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Community rallies to help farmer in need before the ground freezes

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Community members helping Doug Parkinson sort potatoes. | Courtesy Rachel Ryan

ELLIS — The weather has been a headache for some area farmers this year. Heavy rain in the spring delayed planting, and in the fall, rain again delayed some from harvesting their grain.

Now some potato farmers, who are still in the middle of their harvest, are lamenting the early freeze, which could damage their potato crop.

Thankfully, other members of the community are stepping up to help.

Doug Parkinson is one of the potato farmers who are worried about his crop. He runs an operation in the Salmon/Challis area and loves to donate a large portion of his crop every year to his church organization so they can help the needy in east Idaho. Parkinson is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

When he told fellow members of his church that he wasn’t going to be able to get his potatoes out before the ground froze, the community jumped in to help.

“When we saw this frost coming in, we knew Doug was in trouble. He was going to lose his crop barring some kind of a miracle with the weather,” Don Mickelson told

Mickelson is the elders quorum president of the Pahsimeroi branch, which Parkinson attends. A branch is a small congregation of Latter-day Saint church members, and a stake is made up of multiple congregations within a specific area.

“I called my stake president and said, ‘We’re not going to have the spuds this year. I just wanted to get you prepared,'” Parkinson said. “I didn’t even call and ask for help, and pretty quick he and some of the leaders down there at Salmon and Challis had a crew lined up.”

Mickelson said on Sunday morning he made some calls and got a group of seven or eight people to go and help with the harvest. They worked all day Sunday through the night until 5 a.m. Monday. A new crew of roughly 20 people showed up Monday morning and worked all through Tuesday morning. Tuesday afternoon, more people showed up and worked until they were snowed out around midnight.

Courtesy Rachel Ryan

“I didn’t ask for any help. I just told them what my situation was, and people came out of everywhere to support us in this. It was amazing,” Parkinson said.

In all, 50 to 55 people from the church, community and even all the way from Idaho Falls helped Parkinson and his crew take his fields from only about 30 percent harvested to 70 percent harvested in just three days.

“Everybody loves Doug — he and his family — because they’ve just been really, really a good asset to this area up here between Challis and Salmon,” Mickelson said. “He needed help, and he got it.”

Parkinson said this has been a difficult year with rain putting him two weeks behind in planting potatoes and grain in the spring. More rain made the grain harvest difficult, and finally an early drop in temperatures threatened his potato crop.

“It was just an amazing experience for me to see people drop everything and come and offer to do whatever needed to be done. It was incredible,” Parkinson said.

Parkinson’s situation isn’t unique. Many of the farmers in east Idaho are in a similar situation. The National Weather Service predicts that temperatures will drop into the low to mid-teens throughout the next three nights. That means many farmers are scrambling to get their spuds in.

“They really can’t dig potatoes on nights when there’s a frost because you run a risk of having cold potatoes or cold damage to the spuds,” University of Idaho Extension Office Educator Lance Ellis said.

Ellis said if the potatoes get too cold, their quality significantly drops, and they won’t last as long in storage.

“Everybody’s digging as fast as they can. The ones who aren’t done — and there’s quite a few guys who aren’t done yet especially up in the upper valley — they are digging as much as they can with all hands on deck,” Ellis said.