Visit to Potato Country Offers Hands-On Experience for Food Assistance Applications

June 12, 2015

T.K. Kuwahara, U.S. Potato Board

A recent trip to potato country for staff of private voluntary organizations helped to change perceptions of US dehydrated potatoes.  The annual workshop is sponsored by the U.S. Potato Board (USPB) to provide first-hand experience regarding the wide-ranging possibilities for use of dehydrated potato products in projects to improve global food security.

Miles Willard Technologies: 2015 Dehy Workshop Participants Test Dehy for Field Use (Courtesy: USPB)

Miles Willard Technologies: 2015 Dehy Workshop Participants Test Dehy for Field Use (Courtesy: USPB)

Fourteen participants attended the April workshop, which included tours of potato growing, storage and processing facilities in Idaho, and a hands-on field simulation at the Idaho Falls facility of food developer Miles Willard Technologies.  Participants represented field and/or headquarters from eight PVOs and the USDA’s Kansas City Commodity Office. Capping the event was a luncheon and symposium in Washington, D.C., attended by USDA, USAID, and PVO representatives.

“Workshop guests reached many ‘aha!’ moments as they developed a greater understanding of potatoes and dehydrated potato products,” commented Cade Fields-Gardner, USPB nutrition consultant.

Not only did participants gain knowledge of the process from seed potatoes to dehydrated potatoes, but they also demonstrated a greater awareness of the dehydrated products’ quality and versatility. In particular, the workshop focused on health and nutrition issues relating to dehydrated potatoes, such as diarrhea symptom management, potassium content, and high quality protein content.

“Guests were also very impressed with the pride and passion of the farmers, processors, and others involved in the potato industry,” Fields-Gardner added.

For their part, US potato growers and others find the annual event a valuable chance to see how US potatoes can help address global food insecurity. “It’s a great experience,” commented Brett Jensen, a US potato grower whose farm was one of the stops. “I’ve learned there are a lot of people who would love the opportunity to have potatoes in any shape or form in their diet consistently.”

The workshop participants agreed, citing many programs and situations where they now understand that dehydrated potatoes can fit. Some of the main applications cited were the feeding of small children, due to their role in treating malnutrition and diarrhea, and emergency and school feeding, due to the low or no fuel requirement for the products. Another area of strong interest was testing dehy-based blended products created for specific uses such as a base for complementary foods for children from 6-12 months old.

Idaho Pacific: Showing Off the New Dehy Granules 10 kg Bag Used for Cameroon Food for Education Program (Courtesy: USPB)

Idaho Pacific: Showing Off the New Dehy Granules 10 kg Bag Used for Cameroon Food for Education Program (Courtesy: USPB)

A key take-away for participants was the vast number of ways in which potatoes and dehydrated potato products can be used. For instance, one participant noted that using dehydrated potatoes in countries where tô, fufu, and other thickened porridge items are commonly eaten would make sense because the product can substitute for or supplement current ingredients.

The Washington, D.C., symposium provided an opportunity to learn more about US government programs and processes. The program featured speakers from USDA and USAID, and included discussion time for government and PVO representatives to ask questions and share information. PVO participants shared their experiences with the D.C. symposium attendees, solidifying their plans for including dehydrated potatoes in their programming efforts.

The USPB offers a variety of educational events for PVOs throughout the year. More information on this and upcoming events is available from T.K. Kuwahara at 303-873-2316.