Potato, back from brink, finds home at Table Top

08/17/2017

Did it jump ship with a sailor who made it to the shores of Bodega Bay, or was it sewn into the hem of a bride-to-be of a Bodega Bay landowner? Local legends may differ on the details, but it’s generally agreed that the Bodega Red potato arrived by boat directly from South America, likely Peru, to the shores of Bodega Bay in the early 1800s. 

“It stores well, it has a sweet, creamy texture, and it can tolerate both hot and cold, which is probably why it did so well for so many years on the north coast,” Arron Wilder, owner and operator of Table Top Farm in Point Reyes Station, said. 

Table Top has grown the Bodega Red for the past five growing seasons, and may be the only farm in Marin County to have done so. The variety, which can grow with little to no water, was nevertheless thought to have disappeared entirely from production in the 1970s. The potatoes once flourished in Sonoma and Marin, and were in part responsible for the area’s reputation as the “potato capital of California,” with barges carrying exclusively Bodega Reds from Bodega Bay to San Francisco on a regular basis. 

They were extremely susceptible to blight, however, and were wiped out decades ago. Abigail Meyers Killey, a Bodega resident and former director of Bodega Land Trust, was a champion of resurrecting the variety around 10 years ago. 

“We’d heard tell of them, and we were looking,” she said of a collaboration between the land trust and Slow Food. “I put an article in the Bodega Land Trust newsletter and someone actually came forward. This person said that they had been growing in her garden as volunteers for as long as she could remember.” 

With just a handful of tiny potatoes, the group sent the samples to a breeder in Washington State that produced a more disease-resistant strain. Ms. Killey helped distribute the potatoes to growers with the condition that they bring back half of what they planted, in order to keep producing more seed stock. 

“Everyone was involved here in Bodega. We made a little community play about the history, we wrote a song, we put on an event in town—we spread the word through these various ways,” she said. 

Mr. Wilder, who has a background in soil science, farms 14 acres on four different plots. “One of my goals is to grow as many rare and heirloom varieties as possible that are adaptable to our soils. This is a really exciting one to me, and it has done so well, I kept growing it,” he said. 

Ben Livingston, the farm’s field manager, said they are “really the most delicious potatoes I’ve had in any context. They are good for roasting, good for mashing.”

The Bodega Reds, which sell for $3 a pound, can be purchased at Table Top Farm’s two farmstands—on Cypress Road and inside the Point Reyes Station town commons.