Charter School students glean potatoes for food bank

October 10, 2018

ABERDEEN, Idaho — Grinning Pocatello Community Charter School first- and second-graders tromped through a muddy field Thursday morning lugging grocery sacks overfilled with hefty Russet Burbank potatoes.

Their field trip to Gehring Farms in Aberdeen, where they toured potato harvest and then gleaned potatoes, doubled as a service project — one they tackled with a zeal befitting an Easter egg hunt.

They filled the bed of a pickup truck with nearly 2,000 pounds of spuds, planning to donate their bounty to the Idaho Foodbank in Pocatello.

“We believe strongly in service learning opportunities, so we’ll walk to the food bank and learn about the services the food bank provides to our community, and then the kids feel this responsibility to help others in the community, and they make connections between their role in the bigger Pocatello community,” said Charter School teacher Whitney Griggs.

Gleaning usually entails seeking out crops missed at harvest and putting them to good use. Highly efficient modern potato harvesting equipment leaves slim pickings for gleaning, however, so farmer Jared Gehring had his workers dig up a couple of spud rows for the kids to take.

Students in the two grades are in the midst of a potato “expedition,” an approach to curriculum at the Charter School delving intensively into a single subject throughout the school year.

During “Potatoes: That Magical Tuber of Idaho,” they’ll study potato biology in science class this fall, and they’re learning about the economic importance of potatoes next spring in social studies.

While visiting Gehring Farms, students learned facts they won’t find in any text book, and watched in awe as massive farm machines moved incredible volumes of spuds.

An official with Gehring Farms, Shane Williams, shared potato trivia with the students. He told them how the potato chip was invented, when railroad mogul Cornelius Vanderbuilt sent back a batch of potatoes at a fancy restaurant, complaining they were cut too thick, and a chef with a sense of humor cut them paper thin, fried them and tossed them in salt. He also informed students potatoes were the first vegetable grown in space.

Williams said a single potato cellar holds about 10 million pounds of potatoes.

Jared Gehring and his brother are fourth-generation potato farmers. Their farm traces back more than 100 years, to when their grandfather immigrated from Germany and homesteaded here.

Jared Gehring explained they raise potatoes, wheat and sugar beets. Some eyes widened among the children as he held up a colossal sugar beet root, before discussing the products made with refined sugar.

The children were well prepared when Gehring asked them if they knew what potatoes require to grow.

“They need water, food, soil and a place to live,” second-grader Addison Muston offered, while several other children shouted their own ideas.

The children were pleasantly surprised to learn the farm tour came with a “ride.” Gehring invited them to climb to the top of the 20-foot spud pile in one of his cellars and slide down the other side. Even the teachers couldn’t hide their enthusiasm — teacher Jeanne Tyson texted her husband, “Coolest field trip ever,” as she waited for a turn to slide down a mountain of spuds.

Griggs said the expedition typically includes a tour of Wada Farms, a fresh potato packing warehouse in Pingree. On Oct. 18, the Idaho Potato Commission is scheduled to send its Great Big Idaho Potato Truck to the Charter School to contribute to the expedition. Students will watch a video about potatoes with IPC’s Tater Team, and parents will prepare a potato feed for the day’s lunch.

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