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Sonoma County potato reborn

  • Foggy River Farm owner Emmett Hopkins, carrying his 7-month old daughter, Gillian, digs for Bodega Red potatoes at the farm in Healdsburg, California on Thursday, July 11, 2013. (BETH SCHLANKER/ The Press Democrat)

This harvest season, a handful of Sonoma County farmers are starting to harvest an historic potato with deep roots in the past but a fragile future.

Among them are Emmett Hopkins of Foggy River Farm, who planted 30 pounds of the endangered Bodega Red seed potatoes in his silty, loam soil in order to help rescue them from the brink of extinction.

"The Bodega Reds are by far the most vigorous out there. ... The plants are big and bushy," he said. "If they do well for us, we'll keep growing them because we believe in helping to preserve them."

Bodega Red Potatoes

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Back in the 1850s, when potatoes were one of Sonoma County's first cash crops, the Bodega Red was among the spuds shipped from Sonoma County to San Francisco and beyond to feed the Gold Rush miners and entrepreneurs.

But a funny thing happened on its way to the 21st century. By the 1970s, the Bodega Red had all but disappeared from the potato fields of Bodega and Tomales, its susceptibility toward blight exacerbated by poor farming practices.

Thanks to Slow Food Sonoma County North, a local chapter of Slow Food (an international nonprofit created to promote alternatives to fast food), the Bodega Red was placed on Slow Food USA's Ark of Taste a few years ago in an effort to save its thin red skin for posterity.

The Ark of Taste catalogs foods in danger of extinction, then promotes them to ensure they remain in production.

"In order to get onto the Ark of Taste, it has to taste good," said Elissa Rubin-Mahon of Forestville, who spearheaded the effort to bring the creamy potato back to the table.

Along the way, all kinds of experts have weighed in, providing plot twists worthy of a suspense novel.

The tale began several years ago when Rubin-Mahon put out a call to people who may be growing the potato in their garden. Eventually, an anonymous donor stepped forward with a few tiny tubers.


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