Wood Prairie Farm Seed Piece Newsletter
September 2006

 Special: FREE Rossa di Milano Onions and September is All About Taters
SPECIAL INTRODUCTORY OFFER - This year we are excited to be growing and offering the Rossa di Milano
Onion. It is a delicious and beautiful red onion - a little milder than the Dutch Yellow. We have been enjoying it raw in salads, roasted in wedges drizzled with a little olive oil, and sauteed with my home fries. Limited time offer - FREE 2 pound bag with your order of $55 or more.
Offer expires Friday 9/29/06. Please use coupon code XXXXX.

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Home gardens have been shrouded in row covers, plastic tarps and old sheets these past couple of nights to protect susceptible plants from our northern Maine frost. Most farmers enjoy the first frosts because that means it's potato harvest in Aroostook County. The months of growing and caring for our 16 varieties end with a feeling of celebration and excitement.

Here at Wood Prairie Farm, this celebration involves twenty or so school kids who help get our harvest in during their three week school harvest break. This harvest break tradition has been going on since the end of World War II and local farmers still depend on the school kids to help get the potato crop in. The benefit for the kids is earning money, developing a work ethic and participating in the traditions of a farming community, working together for the good of all.

Since September is all about potatoes here in northern Maine, our 'Conversations With...' interview this month is with Walter De Jong, potato breeder at Cornell University. We've also included a potato pancake and applesauce recipe that was demonstrated by chef and author Nancy Harmon Jenkins at the recent Maine Fare! in Camden, Maine.

The photo at the right is of local hands picking potatoes for you, what Slow Food's Carlo Petrini calls our co-producers. - Jim and Megan


  Onaway is the Only Way
This potato month we are highlighting a variety most people probably are not familiar with. Onanway is an old-time round white variety. Northern Mainers love the round whites to this day and Onaway has made a mark for itself among other varieties with its tender skin and moist flesh. It's a variety that is also highlighted in September's Potato Sampler of the Month. Click on the link below to find out more about this variety or to order a Potato Sampler.


  Q&A - Wire Worms
Q: I started a new garden this year where grass was planted previously. When I dug my potatoes yesterday I found a lot of them had holes in them from a one inch worm. What can I do to prevent this damage next year? Thanks. - MC, Internet

A: Sounds like wire worm (Coleoptera family). Wireworms are the larval stage of the Click beetle and they can build up big numbers in grass sod. You can experience damage when that sod is turned under and immediately planted to vegetables like potatoes, carrots, beets onions. Wireworms will bore clean symmetrical holes into the tuber about one-sixteenth inch in diameter by three-quarters inch long. The ideal situation is to plant a green manure cover crop or a non-host crop like squash for a year before potatoes. This will decimate the wireworm population and make for good clean ground to plant potatoes in. I expect the wire worms will not be nearly as plentiful next year, so you’re headed in the right direction. - Jim


  The Potato Bin
Vermont Secretary of Agriculture Steve Kerr will allow the state's current animal identification proposal to die because of concerns with confidentiality in a related national database and the inclusion of small, non-commercial farms. The federal proposal for a National Animal Identification System (NAIS) and its premises registration has prompted other states such as Wisconsin and Massachusetts to raise confidentiality concerns. To read more of the controversial and political NAIS proposal, go to the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners website at https://mofga.org or the National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service at https://attra.org/attra-pub/nais.html

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"Hunger and knowledge." So writes esteemed farmer, essayist and poet in the September 11th issue of The Nation. Various activists in the sustainable ag world were asked by chef Alice Waters to name one thing that could be done to fix the food system in America. Read more of what Wendell Berry has to say along with Dr. Vandana Shiva, Eric Schlosser, Maine's Eliot Coleman and others. Go to https://www.thenation.com/doc/20060911/forum

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The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration have announced that Bayer CropScience has detected trace amounts of regulated genetically engineered (GE) rice in long grain rice samples. This is yet another example where the biotech industry displays a repetitive inability to keep our food supply free of its gene-spliced contaminants. This is the third line of GE 'Liberty Link' rice that Bayer CropScience has developed and is the only one that is not yet de-regulated. None of the GE rice have yet been commercialized. Although Bayer has indicated that it had no plans to market the regulated strain known as LLRICE 601, based on the contamination reports Bayer has now petitioned for the deregulation process to begin. The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) will conduct that process and has provided an opportunity for public comment. Comments must be received on or before Oct. 10. Comments may be submitted via the internet at https://www.regulations.gov/ or through the mail by sending an original and three copies of comments to Docket No. APHIS-2006-0140, Regulatory Analysis and Development, PPD, APHIS, Station 3A-03.8, 4700 River Road, Unit 118, Riverdale, Md. 20737-1238.

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The Sustainable Agriculture Coalition has provided the following Congressional update on funding for several key sustainable agriculture programs. Full Senate action and conference resolution of differences is expected in early September. If you would like an update on timing or a report on other sustainable agriculture and conservation programs not listed here, please call (202) 547-5754 or (608) 238-1440.

Sustainable Agriculture Program:
President’s '07 Proposed - $9.1
House Bill - $12.1
Senate Committee - $12.3
President’s '07 Proposed - $3.8
House Bill - $4.0
Senate Committee - $4.0
President’s '07 Proposed - $0.0
House Bill - $3.0
Senate Committee - $2.5
President’s '07 Proposed - $0.0
House Bill - $39.6
Senate Committee - $39.6
President’s '07 Proposed - $20.3
House Bill - $28.0
Senate Committee - $48.0
President’s '07 Proposed - $10.2
House Bill - $23.0
Senate Committee - $25.0
President’s '07 Proposed - $6.9
House Bill - $7.0
Senate Committee - $5.9
Source: National Sustainable Agricultural Information Service (ATTRA) https://www.attra.ncat.org/newsletter/

        The Potato Bin

  Recipe: Potato Pancakes with Applesauce
Chef and cookbook author Nancy Harmon Jenkins cooked these Maine potato pancakes up during Wood Prairie Farm's Maine potato demonstration at the recent Maine Fare! celebration in Camden. A nice fall dish - especially when topped with homemade applesauce.

1 large yellow onion
1 T freshly squeezed lemon juice
4 eggs, beaten
2 pounds potatoes, peeled (Nancy used Caribe)
salt and freshly ground pepper
1/8 tsp baking powder
oil for frying

Using the large holes of a grater, grate the onion into a bowl. Add the lemon juice and eggs and mix well. Using the same grater, grate the potatoes into the bowl. After each potato is grated, stir to mix well. The lemon juice should keep the potatoes from darkening. When the potatoes are grated, add salt and pepper to taste. Add the baking powder just before frying.

Add oil liberally to a heavy skillet (olive oil is best for this). Heat the oil over medium high until it is just below the smoking stage. Use a large soup spoon to drop the potato mixture into the hot oil, about 1/4 c at a time. Flatten the cakes gently with the back of the spoon. Fry on one side until brown and crisp, then turn and fry on the other side. Remove from the pan and drain on paper towels. Add a dollop of applesauce and serve.
Serves 6-8


  Conversations With...Dr. Walter De Jong
Dr. Walter De Jong was the Potato Molecular Geneticist from 1996-2000 with the Scottish Crop Research Institute in Dundee, Scotland and currently works as Assistant Professor in the Department of Plant Breeding and Genetics at Cornell University in New York.

Wood Prairie Farm: Like Maine, New York has a long history of potato growing. What is the primary goal within Cornell University's potato breeding program? Of the varieties released into production, what is your personal favorite and why?

Walter De Jong: Long history is right – did you know that NY grew more acres of potatoes in 1900 than Idaho does today?

Although its not obvious to most out-of-state growers, our primary goal is to develop varieties with resistance to the golden cyst nematode (GN), a quarantine pest found in a few counties in Upstate NY and Long Island, and nowhere else in the US. For the past few decades growers in NY with GN infested land have been required to grow resistant varieties – and the subsequent spread of the pest has been negligible. Aside from GN, our primary focus is on developing potatoes for the regional chipping industry; there are many independent potato chip factories close by in Pennsylvania. My favorite variety is Andover, a round-white variety released by my predecessor in 1995. Although Andover was originally bred for chipping, it happens to have very good taste.

WPF: Last year, Wood Prairie Farm conducted an interview with Dr. Stephen Jones, wheat breeder at WSU who decried the trend of public research departments being funded, and therefore influenced, by private biotech companies. What are your thoughts?

WDJ: The influx of private biotech dollars is a symptom of a larger problem, namely a reduction in public funding for virtually all applied agricultural research. In order to survive, land-grant universities have been forced to chase research dollars wherever they can be found. In many institutions, including my own, this has led to a large-scale shift towards conducting basic/fundamental research, where federal research dollars (and some private biotech dollars) are more plentiful. A widespread assumption is that the private sector will move in to translate the results of basic research into meaningful improvements/products for agricultural producers and consumer – but this is often not the case, especially when it pertains to minor crops (those other than cereals or maize), where financial incentives are not sufficiently high for private investment. While we need the public sector to conduct both basic and applied research, in my view the balance is currently tipped too heavily in favor of the former, and we’re misallocating resources to develop knowledge that can't be put to good use.

WPF: What is the Public Seed Initiative and how is Cornell's breeding program involved?

WDJ: The Public Seed Initiative is a joint effort between the Cornell departments of Plant Breeding and Horticulture, the Northeast Organic Farming Association of NY, and the USDA to test and develop new crop varieties adapted to organic/alternative farms in the Northeast. To ensure that the varieties are available once developed, we host workshops to teach regional growers how to produce/save their own seed, and also work closely with regional seed companies. A basic principle of plant breeding is to evaluate under the environment where you intend to grow the crop; accordingly, for the past few years, several of my colleagues and I have been testing existing and candidate varieties on organic operations.

WPF: You were part of a research team that went to Russia in 2002 with a new disease-resistant potato developed by Cornell called New York 121. In a country where 7.3 million acres of potatoes are grown in home gardens, what did your group learn in dealing with the dacha-style potato production?

WDJ: Russian dacha owners and peasants, many of whom grow potatoes in their home gardens for subsistence, are in serious need of varieties with resistance to the Colorado Potato Beetle. I saw a lot of completely defoliated vines on our trip. In addition, the potato seed infrastructure collapsed along with communism, so that many small-scale growers are forced to replant virus-infected tubers, which substantially reduces yield. There are not any easy solutions to these problems, but as Russians have endured so much suffering over the past century, I'm certain they will find inexpensive and creative solutions that allow them to keep growing potatoes.

WPF: What work inspires you and what does the future hold for potato breeding?

WDJ: I'm especially inspired by the amazing progress in DNA sequencing technology, and the opportunities a complete genome sequence provides for improved efficiency in breeding. An international consortium recently began to sequence potato, and plan to complete it by the end of 2010. Plant breeding is essentially the art of shuffling natural variants of genes – once we know what all the genes are, we should be able to shuffle them much more efficiently than we do now.

WPF: Your father, Hielke (Henry), is a renowned Canadian potato breeder. How did you end up where you are? What do your kids think about this family business?

WDJ: My path to becoming a potato breeder was rather circuitous. Until I was 25 I wanted to become a plant virologist, and had no interest in potatoes whatsoever. Then, near the end of my graduate studies, I happened to grow six varieties of potatoes in my garden, and had so much fun that I elected to change careers and become a potato specialist. I began the transition by working as a molecular geneticist in the UK, and six years later, moved on to become an applied potato breeder at Cornell. Ever since changing fields I've had countless potato conversations with my dad, and have come to have a deep appreciation for the work he conducted over his career. Indeed, much of my lab research has built upon his earlier studies. A few years back we published a joint paper about a gene that is needed for red tuber skin, and since my wife also participated, the first three authors were "De Jong, De Jong, and De Jong"; this caused quite a bit of amusement in potato circles. As for my kids - once, when my oldest daughter was just eight, she proudly announced at dinner that she had been pollinating squash in the garden. My eyes opened wide – she was too young to know that making crosses is the first step in plant breeding - could we have yet another breeder in the family? I don't know, but there is always a chance…stay tuned!

“Going out to camp” in Maine does not mean “going camping.” Camping involves a campground and a tent and it is popular in Maine. However, a “camp” in Maine is what would be called anywhere else a “cabin.”

Traditionally very austere and rustic in nature, isolated and without electricity or running water, a Maine camp has been an egalitarian getaway to the woods. Mainers of all income levels would have a camp in the woods to enjoy camplife, fishing, hunting and boating. Often these camps were handed down from generation to generation. During the week Mainers lived and worked “in town” and every weekend headed out to camp after work on Friday or Saturday. They would drive out the “tote (rough) road” to get there. And of course, the Saturday night meal would be baked beans.

Maine camps are in the inland woods and mountains or northern and western Maine. If you were on the Coast of Maine there wouldn’t be a camp in sight because the same thing there would be called a “cottage.’

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(c) Jim and Megan Gerritsen, Wood Prairie Farm, 49 Kinney Road, Bridgewater, Maine 04735

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