THE GREAT SPUDS AND EARS GIVEAWAY
By Mardi Ford
Although there is a lot to be said for synergy, sometimes all it takes for great things to happen is for one person to care.
This past week, dozens of people came together to help fight hunger in Union County all because Barbara Richmond Harris could not stand to see an acre of corn go unharvested.
"Yeah, well, now they're all calling me the Spud Bud," she laughs, about her efforts. "What an eye opener," she adds. "I didn't realize there were so many people out there that were hungry."
Standing in her front yard in slippers and sweats, Harris looks tired. Apologizing for her house, her appearance, her scattered thoughts, she admits she is tired really, really tired. It has been a very unusual week for Harris focused on something bigger than housework or hair.
"Well, really, this is all my granddaughter's fault," Harris begins to explain with mock exasperation.
Seven-year-old Tymalyn Richmond and her cousin Amelia Matthews, 5, decided they needed to grow a garden this summer out at Grandma's house, set up a produce stand and sell their harvest to save money for college.
After they had planted the garden, Harris ended up with about an acre's worth of leftover seed corn and offered it to her neighbors at C-Bar-T Ranch.
Ranch owner Clay Scott decided to try it under pivot irrigation, Harris says, and it did great. But then his plans to harvest it fell through.
"I just couldn't stand to see that corn go to waste and I thought maybe somebody could use it," Harris says. "I did not do this for any other reason other than I grew up really poor and I know what its like to go without."
She thought maybe she could harvest it and give it away, so when Scott told her to "Go for it," she did.
Starting with family and friends, Harris put the word out there was corn for the picking. After filling both her and husband John's pickups, the couple realized there was "way too much corn left out there for just us."
Harris heard there was a farmer's market in Union, so she filled up her pickup and drove to Union with the plan to give it away. But when she got to town, there was no market.
As Harris was leaving town, she spotted a sign by the United Methodist Church that read, "Food Bank 10 to 12."
"There must have been 70 people already in line and I thought maybe they could use some," Harris says.
She was not only able to give some away to those in line, but people driving by stopped to ask if they could have some of the fresh corn, too.
As the word spread that Harris was giving away corn, she got a call from Gary and Carol Chapman from RDO-Grande Ronde Farms. They had a pickup load of potatoes to give her to go with the corn for the food banks, they told her.
"I kept thinking about those little old ladies in line at the food bank, so I took 'em," Harris says, not knowing exactly what she would do next.
The next step came in the way of Fred and Tim Wallender of Homestead Ranch who made yet another offer of potatoes.
"They told me they had missed a whole row of Shepodys that were lying in the field. They told me I could have them if we could come and get them," Harris explains.
Harris realized she was in over her head with more than she could harvest and distribute alone. But with a work history in radio and advertising, she decided to put media power to work.
"I called Terry Morgan at KCMB, told her what was going on, and asked her if the station could do some (public service announcements)," Harris says.
Harris also laid down some ground rules and had them included in the announcements.
"Take only what you can use. Do twice what you can use and give away the extra to others. And you can't sell it," Harris lists the rules off on her fingers. "And everybody was okay with that. It was phenomenal," she smiles weary, but happy.
The radio announcements hit the airwaves on Tuesday and by that afternoon, Harris' phone started ringing. She had more help than she imagined for harvest, bagging and delivery.
She got calls from people needing food, but unable to help work during the harvest. She also had calls from people willing to work just because they needed the food.
"People from all four wards of the Mormon church came out, as well as Valley Fellowship. They didn't just load up for themselves, though, they began by giving it away first," Harris says with admiration.
"Angela Wittnau is a member of one of the wards. She and her neighbor Laura came every day and worked hard doing whatever was needed. Angela became my right hand," Harris grins and shakes her head over a shared joke.
"Angela's a Mormon I'm a Catholic. We shared a few laughs over that," she explains.
Farm trucks of potatoes and corn were harvested from the fields by the volunteers, brought to Harris' house and bagged by more volunteers from that Tuesday afternoon throughout the rest of the week. Harris and some of the others also delivered to those unable to make it out to her house in the country.
"You should see where some of those people live."
For a moment, Harris is silent. She turns her gaze to the wide, farm fields that surround her home. Suddenly, she picks up the story where she left off.
One afternoon she forgets which day she contacted friends, Ron and Terry Crump and Tina Hurst, at Artesian Blue in Cove to come get what they needed for their employees.
"Ron and Terry came out one lunch hour and picked corn for about 45 minutes and half-filled their pickup," Harris says. They also brought Harris 12 cases of water for the work crews.
After Don Waldrop came from his church to get a load of corn and potatoes, Harris says he showed up the next day with ice to keep the water bottles cold.
Another woman who came by just to get a bag for her own family ended up taking a whole pickup load of potatoes to distribute in Elgin.
Boxes and bags for the corn and potatoes came from anywhere they could get them, including Barenbrug Seed.
"Maarten (Tromp van Holst) brought us a bunch of those big yellow (seed) bags they use over there," Harris says.
On Thursday, Harris called Domino's Pizza to see if they would make her a deal on half a dozen pizzas so she could offer the workers some lunch.
"When I told Doug (the manager) what we were doing, he just said, Don't worry about it I'll take care of it.' I would have paid for them, but he wanted to help, too," Harris said.
One night the Salvation Army came from Baker City to load up on fresh vegetables. The Imbler and Cove school districts will be serving potatoes this fall from Harris's harvest.
In fact, there are hundreds of people from all over who are eating thousands of pounds of food that could have rotted in the field if Harris wasn't the kind of person her husband says, "just can't help herself from helping others."
And if all this weren't enough, there is one more wrinkle.
While Harris was helping people here in Oregon, members of her own family were dealing with hurricanes in Florida. This week, thanks to a complimentary airline ticket arranged for her by a friend in Texas, who also got fresh farm produce, the Spud Bud is flying to Tampa.
And she's taking 300 to 400 pounds of potatoes with her.
"You probably think I'm crazy," she says. "But this was never about me and I don't want a bunch of publicity out of this. I want you to talk about how all these other people came together and worked so hard for so many days."
She takes another slow look around her yard. Raising her arm she points to the top of the flagpole in her front yard.
Against the clear, blue sky of a warm, September morning, a slight breeze suddenly lifts the red, white and blue in a soft wave. A perfect moment. I'll tell you what. That's what its all about," Harris smiles proudly. "That right there."