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Digging for Gold (and Red)

Historic Sotterley Plantation harvests potatoes to feed the hungry 

The historic Sotterley Plantation is sitting on 200,000 square feet of potatoes — ready for harvest. 

         On St. Patrick’s Day, Hollywood, Marylanders stepped up to plant more than five acres of red and Yukon gold potatoes, reserved for donation. 

         Facility manager Joe Goldsmith is reviving the 1703 plantation’s working fields with hay and kale as winter cover crops. Summer’s crop is potatoes.

         “We wanted to use the land in a purposeful and meaningful way again,” says Nancy Easterling, Sotterley director.

         The regeneration of the farmland has created new homes for wildlife, slowed runoff and made the soil healthy again.

         “Sweet potatoes would’ve worked,” Easterling says. “But the deer would have eaten our crop.”

         For four years, Sotterley sold potatoes in farmers markets but always had a surplus. “We intentionally farmed more than we could sell,” Easterling says. Surplus potatoes were donated to local food pantries in St. Mary’s County, where at least one-third of kids require free or reduced lunches. 

         “Everybody should be able to get good nutritious food,” Easterling says.

         To give away more food and lure kids to healthy lifestyles, the potato farm keeps growing. But more potatoes require more hands. 

         To dig miles and miles of potatoes, Easterling and her team need help.

         It’s dirty work. The potato fork does the first step, loosening the soil under the upright greens. Some potatoes, small and large, pop up with the fork. Many more need finding, so you get your hands dirty, wiggling around in the earth to retrieve every spud. It takes a lot of bending and squatting. 

         Dig potatoes Aug. 25 and 26, Sept. 1 and 2. Sign up to volunteer:

–Shelby Conrad