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Organic News and Commentary
From Maine
Saturday, February 22nd, 2020
Volume 29 Issue 4

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In This Issue of The Wood Prairie Seed Piece:

Working with Purpose.


Yosemite Brand. The Earl Fruit Company. Highgrove, California. Circa 1920.

Beautiful Fruit Crate Box Label Art from a century ago. Then as now, there’s plenty of work to be done by farmers year round. Potato farmers like us grade and ship potatoes during Winter. We also join in with other farmers to attend Winter meetings and conferences near and far.

Cross pollination occurs at conferences and sometimes the meeting location creates opportunities to take in new sights and new experiences. As farmers for forty years, when we have traveled it’s been almost entirely in tandem with our farming. For the steady stay-at-home work which dominates farm life there are rewarding benefits to taking in fresh vistas.

Caleb, Jim & Megan Gerritsen & Family
Wood Prairie Family Farm
Bridgewater, Maine
Maine Tales. Tough Times With Canada. Bridgewater, Maine. Circa 1985.

Grading Potatoes at the Woodman Potato Company. Caribou, Maine. Circa 1940.

A recent farm article depicting the perilous plight of New York onion farmers echoed an all too familiar tune. Border State family farmers in States like Maine and New York perpetually get the short end of the stick when it comes to trade with Canada.

The USA's huge population is irresistible to Canadian producers. American farmers have no bone to pick with our farmer friends in Canada. However, if there is ever to be a just accounting it MUST begin with acknowledging that we are two separate countries with two different systems and all are selling into a single large US market. The Canadian government is much more generous with its Canadian farmers than our government is with American farmers. The situation boils down to persistent and devastating problems for American farmers trying to compete on a steep-sloped playing field.

One problem is the differing values of our Dollars. Today, for instance, our American dollar is trading 24% higher than the Canadian Dollar. This fact helps Canadian exports. What this means in practical terms is that if you are a wholesale produce buyer at the Hunt's Point Produce Terminal in Brooklyn and have US$1000 to spend on potatoes, you can either buy from an American farmer and get US$1000 worth of potatoes or buy from a Canadian farmer and get US$1314 worth of potatoes for the same money. It takes a great deal of loyalty in a very cutthroat produce industry for an American wholesale buyer to Buy American.

Then there is the huge impact of the Canadian Treasury and government subsidies. History shows American farmers must paddle very hard upstream to compete. Perhaps it will be a Canadian subsidy for crop production, capitalization or transportation, but when unsubsidized American farmers face the ‘free market’ on their own, it portends calamitous results.

About twenty-five years ago, during a period of terribly low farmgate hog prices, we happened to be tuned into and listening to the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corp). We heard a news story encouraging Canadian Pork producers to hang on tight and survive the hard times by collecting EI (Unemployment Insurance) benefits. They assured their intended Canadian farmer audience that with prices this low American hog farmers would surely soon be forced out-of-business, hog populations would then decrease and thanks to an improved supply/demand balance, farmgate prices would rebound and it would eventually become happy days for surviving Canadian hog farmers. American hog farmers, who because they are self-employed do not qualify for American unemployment compensation, were naked and on their own during this crisis.

Potato crop year 1985 beat up both American and Canadian potato farmers severely with desperately low prices all winterlong. During that ’85 crop year, there were excellent growing conditions all across North America bringing about a record-sized potato crop - a whopping 11% larger than the previous '84 crop. With this major oversupply, farm gate potato prices universally plummeted. Throughout the Winter of '85/'86, potato prices in Maine hovered under $1/barrel (165 pounds) farm gate. Back then it cost $7 to raise a barrel of potatoes. Farmers got blistered and commonly lost $1000/acre. Given the typical size of potato farms back then, that translated into losses of maybe $100,000 per farm in 1985 dollars (which would be over $230,000 in today’s dollars). As a result, a large number of Maine potato farmers "got done" farming that year.

It was a cold day that depressed Winter we were in Boyd's Farm Repair shop in Bridgewater. Boyd's uncle, potato farmer Eldon Bradbury walked in and related to us a story told to him by a wholesale buyer of his potatoes. Seems this buyer had just been talking to a Canadian farmer and apologetically related that the market price he could pay for packed potatoes was only a disastrously low 23-cents per 5-pound sack (back then the US and Canadian dollars traded about at par). In those days the paper sack itself cost about 7-cents, plus a farmer would have to pay wages to their crew to put up a 10,000-sack truckload. Anyway, the Canadian’s response to the 23-cent price offer was, "Oh, you don't need to pay me that much." What was unspoken, but what that buyer knew, what Eldon knew, what Boyd knew and what we knew is that somehow, someway, the Canadian government was quietly behind-the-scenes baling out Canadian farmers with a mandate "move Canadian potatoes at any price, just move 'em, and we'll take care of you."

Over the decades it’s been a pretty hard job for independent Maine family potato farmers to survive in this kind of market environment with the Canadian Treasury often placing its finger on the trading scale. We feel for you, New York onion farmers. Maine farmers know what you’re up against.


Click Here for Wood Prairie Organic Maine Certified Seed Potatoes.


Heirloom Organic Orchard Baby Sweet Corn. Petite with wonderful taste!

Special Offer: FREE Organic Orchard Baby Sweet Corn Seed!

Introducing our brand new heirloom, the rare Orchard Baby Sweet Corn and you will want to give it a try! Organic Orchard Baby is a very early Sweet Corn bred in the 1940s by a Canadian farmer with the last name of Orchard. The “Baby” part is a reference to the short, stout and delicious 4-inch ears. We think you will agree that this is one of the best-tasting open-pollinated Sweet Corns ever. The plants reliably set two ears and you will be impressed how laser-focused they are on ripening ears early.

We just got back the lab tests and they confirmed that this Organic Orchard Baby seed lot we grew last season was free from detectible GE content. What this means is that in a sophisticated and costly PCR lab test, accurate to 0.01%, not a single kernel of the 10,000 representative seeds we supplied for testing came up positive for contamination by genetically engineered corn pollen. This purity is good news! However, what is really remarkable is the fact that thanks to our unique isolation on the edge of the North Maine Woods, despite having grown dozens of at-risk seed lots over many years, we have never ever tested hot for GE content in our Organic Seed! This unblemished record is a reflection of the exceptional quality you receive whenever you buy Certified Organic Wood Prairie seed.

With this Special Offer we’ll make it easy for you to give Organic Orchard Baby a try! Earn a FREE Packet of Organic Orchard Baby Sweet Corn Seed (Value $3.50) when your next Wood Prairie order totals $39 or more. FREE Organic Orchard Baby Sweet Corn Seed Offer ends 11:59 PM on Monday, February 24. Please use Promo Code WPFF470. Your order and FREE Organic Orchard Baby Sweet Corn Seed Offer - must ship no later than May 5, 2020. Offer may not be combined with other offers. Please place your order TODAY!


Wood Prairie Family Farm Photos.

Timberline Lodge, Mount Hood, Oregon. Last week Caleb and Jim flew into the other Portland for the biennial Organic Seed Growers Conference, routinely held in at Oregon State University in Corvallis. Over the years, intrigued by distant views of the impressive Mt Hood we had hatched a plan to make our way to the Oregon Cascades not so far away. On the day before the conference began we headed southeast on the highway which follows the old Oregon Trail, and in time travels the shoulder of Mount Hood. At the snowy resort town of Government Camp (elev 3914’) we turned left off the main highway. We then drove steadily uphill through the snow-covered forest until after five or six miles we arrived at the alpine Timberline Lodge, perched high on the south slope of Mount Hood, fittingly, right at timberline, elevation 6000.’

Mount Hood Timberline Lodge.
In the depths of the Great Depression, under President Roosevelt’s Work Progress Administration (WPA) all across America it was decided to build lasting projects which would better the country while providing honest work to desperate and unemployed workers whose spirit had been broken by the worst calamitous economic shakedown the world had ever seen. Buoyant with hope about the prospects for developing the fledgling ski industry, the decision was made to construct the massive Timberline Lodge. Miraculously, an army of hundreds of workers built Timberline Lodge in less than two years, using local natural materials, primarily stone and timber. The Lodge was completed in the Fall of 1937.

Timberline Lodge, First Floor.
Check-in is on the first floor, nearest the parking lot. Mount Hood receives on the order of 25 feet of snow a year. Winter snow depth at Timberline Lodge ranges from ten to as much as twenty feet. Our cheap-seats dormitory-inspired room on the first floor was Spartan yet comfortable. Our 12’ x 16’ room had bunk beds, a table, several chairs and a small dresser, sink and mirror. Toilet and shower was communally shared with those in neighboring rooms. There was a curtained window facing south but the ten feet of snowpack totally obliterated daylight.

Timberline Lodge, Main Lobby, Second Floor.
The WPA project hired a remarkable self-reliant army of laborers and master craftsmen whose various highly-refined skills included sawyers, wood workers, iron workers, stone workers and weavers. Local stone masons - who had learned their trade in old Italy - exhibited breathtaking skill. Huge timbers from Cascadian forests were sawed or hewed on site. We saw giant carrying beams which were a full 18” x 18.”

Virtually all materials were natural, produced locally and by hand including all furniture, carvings, ironwork lamps, hand rails, boot scrapers, and door latches, rugs, draperies and bedspreads. This video (7:41) offers additional detail about the superb craftsmanship.

View of Mount Hood From Timberline Lodge, Second Floor.
Looking northward from Timberline Lodge to the peak of Mount Hood (elev 11,250’). While the distance makes it hard to see, there are ski lifts above the trees which rise a thousand feet towards the peak. There are also networks of ski slopes below the Lodge. Snow conditions are such that skiing is possible year round. The orange machine strategically parked across from the Lodge’s phalanx of viewing windows is an antique relic, a 1959 Tucker Snow Cat, manufactured in Medford, Oregon. It is maintained in mint-condition. This Tucker has quad tracks and can carry eight passengers. Newer Snow Cats – we counted at least ten on site - used for grooming and transport are much larger and have pairs of bulldozer-like cleat-tracks that are often each four-feet wide.

Aftermath of Blizzard on Mount Hood. Circa 1948.
Hard-working photographer Ray Atkeson captured this remarkable shot one evening when a full moon had just broken through the clouds, after a powerful blizzard had clobbered Mount Hood in December 1948. Timberline Lodge stands today as an extraordinary national treasure which belongs to us all. A visit to Timberline Lodge and Mount Hood deserve a place on everyone’s bucket list. Accommodations are high caliber and surprisingly affordable. The rare combination of grace, isolation and serenity amid extraordinary human craftsmanship serves as both a testament to nature’s beauty and to the indefatigable human spirit which bonds together all Americans.

Notable Quote: Cornell West on Justice.

Wood Prairie Recipe:
Spelt Squash Rolls.

1 Cup Milk
4 Tablespoons Unsalted Butter
1 Cup Mashed Cooked Butternut Squash
1/4 Cup Pure Maple Syrup
2 Teaspoons Salt
1 1/4 ounce active dry yeast
1/2 Teaspoon Sugar
1/4 Cup Warm Water
2 Large Eggs, Beaten
1 Teaspoon Grated Orange Zest
6 1/2 Cups Spelt Flour, as needed

Heat the milk in a medium saucepan over high heat until tiny bubbles appear around the edges. Add the butter and stir until melted. Add the squash, maple syrup, and the salt and mix well. Transfer to a large bowl and let stand until lukewarm (no hotter than 115ºF)

Meanwhile, sprinkle the yeast and sugar over the warm water in a small bowl. Let stand until the mixture looks foamy, about 10 minutes, then stir to dissolve the yeast. Stir into the squash mixture. Add the eggs and orange zest. Gradually stir in enough of the flour to make a stiff dough.

Turn out a lightly floured work surface. Knead, adding more flour as necessary until the dough is smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes.

Lightly oil a large bowl. Place the dough in the bowl and turn to coat with the oil. Cover with a damp kitchen towel and let stand in a warm place until doubled in volume, about 1 hour.

Lightly oil 24 muffin tins. Punch down the dough. Turn out onto a floured work surface and knead a few times to expel air bubbles. Cut the dough into 24 equal pieces. Form each piece of dough into a ball and place, smooth side up, in a muffin tin. Cover each pan with a moist kitchen towel and let stand in a warm place until the dough has doubled in volume, about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 375ºF. Bake the rolls until golden brown, about 15 minutes. Remove from the tins and serve hot.



Spelt Squash Rolls.
Photo by Angela Wotton.

Wood Prairie Mailbox: Growing Bee Blossoms and Not Genetically Engineered.

Growing Bee Blossoms

We would like to establish a small area for bee friendly cover - and we like sweet clover. We would like to plant as soon as possible considering winter-spring weather. However yellow clover, being a biennial, what would you suggest to go with it to allow bee blooms the first year? (wildflowers? sunflowers? other flowering farm seed?) Our western soil tends to alkaline 7.5 PH. (We do not lime but use gypsum on our farm)

Silver Springs, NV

We're certainly not experts on Bee forage in Nevada. That said, if we had to guess, I say try Buckwheat as a nurse crop for the Yellow Blossom Sweet. Buckwheat has prolific flowers 8 weeks after planting and we see bees working them here. You might spread your risks by mixing in Alsike and Red Clover with the Yellow Blossom Sweet.


Not Genetically Engineered

You say on your website that your King Harry seed potatoes are not genetically engineered. Does that mean that your other varieties are GE?

La Jolla, CA

No, quite to the contrary, nothing we have ever grown or ever sold, including our Certified Seed Potatoes has ever been genetically-engineered since we started up 44 years ago.

We have been a Certified Organic Farm for 38 years. Under Federal law, Genetic Engineering is explicitly and clearly designated as a “Prohibited Method” in organic production. We have never - and would never - grow or sell GE seed because we understand GE technology to be a terrible lose-lose idea for agriculture.

Beyond all that, we have been leading opponents of GE for three decades. In fact, nine years ago we led a Plaintiff group which filed a landmark federal lawsuit against Monsanto (OSGATA et al v. Monsanto) seeking to challenge the validity of their GE seed patents.

In fact it was Monsanto Corporation which twenty-five years ago released the first GE potatoes (“New Leaf” potatoes) which were dangerously gene-spliced with a bacterial insecticide. Our website reference to King Harry as not being genetically engineered was intended to assure our seed customers that King Harry has nothing to do with Monsanto, or any other Biotech corporation, and is a traditionally-bred non-GE variety.

We do not, have not and will not ever sell any variety under Monsanto control.



Caleb & Jim & Megan Gerritsen
Wood Prairie Family Farm
49 Kinney Road
Bridgewater, Maine 04735
(207) 429 - 9765 Certified Organic, From Farm to Mailbox