The second Saturday in October has become somewhat of a family holiday for many in the Bitterroot Valley. This is the day that McPherson Farms has their annual potato dig on their farm on Willoughby Lane in Stevensville. Not only can families get their winter’s supply of spuds, but for many, it’s a chance to connect with the earth and see where food comes from.
Hans McPherson, his sister Jeanie Robbins, brother Peter, and a few family friends oversee this annual event and each has an appointed duty. Hans planted the potatoes last spring. Sister-in-law Tina McPherson is the parking cop. She stands on Willoughby directing cars into parking areas. Jeanie is the go-to person for the day and does the overall managing of the day’s events.
To the uninitiated, the potato field looks somewhat like an ant hill with people swarming everywhere but especially in the row behind the tractor and potato digger. The tractor eases up and down the rows with the potato digger churning out potatoes of all sizes. There are kids in bib overalls, and even a few in tutus. The squeals of delight as the younger ones find the potatoes is much like those heard during an Easter egg hunt.
For many years, Kenneth and Elaine McPherson, parents to Hans, Peter and Jeanie, planted extra potatoes and invited people to come and harvest them. When Kenneth passed away, his kids decided to keep the tradition going and 13 years ago, Jeanie decided to get the day a little more organized.
These days they have a hot chocolate and doughnut stand for those who want to warm up. Proceeds go toward next year’s seed crop and an outhouse for the day. There was an old John Deere tractor nearby with hay bales stacked around it for photo opportunities too.
They decided to donate bins of potatoes to the Food Bank in Missoula and had people fill these bins. In fact, Jeanie recalls they did such a good job of getting the bins filled one year that they didn’t realize the McPherson clan had not kept any potatoes for themselves!
Pam and Jerry Hall just recently moved to Stevensville and were enjoying watching their family glean potatoes. “This is one of the greatest ideas I’ve seen,” said Pam. “The kids are so excited to find the potatoes.”
There were four missionaries from the LDS Church helping out too. They were from Arizona, and California, and like the Halls, were amazed at the event and how much fun everyone was having.
Towards the back of the field, a pickup and trailer sat with people filling the trailer. Hans said this was a group from Pinesdale who make this an annual event. “They feed a lot of people with these potatoes.”
No potatoes were donated to the Food Bank this year as the government has been buying and providing potatoes to food banks across the state and nation. At first, Jeanie thought they may not be able to have all of the potatoes picked up but an hour after they started, the field was almost done and picked over. People were leaving the field toting bags, boxes, plastic tubs full of potatoes. And they all had smiles on their faces.
“Dad’s probably drinking chocolate milk and Mom’s turning cartwheels,” said Hans.