GLACE BAY, N.S. — A potato shortage is not only causing hardships for local chip wagons, it’s even forcing one in Glace Bay to close. “We have a couple days left — when we’re out, we’re out,” said Bobby Donovan, treasurer of the Glace Bay Y’s Men’s and Women’s Club.
“There are no 50-lb. bags of potatoes anywhere,” he said. “I called P.E.I. and it will be three weeks to a month before we can get any.
“They told me they are behind, the crops aren’t even done. The local wholesaler is saying the same thing. We have about 100 lbs left, which will only probably last a day or so.
Donovan said they were told that, due to frost earlier in the year, the new potatoes are behind schedule for harvest and in the meantime the old potatoes are sold out.
Although there are other kinds of potatoes they could access, they are not only too expensive but are also not the type of potatoes used for making quality fries, he said.
“There are some chef potatoes, which is a nice potato, but they are too big and don’t fry very good.”
Donovan said those potatoes are $28.99 for a 50-lb. bag when normally the potatoes used in making fries are about $10 a bag.
“We even tried three different kinds of 10-lb. bags of potatoes, but they came out black, they aren’t working.”
Donovan said the chip wagon was started four years ago in an effort to provide jobs in the area. This year, four were employed part of the summer and currently there are two people working there.
“If we can make enough to cover the salaries and pay the costs, that’s all we ask for.”
Where the food truck is stationary on Commercial Street, Donovan said their wagon is classified as a restaurant and can operate all year but is usually kept open only until it starts to snow in October or November.
Donovan said they are worried about the job losses and about the stock they have on hand, such as hotdogs and hamburgers.
“All that will go to waste as we’ll have no use for it.”
Jeanette MacDonald, a cook on the Y’s Men’s food truck and a volunteer with the club, said she will be losing her job any day now, as will a second cook.
“It’s definitely devastating,” she said. “Weboth have kids and we’re both done. It will be a huge blow financially.”
MacDonald was unemployed and volunteered with the Glace Bay Y’s Men’s Club, landing a job on the food truck four years ago when it first opened. The job enhanced her life greatly, she said.
“It helped out with financial stability, with bills and the kids for school and things like that.”
The first signs of crop problems in the Maritime provinces were evident back in June when Farm Credit Canada announced they were assisting growers facing financial hardship as a result of a widespread late frost.
Overnight from June 3-4, temperatures dropped as low as -3 C, causing varying degrees of damage to fruit and vegetable crops in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island. Although fruit growers were initially thought to be the only ones seriously affected, potato farmers were also recognized to be impacted as well.
Donnie Petrie, owner of Fuzzy’s Fries in Sydney, also confirmed there are no 50-lb. bags of potatoes to be found and the new potatoes are going to be two to three weeks late arriving.
“Anyone in the French fries business would have had trouble getting good quality potatoes.”
Petrie said you start off the first of the season with the old potatoes until the new potato crop is harvested. However, he was told the new potato crop was affected by the frost and warm weather.
“It was almost a drought. The new potatoes are late coming here by two to three weeks. That put the pressure on last year’s potatoes and they ran out.”
Petrie said he even asked his supplier about potatoes in Ontario.
“I was told, ‘no, this year everyone’s in the same boat.’”
Petrie said he has purchased from two farmers in P.E.I. in the past.
“I only use a certain kind of potato and some farmers in P.E.I. could supply some for a while, but I couldn’t count on them.”
Then Petrie discovered a farmer in New Brunswick and found it easier to go there.
“I found I could depend on this farmer,” he said. “I rent a U-Haul trailer and go to New Brunswick to get them.”
Petrie said he goes to this supplier because of the quality of potatoes.
“We only sell fries and hotdogs so it’s important we have good quality potatoes.”
Even with the lack of potatoes everywhere, Petrie said they were lucky as the farmer he deals with hung on to some of his old potatoes for him. Petrie said although the farmer is in the same boat as the rest, he managed to scrape up enough of the new potatoes to get them through.
“Our best fries are right now, as we have the new potatoes.”
Although there are not a lot of potato farmers in Nova Scotia, some of the potato farmers on the mainland reported the deep, severe frost in June affected crops in the province as well.
According to information from Statistic Canada released in May 2017, potatoes continued to be the largest crop in Prince Edward Island. The province also had the largest share of Canada’s potato acreage with 83,326 acres.
Calls to Sobeys, which owns TRA Wholesalers in Sydney and supplies local businesses with 50-lb. bags of potatoes were not returned by press time. However, local businesses told the Post the wholesaler is reporting a two- to three-week wait for potatoes.