I recently had an opportunity to do a good thing and go out with my significant other and a large number of other well-meaning souls and pick potatoes for the Food Bank. I love the idea of doing good things, and I enjoy the warm fuzzy aftermath of having done a good thing. I enjoy believing that I have helped people in need, and feel inspired to get more involved, be more aware and try harder to be generous of my time, skills and energy. I’m apparently not all that altruistic either, as much of what motivates me is how I feel having done these things rather than just participating because there is a need.
Picking potatoes, however, was as close to an altruistic act as I have ever committed. Somehow, in my not-so-vast gardening experiences of growing up (which included beans in Styrofoam cups in the second grade, raiding my mother’s carrot patch throughout elementary school, and becoming completely terrified of slugs due to weeding duty in the lettuce row) I managed to completely miss knowing how potatoes were grown. Even the term “picking potatoes” is misleading. Wallowing in the dirt for starchy produce would be far more apt terminology.
I would like to lead a self-defence pitch with the statement that I was truly excited by the idea of picking potatoes. Aside from doing a good thing, I thought it would be fun. At this point, something in my brain should definitely have jumped out and reminded me that a few years ago I thought snowshoeing in five-foot snow into the woods with a hacksaw to drag out my own Christmas tree was going to be a blast too.
Anyway, back in the garden patch I had imagined lovely trailing plants with interspersed potatoes growing on them: much like pumpkins, when I come to think about it. I knew potatoes were dirty, but then again, so are pumpkins, so my brain really didn’t think of this idea as so far fetched. I was disappointed, actually, when we got to the field and there wasn’t a potato in sight – I was actually a little confused; this was obviously a field that had already been picked. Now, I can only thank my lucky stars that I was feeling too polite to have pointed this out to the farmer. The man giving out gloves to the volunteers in the parking section should have tipped me off. I, of course, had refused the gloves – I don’t paint my nails or pay particular attention to cuticle care, so I figured plucking ripe potatoes off the potato tree or vine wouldn’t be overly taxing to my already un-babied hands. Needless to say, when they started up the tractor and started driving this thing resembling an upside down shopping cart bedecked with spikes over all the plants I was surprised. When I realized that they did this to get to the potatoes I was astounded.
So, I didn’t spend my weekend picking potatoes. I spent it up to the elbows in dirt and feeling like a treasure hunter with every potato I managed to find (although, thank goodness for Brian’s sanity, I stopped having to show them to him after about the first fifty:). Overall, it was a good thing. As a group, we picked two five-tonne trucks of potatoes to feed the hungry. And I learned something new this weekend: I now know exactly why my mother doesn’t grow potatoes in her garden.