Sen. Chuck Schumer on Saturday traveled to a windswept farm on the North Fork to promote what had once been a staple of Long Island farming: the humble potato.
Schumer (D-N.Y.) sang the nutritional and culinary praises of Long Island potatoes and urged restaurants and grocers that may be facing a spud shortage to consider buying them.
The impetus for the news conference at the John Kujawski & Sons farm in Jamesport was what the U.S. Department of Agriculture predicted in a Nov. 8 report to be a 6% decline in potato production in 2019.
In Idaho, by far the nation’s largest potato producer, crops were destroyed by freezing temperatures in late September and early October, and cold or wet weather reduced harvests in other states, the USDA reported.
“We haven’t had that shortage here on Long Island,” Schumer said. “Our crop is good.”
Schumer said his office contacted the National Restaurant Association to promote Long Island potatoes.
“We’ll gladly echo Senator Schumer’s praise for New York potatoes and make sure the country’s one million restaurants know Long Island growers have taters to share,” Jeff Solsby, the association’s vice president for advocacy communications, said in an email.
But John Kujawski, 78, the grandson of the farm’s founder, said he and other potato farmers on the East End are always able to find buyers for their crops. He sells to suppliers from New York to Florida and said Schumer’s visit wouldn’t make a difference.
Sandy Menasha, a potato specialist with Cornell Cooperative Extension, said even though local potato growers have markets for the crops, the publicity about Long Island potatoes — which are more versatile than the type of potatoes grown in the West — could expand demand, which may increase prices.
The relatively low prices of potatoes are a big reason potato production on the Island has been on a long decline, she said.
“Not a lot of potato farmers have the generation that’s coming up planning to take over,” Menasha said. “They see it’s hard work to continue to farm and continue to make money and a profit. A lot of it is staying as farmland but just changing to more lucrative crops,” such as plant nurseries and hemp.
Kujawski pointed across the road at what had been a potato farm and is now a nursery. He recalled how in the mid-1970s “there were 30,000 acres of potatoes out here,” and they lined roads from the East End to Farmingdale.
Now there are about 1,200 acres, Menasha said.
Many of the crops over the decades were plowed under to make way for suburban homes.
Kujawski’s son, Chris Kujawski, 58, who farms the family land with his father, said his son and daughter have no interest in farming. His daughter works at a marina in Southold, and his son is at a bank in Oregon.
Chris Kujawski said he’s staying put.
“I enjoy doing it,” he said. “I’ve been doing it for 40 years and that’s what I know how to do.”