Eagle Creek potatoes are a staple item in the YYC Growers’ Harvest Boxes. Having worked with Eagle Creek’s produce for many weeks at the YYC Growers’ distribution warehouse, I was excited to finally have an opportunity to see where their beautiful potatoes were being cultivated.
John Mills is known as the farmer with the funkiest custom made vegetable-print shirts, hand made by his mother in law. Eagle Creek has been the Mills’ family farm for four generations, first settled in the 1920s. Up until the 1980s, the land was used to cultivate grain and cattle. Today the focus is on organic vegetable production, with a specialization in potato production. The farm is also home to a tree nursery, a sunflower nursery, and a corn maze.
Eagle Creek is currently in the process of becoming certified organic, a process that takes years of organic practices and diligent record keeping. Eagle Creek is also one of the largest producers with YYC Growers -- this farm spans over a hundred acres. Eagle Creek is able to be a major contributor to YYC Growers because of its scale and diversity of product. Eagle Creek has been able to fill in for other growers of YYC Growers when they experienced crop failure. This is the strength of the cooperative model.
John studied agriculture on the east cost of Canada where his expertise in potatoes began. Eagle Creek grows over 35 varieties of potatoes and offers Canada’s largest selection of seed potato varieties. Potatoes can be cultivated by planting seeds, or by using seed potatoes. Seed potatoes are tubers that can be planted whole, or cut into pieces. Using seed potatoes is the preferred method as the tubers will produce more potatoes resulting in a greater yield. The only disadvantage is that the plants that grow from seed potatoes are genetically identical (clones) to the parent plant that produced them. Planting potatoes from seed will allow for greater genetic diversity because the seeds are related to the parent plant, but not genetically identical. Genetic diversity is beneficial because it strengthens a crop’s resistance to environmental stressors. However, growing potatoes from seed is far less efficient and most producers use seed potatoes.
In the fall when I moved back to Ontario, I found work on an organic farm just north of Kingston called Patchwork Gardens. To my delight, one day I noticed that the potato bags we were re-using were labeled as Eagle Creek Farms, Bowden Alberta. Patchwork Gardens sources their seed potatoes from Eagle Creek! And according to the owners of this farm, “Eagle Creek’s seed potatoes are the only reliable organic source of seed potatoes in the country..”
It brought me much joy to be able to cook Eagle Creek potatoes through the winter this year, even though I was thousands of kilometers away from Alberta. I came away from this experience with a sense of closure, a sense that the farm community in our nation is stronger than I thought. I realized that the availability of locally sourced, nutritious food is becoming more prevalent in this country thanks to an incredible network of dedicated producers and growing support from the community.