The Great Potato Giveaway
N. P. R. Ryan Cranny runs cranny farms in Oakley. I'd how it's a little town in southern Idaho about eight hundred people. We've been here in. This valley are farm on the same land for one hundred and thirteen years. Read their office window. You can look out and see the mountains on both sides and big old wide open. Fields Ryan grows russet potatoes. Those are the really big brown potatoes with the skin. If you've had French fries. I'm sure you've probably had our our potatoes before. A lot of our stuff is up in McDonalds and burger king. Wendy's Red Robbins Ryan says. Potatoes are great crop. The prices steadied. Demand is basically always growing. Because you know French fries up until the covert thing then. All that change rand had all of these potatoes he had just harvested and nobody to buy them so. Brian decided to give them all away. Maybe two million potatoes million potatoes crazy. This is the indicator from planet money. I'm Stacey Mannix Smith Today on the show the Great Potato giveaway why Ryan cranny gave away two million potatoes. Because a giveaway doesn't seem to make that much sense right now not when supermarkets are running out of everything and millions of Americans are struggling just to get enough to eat still right now. Farmers like Ryan all over the country are pouring out milk plowing their lettuce back into the soil. Trashing their potatoes and eggs. So what's going on as it turns out the food industry is kind of the victim of its own success support for NPR in the following message. Come from capital one with the capital one quicksilver card with quicksilver you earn unlimited one point. Five percent cashback on every purchase everywhere. What's in your Wallet Support for? Npr comes from Newman's own foundation working to nourish the common good by donating all profits from Newman's own food products to charitable organizations that seek to make the world a better place. More information is available at Newman's own foundation dot Org Ryan. Cranny has been in the potato business. All his life is potatoes. Go all over the world. He grows around a billion potatoes a year. A billion potatoes at about ninety percent of them. Go to restaurants Ryan's two million potatoes. The ones he gave away were set to sell around seventy five thousand dollars but you know. Suddenly no one wanted to buy them and those potatoes that he paid to plant and grow and harvest were going to earn him nothing. I felt panicked. I felt extremely nervous. You know several days where I didn't sleep. Well I just super anxious I take it very seriously when you know something is going to throw them or family in our haired is and as Ryan was grappling with these huge questions. There was this more immediate question he needed to answer. Which is what to do. With all of these potatoes they were already harvested. They were going to go bad so he and his team just dumped them on the ground in this giant pile. It was huge. Nearly two stories high and Ryan just stared at this huge pile of potatoes that he could not sell. I looked at him for a couple hours and I kept thinking to myself. What what can I do it? These we could get some good out there and I couldn't think of anything financially that would be beneficial that no way to sell them other than maybe cattle feed which is just peanuts and so it does seem to me. Why don't I try to give him away and let people come gather them up? I knew that the potatoes somewhat been hard to find in the grocery store and so all different giveaway Ryan took a photo of the great potato pile and posted it on his facebook page with the note that read free potatoes. We started dumping potatoes today as we have no home for them because of this Kobe. Nineteen disaster if you'd like if you bags come on by an Oakley Idaho. It's kind of the middle of Nowhere Ryan figured you know. A few of his friends. Few locals might show up and took off like wildfire about three hours later. We had a steady stream of traffic cars. Were lined up to the potato pile. People are filling up their truck beds and car trunks and crates and bags ranch. A lot of the people were volunteers. Getting carpools of potatoes for food banks shelters or elderly homes. Thousands of people showed up from as far away as Kansas Nevada. Somebody called from Ohio. Which is I mean. It's like twenty four hour drive and the Times. We counted over thirty cars at a time that we're there. Here's the thing people need food right now. Unemployment is likely near twenty percent. Millions of people have lost their jobs. Food banks are flooded with requests also. Supermarket shelves are empty. People are paying really high prices for things and at the same time farmers are trashing their crops so what is going on Daniel. Sumner is an agricultural economist. At the University of California Davis. He says the problem boils down to two things. How streamline and specialized things Daniels is the food chain in the? Us has gotten incredibly efficient. In recent years. Growers grow exactly what a certain restaurant or certain company needs. They grew food for that company. They package it for that company. They ship it right to that company. Farmer will be linked directly to the restaurant customers and grow for that restaurant in San Francisco or New York City or a somebody growing exactly the kind of lettuce. Mcdonald's needs for their hamburgers. That's been great system fast cost-efficient less waste fresher food for everyone still. Daniel says because the food growing industry has gotten so specialized when the system gets disrupted. There's not much flexibility. It's hard for growers who grow for a fancy restaurant or a giant fast food chain to pivot to selling in a supermarket. They're so specialized. They can't adapt right away. So you end up. In this weird paradoxical situation it causes consumer prices to go up and shortages appear to consumers and at the same time the demand for the farm product goes down. This is exactly what's happened to Ryan cranny with his potatoes so ran. Normally ships is potatoes to restaurants in fifty pound boxes or two thousand pound bags. Now he's trying to get his potatoes to supermarkets but he cannot find a way to pack them. We aren't set up to pack small bags at a very fast rate while we have one little antique bagging machine that we shipped to the grocery stores of well. Now we're trying to shove every potato. We have into this little antique machine. When people that I will let you know what you said you know the big boxes to the grocery which we had some big box grocery but then the consumers kind of kick back against it because there was too much even a big family like mine. We're at five children even even us. We couldn't get through fifty pounds of details before they go bad. Some farmers are trying to sell fifty pound boxes of potatoes on Amazon for around one hundred and fifty dollars a box but mostly the potatoes are just rotting in fields. Or if they're new they're just grown they're sitting in storage. We have six million dollars and potatoes. That are in storage right now. Ryan is grown all of those potatoes for specific buyers. There presold still. He's worried that those places will not be able to pay for the potatoes. They ordered all those months ago and you'll have hundreds of millions of potatoes just rotting and no income. He says the potatoes will keep until about August and if they go bad he says his farm will be in. A pretty dire situation is going to be scared a few months. Still in the midst of all the scariness Ryan says the potato giveaway has been this incredibly rewarding bright spot. He's people have so grateful and he's felt so great. No in the district are going to shelters and food banks and helping some people who are in the greatest need. I had a conversation with a man of out the potato pile last week. And you know he'd come up and he was teary-eyed and Kinda tried a little bit. Yeah he just saying that you know this is. Oh this is so wonderful. Wish people would give you know like you are and I'm like what do you mean like I am like you're doing the same thing you're you're giving just the same. This is such an amazing experience that whatever we donated it was it was more than worth no question. This episode of the indicator was produced by Camille Peterson. Fact checked by Cronin. The indicator is edited by Paddy Hirsch and his production of NPR.