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2" cubes

1/2 fresh ground pepper

3 c chicken or vegetable broth

4 ounces Fontina cheese, cut into 1/4" cubes

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Slice off top quarter of garlic head. Place on aluminum foil, cut-side up, and drizzle with 1 T olive oil. Add 1 bay leaf. Fold foil over garlic. Roast in a baking dish until garlic cloves are soft and golden brown, about 45 minutes.

Meanwhile, on a rimmed baking sheet, toss together bread, 2 T olive oil and salt to taste. Bake, stirring once or twice, until golden brown, about 15 minutes. Set aside.

In a heavy-duty pot over medium-high heat, heat remaining 3 T olive oil. Add onion, carrot, and potatoes and cook, stirring occasionally, until onion and carrot have softened, 8 to 10 minutes. Mix in 3/4 tsp salt and 1/2 pepper and add remaining bay leaf. Add broth and 2 c water to vegetables, increase heat to high, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and allow soup to simmer until potatoes are very tender, about 30 minutes. Remove bay leaf. Squeeze garlic head, from bottom up, to push out each clove into soup; stir. Simmer soup for 5 more minutes.

Puree soup in blender. Whisk Fontina into soup over low heat until cheese melts and is fully incorporated. Sprinkle soup with croutons and serve hot.

Serves 6

Source: Country Living magazine, February 2011

Really good flavor with a velvety texture. Megan.

            Good Potato Soup. This will warm the nation.
            Photo by Angela Wotton


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Click here for Wood Prairie Farm Organic Vegetables

 Our Mailbox: CPB Strategy & Happy Harvest.

Q.     Greetings. I grow in western Massachusetts, and have been told that there is a way to time one's potato planting to avoid quite a few of the pest pressures by planting very late in the season...like July-ish...such that by just about the time the ground begins to freeze in the fall, you harvest and store. Do you have experience with this, and if so, what would be the last date you would ship seed potatoes? Any varietal reccomendations for this strategy that store well?

Thanks for your time,
Wendell MA

.     I am familiar with this technique of delaying planting, a practice targeted at reducing damage from Colorado Potato Beetle. The theory is that by planting late you deny CPB a food source as they emerge in the Spring from their winter rest and through starvation you get a reduction in CPB population. I know some experienced organic farmers that adhere to this practice and it seems to work for them.
     We are in the North and our growing season is short, Delaying planting for us is not practical or advisable. Here in northern Maine, every so often in a wet Fall and an early Winter potatoes do end up getting unharvested due to early ground freeze up.
     Additionally as seed potato growers, we are more concerned about getting mid-late season aphid flight (aphids arriving from the south; aphids spread/vector potato virus) before our tubers size up. So in our own case we are anxious to plant early (soil temp of 50ºF at 3" depth at 7am), kills tops early, and harvest early.
     We ship out our last organic seed potatoes in June. By definition the most dormant varieties will resist sprouting the longest. So these varieties keep the very best and sprouting is delayed the longest in the spring. From the potato varieties that we grow, the varieties with the longest dormancy are Swedish Peanut fingerling and Red Cloud, followed by Yukon Gold and Prairie Blush. Good luck. Jim.

Q.     I can't tell you guys how impressed I am with your product. Last year I bought 2 1/2 lbs of your Reddale which planted an 18' row. We harvested 73 lbs of wonderful potatoes!
Sugar Land TX

A.      Glad our seed is doing well for you. Any way you look at it - 4lbs per row foot or 29x increase over seed planted - that's a great yield and you're doing wonderful.
     Some years ago we had a Washington customer on a larger scale with similar results. This farmer planted 750 lbs of our organic Rose Gold seed and harvested 24,000 lbs. That's a 32x increase.
     These examples are proof of the fact that if you start with good seed and do a good job the sky's the limit. Jim.

FREE Cover Crop Manual.

     Keeping your soil healthy is top priority.  Cover crops are an indispensible tool to help you manage that effort.  This Cover Crop Manual is a valuable addition to your farm library.  Excellent color photos and an easy-to-read bullet format make learning about cover crops easy.  Click here for the link. 


Click here for the Wood Prairie Organic Cover Crop seed offerings.


Stopping GMO Bullying.

     We’ve all been very disappointed of late with seriously bad decisions about gene-spliced crops (GMOs) coming out from the USDA.  The following link has information exposed by Wikileaks that will shed some light on how the US government has been led horribly astray by biotech. Click here for details.

     Our friends at National Organic Coalition have done a good job distilling and articulating the GMO problem and the solutions necessary to keep our organic food supply from being ruined by GMO contamination.  Please take a few minutes to read this important two page piece that maps out what needs to be done. 
   We can succeed.  But we have to be educated and united in order to save organic. Click here for details.

Click here for the Wood Prairie Blog to learn more about the GMO issue.

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Jim & Megan Gerritsen
Wood Prairie Farm
49 Kinney Road
Bridgewater, Maine 04735
(800)829-9765 Certified Organic, Direct from the Farm