Bountiful bushels of potatoes
The Potato Project in Pennsylvania harvested 202,276 pounds of potatoes in 2013 — 100,000 more pounds than anticipated.
By Megan Nuehring
“Your help is needed for hungry neighbors in need … The 2014 Seed Potato Cutting sessions are Saturday, April 26, 1-5 pm and again Sunday, April 27, as needed 1-5 pm … Bring your own snacks and knife.”
This is the announcement on IHartHarvest’s website, an appeal for volunteers willing to get their hands dirty with The Potato Project.
In 2009, Walt and Linda Zawaski, members of Trinity Lutheran Church in Kutztown, Pa., started The Potato Project in Berks County with funding from an ELCA Domestic Hunger Grant. This was a project created to provide produce to neighbors who were hungry and also utilize vacant farmland. In 2012, The Potato Project was first highlighted in Living Lutheran’s story, “The versatile spud.”
Since then, The Potato Project has experienced amazing growth.
According to the 2013 Potato Project Report, 202,276 pounds of potatoes were harvested — nearly 100,000 more pounds than expected.
Walt states in the report, “I quietly confided to a friend that if we had a real good year, we might be able to make 160,000 pounds. But we harvested 202,276!”
This increase in production couldn’t be managed solely by Walt and Linda, so in 2013 approximately 1,367 volunteers from ELCA congregations, Mennonite youth groups and Roman Catholic parishes helped with the work. The project has consistently brought individuals from all faith backgrounds together to serve their neighbors.
“The fall harvest is completely donated to local food pantries and the Greater Berks Food Bank for hungry neighbors in need,” stated The Potato Project Seed Cutting announcement for 2014.
The food that is distributed to the Greater Berks Food Bank then serves about 300 charitable food programs, including Kids Cafes, pantries, soup kitchens and more. The Greater Berks Food Bank valued The Potato Project donation at $153,729 in 2013. With this donation and donations to three local pantries, The Potato Project reaches six counties serving 22,680 people.
“The Potato Project has grown into one of our largest suppliers of fresh produce,” said Doug Long, manager of marketing and development for the Greater Berks Food Bank. “What they are able to provide us is a blessing to thousands of local families in need and we truly appreciate the massive effort that is put into this wonderful project.”
As the project continues to grow and volunteers prepare for the 2014 harvest — the sixth — the goal is to harvest 80,000 to 115,000 pounds of potatoes to distribute to the community. The Potato Project has even planned a service event for “God’s work. Our hands.” Sunday on Sept. 7, 2014.
“There is some Scripture that reads, ‘the harvest is plentiful but the harvesters few.’ With the greatest harvest we have ever completed in 2013, more people came together to help neighbors in need than ever before,” said Walt.
Though the production and impact of The Potato Project is bountiful, no one is resting on their accomplishments. The project continues to seek more acres of land for the program, new volunteers, equipment and support. They are even trying new crops.
Their growth and mission remains grounded in Jesus’ words and actions, inspiring them to love and serve their neighbors in need through offering food from the land they have been given to manage — land that provides bounty and nourishment for everyone.
Megan Nuehring is a recent graduate of Wartburg College and now lives in Dubuque, Iowa, where she spends her time writing and volunteering.