Wood Prairie Farm: Pioneering Organic Seed Potato Production

 

 

 

Jim & Megan Gerritsen, Wood Prairie Farm, Bridgewater, ME

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Wood Prairie Farm consists of 115 acres of isolated farmland bordering the North Woods of Aroostook County, Maine. Here OSGATA Board President Jim Gerritsen, along with his wife Megan and their four children, dedicate their lives to organic farming.

Due to its soil and climate, the northern tier of Maine is world-renowned as a potato-growing region. “Consumers know Aroostook County for table potatoes… within agriculture, Maine is probably as famous for its seed potatoes,” said Gerritsen. “Across the world, there is probably no better place to grow potatoes.”

High Quality Seed Potatoes

“Potatoes are 80-90% of what we do,” said Gerritsen. Wood Prairie produces some 200,000 pounds of potatoes annually, on 10-12 acres, with only 10-15% of their total production designated as food.

“We started out growing tablestock, but could not find the quality of seed that we were after,” said Gerritsen. So they started to produce their own seed; seeing a marketing opportunity, they shifted the business to focus on seed.

“Our goal is to grow the highest quality seed,” said Gerritsen. “The higher quality the seed potato, the better the performance the next year for our seed customers.”

Certified organic since 1982, Wood Prairie Farm’s 48 acres of tuber production fields are kept in crop rotation according to organic principles: seed grains, clover, timothy, hay, and storage vegetables (like beets, carrots, and onions) are planted for soil-building and to rest the land. These crops also help to round out the offerings− from on-farm milled organic bread mixes to organic vegetable seeds− of Wood Prairie Farm’s mail order catalog, which is now in its 25th year.  

All seed potatoes grown on-farm also undergo Seed Potato Certification by the State of Maine. This rigorous 3-step process, including in-season field inspections and post-season tuber grow-outs, is designed to control pest and disease presence within Maine’s potato industry.

Tuber Taste and Performance

Wood Prairie produces 24 cultivars of potatoes each year, with a handful of other varieties planted as trials.

One harvest, a bi-colored tuber was found growing in a hill of ‘Yukon Gold.’ “This tuber had an exaggerated pink blush covering over half the skin area,” he said. Gerritsen saved the specimen to re-plant, needing to increase the seed stock for lab testing and for field trials. Like all potatoes, it had to meet the two basic criteria used to determine which potatoes will be offered in the farm’s catalog and online store.

Gerristen said, “One: they have to taste good. And two: they have to perform well under certified organic growing conditions.”

Prairie Blush easily passed the first criteria. “It’s the best tasting variety I’ve ever come across,” said Gerritsen. Luckily, it also performed well in the field  maturing just five days later than ‘Yukon’  it can be followed by a late crop of fall greens.

 

Stewarding Organic

“Our whole life is organic farming,” said Gerritsen. He acknowledges that there are some serious threats to organic at present, and names contamination from genetically engineered (GE) crops as a main concern. “Within one generation, contamination can make organic crops unsalable.”

With the knowledge and experience that Gerritsen has accumulated over 40 years of organic farming, he feels obligated to give back and work to protect organics.

To this end, Gerritsen is very active in the organic community. In addition to serving as President of OSGATA, he also sits on the Board of Directors of the Direct Gardening Association and is a member of Maine Organic Gardeners and Farmers Association’s Ag Services Committee. In the past, he has served as President of Organic Seed Alliance (OSA).

“I want to see organic succeed,” said Gerritsen.

 

This is part of our new series celebrating the organic family farmers whose important organic  seed work is integral to OSGATA’s mission of protecting, promoting, and developing organic seed. Sign-up for our Seed News blog feed and follow OSGATA on Facebook to learn more about our organic seed farmer and seed company members. OSGATA needs your help to build organic seed. Please donate today!

 

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