It was a busy day for potatoes at a South Surrey farm on Sunday.
Three thousand people – three times the approximately 1,000 expected – showed up at the Heppell family’s potato farm on 184th Street in Surrey, for the farming family’s Ugly Potato Day, which offers free, homegrown potatoes to anyone willing to come and pick them up.
“Everyone was so nice and positive,” said Heppell Potato Corp.’s Tyler Heppell, who was busy helping at the event.
“It was such an ideal day… we gave away about 40,000 pounds of potatoes,” he said Monday (Sept. 18), noting there was also some free squash and free carrots donated from Canadian Farms collected by the thousands who showed up.
The event, held several times each summer, was launched to help reduce the number of edible potatoes that go to waste due to bruises, growth cracks, or their odd shape, and invites residents – particularly those who are struggling with food security – to stop by the property and fill up on the ‘ugly’ fare that is still perfectly fine to eat.
With plenty of Heppell family members and friends helping to direct the non-stop stream of traffic and sell merchandise, the parking lot was already busy just before noon, when it was initially planned to start.
Because so many showed up early, they started early, said Heppell.
In addition to grabbing a handful to a few pounds of potatoes, many people who come to Ugly Potato Day will donate toward the organizations the initiative benefits: the Greater Vancouver Food Bank, Raphael House in Langley and the Cloverdale Community Kitchen, he noted, nodding toward the pile of physical food donations people had already brought with them for the food bank, as well as a large donation box for cash.
“Potatoes… any vegetables that aren’t ‘pretty’ enough for the stores are still food,” he said at the event, noting it raised more than $3,000 for those organizations.
People who showed up for the free spuds came from all over: Vancouver, Abbotsford, Langley, Surrey, New Westminster, Chilliwack and White Rock, among other places.
“We came yesterday, because we got the days mixed up,” confessed one visitor.
In addition to potatoes, food and cash donations, Ugly Potato T-shirts and merchandise were also being sold to support the same organizations.
Behind the merchandise table, Heppell’s mom Laureen and friend Dallas Becker were selling Ugly Potato T-shirts, bags and more, and taking donations, while Heppell’s father could be heard bringing in more pallets of potatoes, with the “beep! beep!” of the forklift in reverse periodically announcing his presence in the busy farm yard.
Over the bustle of people picking through the many bins of potatoes, one youngster could be heard voicing his favourite way to eat potatoes.
“Mashed!” the young child said decisively, but a sibling furiously whispering into his ear seemingly, changed his mind.
“No… fries!!! My favourite’s fries,” he amended.
Heppell said he and his family expect to do one more Ugly Potato Day in October, and he’s hoping other local farmers will want to participate.
“I want to try to get a bunch of farmers involved… maybe even have a national ugly produce day,” he said.