A bright purple potato recently pulled from the ground by Mark Clark. (The Enterprise/Liliana Frankel)
ONTARIO – Mark Clark’s mother was the sole owner of a grain farm in Nampa, Idaho. He grew up working with his brother in the fields that she leased to a local farmer, but eventually abandoned physical labor for a career as an attorney.
Now at 73, he’s back to the fields and according to his wife Sharon Katz, as happy as she’s ever seen him.
“Mark wants to demonstrate that you can make money on a small family farm,” said Katz, 70. “We’re super enthusiastic about doing our part to repair the earth.”
They bought the 170-acre farm located at 4824 Pioneer Road, on the banks of the Snake River, in 2020.
Clark and Katz are embarking on a three-year process to certify their farm as organic. They moved onto the land earlier this year and are hoping to convert 140 of the 170 acres into fields of potatoes. Interspersed with the potatoes will be cover crops like daikon radishes, which help to naturally restore chemical balance to the soil through a process called “regenerative agriculture.” 30 acres of the farm are river-adjacent and not to be farmed.
This year, Clark planted an experimental acre with five kinds of potatoes – Red Norland, Yukon Gold, Purple Viking, Purple Majestic, and Fingerling – in the hopes of teaching himself the ropes. Katz, a retired bereavement psychologist, said the two had a lot to learn about both organic farming and the updates to mechanical farming equipment that had been made since Clark’s youth in the fields.
Their experiment was successful, and Katz now estimates that they have about 24,000 pounds of potatoes – which they want to donate to Ontario area residents.
On Friday, Aug. 27, and Saturday, Aug. 28, from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m., Katz and Clark are inviting community members to come help bag the rows of potatoes that were easily uprooted by machine, but which they haven’t been able to sort, clean, or pack.
As a prize for helping out, attendees are invited to take as many potatoes as they want – within reason.
Attendees are advised to wear long pants and closed-toe shoes.
Extra bags of potatoes will be donated to the Ontario Food Bank.
“It’s way more fun donating things than selling them, for me,” said Katz. “You get to meet people in the community. It’s our new community, and we want to be a part of it.”
Three groups of volunteers have already been to the farm to bag the potatoes.
One was a group of 8th graders from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Nyssa. Another was from the Vale Food Pantry. And lastly, there was a group from Benny’s Landscaping, a local company.
Katz said she and Clark had needed to adjust their expectations, accepting that organic farming allowed for the presence of a lot more weeds, instead of the pristine rows Clark grew up with.
Katz said she felt surprisingly at home running the farm.
“It’s really very similar to any business,” she said. “One of the things that’s the most fun for us is the problem-solving. That’s what I admire about other farmers. They’re all doing that.”
Shanon Katz joins her husband Mark Clark on their front porch while he is takes part in a webinar about soil health on Wednesday, Aug. 25. (AUSTIN JOHNSON/The Enterprise)
Sharon Katz shows how to properly dig up potatoes on her organic potato farm in northern Ontario on Wednesday, Aug. 25 (AUSTIN JOHNSON/The Enterprise)
News tip? Contact reporter Liliana Frankel at [email protected] or 267-981-5577.
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