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Truck loads of potatoes, cabbage to be given away

Harbor Island will be swimming in potatoes and cabbage on a Saturday next month, and the community is asked to take as much as it as they can use.

A local produce broker has arranged to deliver approximately 40,000 pounds of potatoes and about 30,000 pounds of cabbage to the island on Saturday, Sept. 20.

"The produce business has been good to me and I'd like to give back to the community and set an example," said Don Armstrong, a Grand Haven resident and president of Armstrong Potatoes LLC.

Volunteers are being sought to help bag and distribute the produce from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. the day of the delivery, in two three-hour shifts, and for cleaning up after the event.

Leah Rust, assistant director at Love INC, is coordinating the event. She envisions local families bagging potatoes and handing out the vegetables, and taking some home for themselves.

Armstrong has arranged for a semitrailer truck to pick up the load of potatoes from Heiss Farms near Ravenna, and a second truck will pick up the cabbage — and possibly some pumpkins — from DeGroot Farms in St. Anne, Ill. — on the morning of Sept. 20. Dale Hey Trucking of Lakeview is supplying the trucks, and Armstrong is supplying 5,000 8-pound bags for the potatoes.

"These potatoes will be dug that morning and graded and brought right down, so they'll be excellent quality potatoes," Armstrong said.

Armstrong ought to know. He has been a produce broker for more than 33 years, an inspector for the U.S. Department of Agriculture for 10 years and a buyer for the Kroger Co. for four years — a total of 47 years in the produce business. His company ships potatoes to Campbell Soup Co. plants in Ohio, North Carolina, Texas and California, and several other food processing and repacking plants. He said he buys spuds from 11 states, including Michigan.

From his Florida office, Armstrong recently arranged for local children to pick potatoes from a field to take home free to their families — but he has never done anything like the 70,000-pound giveaway next month in Grand Haven.

"It's possible we might do the same thing next year," Armstrong said.

Rust said Armstrong approached her about his idea earlier this summer, but she said Love INC wouldn't be able to handle more than a few thousand pounds of potatoes at one time.

"We've got six food pantries — and yes, we need food — but storage and all of that is a huge issue," Rust said. "So we started asking other places and agencies. Teen Challenge (of Norton Shores) is going to get involved. I'm hoping the Muskegon Rescue Mission will take some, the Holland Rescue Mission, other food pantries. People Center (of Spring Lake) is going to be able to take some of those."

Because there will be so much fresh produce to give away, Rust and Armstrong are inviting anyone who can use potatoes or cabbage to come to the island that day and take some home.

"If people can use it, great," Rust said.

Rust said they've obtained approval from the city to hold the event on the north end of the island, near the restrooms. Dave Palmer of the Spread the Music Foundation is arranging for live music during the event, Rust is setting up children's face painting and games, and Fat Chix Coffee Cantina of Grand Haven is donating coffee for volunteers.

"If it rains (the day of the event), I think the worst-case scenario (is) we get wet and we do it in the rain," Rust said. "... I have to remind myself, this is a really big blessing and I know a lot of people can benefit from it."


Publication date: 9/2/2008


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