By Joanne Will
When Jerry LeBourdais learned that big agribusiness couldn’t handle the Cariboo potato, he knew he’d found a variety that he wanted to support. The name didn’t hurt either. If there was a potato out there named “Cariboo,” it had a natural home on the back-to-the-land commune near Williams Lake that LeBourdais had founded.
All he needed was some seed. It sounded simple enough.
“Jerry wanted to get a hold of some, and asked me where,” recalls John Ryser, a prize-winning seed potato farmer who lives south of Prince George. Ryser told him it wouldn’t be easy, because the potato had been decertified for seed production in 1976. By the time LeBourdais came calling in 1983, the Cariboo spud had been banned for seven years and Ryser had given up growing the variety.
“I kept the Cariboo going for years,” says Ryser. “The big cheeses de-listed it because it would hang on to the vines.” Government officials may prohibit varieties for reasons ranging from disease susceptibility to a tendency to snarl farm equipment; industrial potato farmers want plants that harvest easily with machinery. “Once a variety is de-listed, if you grow it, they’ll cancel your seed grower’s licence.”
But chance and luck launched a new chapter in the history of the Cariboo potato. During a spring meeting at the government experimental farm in Prince George in 1984, a visiting horticulturalist showed up with samples of all kinds of varieties, including Cariboo potatoes from the former Vancouver Research Station in Pemberton.
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