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Dispatches From Down East: My Potato Love/Hate Relationship

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I confess: I have been wrapped up in a bit of an tumultuous love affair. I have always enjoyed potatoes, but after my recent experience with our local potato festival, my love for that starchy tuber has been renewed. I don't know if it was the taste-testing on opening night or the experiences surrounding the festivities that further sparked my fever. All I know is this: from blossom to table, potatoes on P.E.I. rule the roost.

The Prince Edward Island Potato Museum, home of the giant potato, recently hosted the opening ceremonies to the 2012 P.E.I. Potato Blossom Festival. The festivities began with a brief appearance and address by Premier Robert Ghiz, along with speeches by various other political dignitaries, as well as allowed for a brief introduction for those in attendance to the pageant contestants competing for the title of P.E.I.'s Miss Potato Blossom for the upcoming year.

Following these preliminaries, we were able to sample delicious potato dishes served up by the friendly staff of the in-house cafe. Specialties included stuffed potatoes, potato fudge and a lobster and potato chowder, temptingly showcased along with all manner of other potato concoctions. A feast of delights that would entice even the die-hard potato hater. My kids, known for their potato aversion, ate more food than anyone.

But, in the province where potato is king, this versatile vegetable has gotten itself into some hot water of late. Putting its reputation quite literally on the political front burner for those Islanders who make a living off its veritable economic fortitude. The hot water of which I am referring actually is connected to the very cold waters of the Trout River watershed in Western Prince Edward Island. It is the second fish kill in subsequent years and resulted in about 2,000 fish dying in two different zones, Barclay Brook and Leard's Pond. And the heightened awareness due to media coverage and public outcry has got the P.E.I. Potato Board, alongside Island politicians, desperate to find solutions to keep the potato from falling completely off its high horse.

What's a spud-lover to do?

Well, for starters, Bud, if we are to continue this love affair, there need to be some ground rules. So, in the interest of all Islanders wishing to prolong the romance with our fair isle's primary cash crop, here are three ways to keep those dreams alive.

We need our elected representatives and all other partnership groups to act to stop fish kills. I am not attracted to anything or anyone that makes it a practice to needlessly kill -- even worse are those that are considered mass murders. Along with obvious glaring environmental and health concerns, it makes absolutely no sense for one resource to be produced to the detriment of another source of income. Our island's economy, heavily based on seasonal industries like fishing, is only shooting itself in the foot when it allows these tragic losses to become a pattern, as seems to be the case in our end of the Island. Locals need to keep the pressure on government to follow through with the meetings set for the fall in which they will go over recommendations drawn up by the newly formed Action Committee and make key decisions for the future of farming on P.E I. This issue is no small potato. It calls for quick and decisive action or it won't just be the fish dying.

Secondly, once these recommendations are put into place, front-line workers in the farming industry need more information on best land management practices so that they can make educated decisions about all those factors that contribute to contamination of streams and rivers that border arable land. This means a partnership between government and farmers, with plans put into place to help farmers follow through on the recommendations. Planning without action is futile and action without planning is fatal. So it appears to be in our little corner of the world. If the relationship is to last, Mr. Potato Head, I want to know that you mean business.

But for those of us who love the spud, I say rather than condemning farmers, we need to support them. Farming, as are all other natural resource based industries, is a tireless occupation. And a body needs food on the table. Don't bite the hand that feeds you. Literally. Enable farmers to make best choices for the environment and the health and welfare of those who live in surrounding communities bordering the potato fields all while continuing to buy thoseP.E.I. potatoes. Let P.E.I. tators continue to roll on down the highways in the back of transport trucks and glide through the airport corridors in their gleaming white bags so that people all around the world can experience what we Islanders take for granted on a daily basis. The good ole' potato -- mashed, sliced, diced or riced. It's all good.

While the recent festivities in my town got me craving potatoes, I will never split my love. In P.E.I., we're all about lending a helping hand. When one industry suffers a blow, it hurts us all. So I say, in the best interest of our island land and waters, in the best interest of our people, wildlife and fish stocks, we all need to take notice and speak up. And follow through on whatever recommendations and plans are given by the experts. If not, the love affair with potatoes might end quicker than would a pile of french fries on a Boom Burger hamburger platter.