Kenai Soil and Water Conservation District’s newest farm equipment rental is a potato digger that will cut down on labor-intensive potato harvesting for area farmers. The equipment sits ready for use at Ridgeway Farms on Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018, near Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo by Victoria Petersen/Peninsula Clarion)

Kenai Soil and Water Conservation District’s newest farm equipment rental is a potato digger that will cut down on labor-intensive potato harvesting for area farmers. The equipment sits ready for use at Ridgeway Farms on Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018, near Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo by Victoria Petersen/Peninsula Clarion)

Farm to food bank: Equipment rental leads to community benefit

Kenai Soil and Water Conservation District are expanding their catalog of affordable agricultural rental equipment through a charitable project that benefits both farmers and the community.

Three pieces of equipment, which includes a potato digger, a potato washer and a potato planter, were purchased with the assistance of grants from the Kenai Peninsula Foundation, the Rasmuson Foundation and Western SARE. The equipment can be rented to small-scale farmers for $25 day, plus a donation of 25 pounds of potatoes to the Kenai Peninsula Food Bank. It’s a small price to pay for equipment that could cost a single farmer thousands.

“I couldn’t afford to buy a new potato digger,” Abby Ala, owner of Ridgeway Farms, said.

The equipment works on a single row of potatoes, or another root crop, and is “infinitely faster” than the old fashioned way, Ala said.

“I would harvest on my hands and knees,” Ala said. “I’m 71 years old. It would take me an hour to go halfway down one row.”

Many small-scale farmers don’t have the funds to invest in such expensive equipment. Kenai Soil and Water Conservation District is trying to make small-scale agriculture easier and more accessible.

It took three years to get the potato digger, washer and planter equipment.

“We’ve been hearing from small-scale potato farmers for years that a single row potato digger would make life so much easier,” Chay said. “I first spotted the equipment at an expo in Michigan and said ‘we could really use those.’”

Kenai Soil and Water Conservation District rent out farm equipment of all kinds.

“They have more than just the potato digger,” Ala said. “They have everything a farmer might need. It is too expensive for every farmer in the area to buy this and buy that. I’m really impressed with soil and water for doing that.”

Chay said five farms have shown initial interest. Ala at Ridgeway Farms was among the first to try out the potato digger. The potato planter will be used in the spring.

Chay said Kenai Soil and Water Conservation District and the farms are excited about the new equipment.

“One farmer told me that he’s never digging a row of potatoes by hand again,” Chay said.

Reach Victoria Petersen at vpetersen@peninsulaclarion.com.

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