The Big Potato Dump of 2010

Just in time for the first big snow dump in Pemberton, comes the tale of The Big Potato Dump of 2010, in this week’s the QuestionPemberton organic farmer Anna Helmer writes about what makes her home-town someplace special… It’s not just potatoes.

“The other day, while biking up to the farm for work, I was passed by a potato transport truck. It slowed down as it came up behind be on the curvy road. It was a stormy sort of day, and the driver must have realized that I was going to take a buffeting of road moisture when he passed, so he swung nice and wide around me…

It was a John Vanderveen potato truck operated by one of the Vanderveen sons, heading up to Dave Hellevang’s farm for a 60,000 pound load of Cascade seed potatoes. And later that morning, fully loaded, the truck went into the ditch out front of John Beks’ farm. The driver was stopping in to pick up paperwork, and misjudged the tricky turn. The trailer wheel dropped into the ditch, pulling the whole rig in after it.

The damage to the driver was a dislocated shoulder and ego. The trailer is fixable, and the truck itself is probably done for. Over 60,000 pounds of premium seed potatoes, representing a sizeable chunk of Dave Hellevang’s income for the year, hit the ditch. It was not an option to leave them where they fell.

And so they were picked up. Mostly by hand. Less than 25 people. With buckets. That works out to around 3,000 pounds of potatoes per person.

Dave Hellevang was there of course, with his two workers, Shane and Russell. And John Beks — he heard the crash and came running. And all the Waldens (including Chairman of the School Board Dave) — they live on the driveway that waylaid the driver. The Kuurne’s got the call and came to help, and thank goodness for that, as Mark got his Bin Piler into the ditch and took out around 10 ton. Picture the challenge of manoeuvring a big machine into place at the bottom of a ditch.

The Vanloons rocked up with a generator-powered coffee urn and got the last couple hundred pounds out of the water at the very bottom of the ditch. Marty provided tractor power. Bryce Ronayne got in there, as did Randy Symons, Barb Blanchet from across the road, Shirley the mail lady, the Gilmours and Drew Marinus. Some of these helpers were driving by, noticed the disaster in the ditch, and got to work. Lots of them are farmers, who upon getting word of the incident, arrived with buckets, tractors, and bulk bins.

After several hours of very hard work, all the potatoes were out of the ditch, ready to be re-loaded and sent south the next day, on a different truck. Only around 150 pounds were lost due to breakage.

John Vanderveen has been running trucks to Pemberton farms for over 30 years, and he says that this is not the first time he has witnessed such spontaneous community reaction to disaster in this valley. In recognition of the help freely given to pick up the potatoes, he is donating $1,000 to the school athletics program. He figures this story should be on the national news — the world should know what goes on up here in Pemberton.

And that is the story of the biggest potato spill in Pemberton history. Many hands make light work, and if you want to be one of the many hands, throw some work gloves in your pack. You never know when, but you know you’re needed.” – Anna Helmer

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