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The luck of the muck
- Updated: July 13, 2013
“We won’t know anything really until harvest,”said Mark Johnson of Johnson Potato Farms on Route 88 in Sodus.
The torrential rains of June into the beginning of July have certainly caused havoc for many farmers in the area, but muck farmers, with such crops as onions and potatoes, are especially vulnerable due to the swampy land they till.
Mark and his brother Jack and nephew Eric have been working on the family potato farm since the patriarch Roderick Johnson retired. Their dad began the farm back in 1948 and continued until ill health slowed him down.
Mark admitted that he worked on the farm as a kid because “I had to”… now farms because it is in his blood. He says he was just “sucked back in”after a a stint working as a machinist.
The soil used by the Muck Farmer is a rare find. It is actually an organic mass and is, or has been, prevalent in this area of Wayne County for years. “You find it in Oswego, Fulton and Albion also,” said Mark. But, muckland is not forever. Sometimes it just dries up, the edges get hard and it is not as deep, and stonier. “Muck goes away every year and you have to re- introduce it and drain it and continue to pump the fields when necessary,” Johnson explains.
Good muck holds the moisture, and is perfect for growing potatoes and onions. “The biggest problems is always drainage,” Johnson noted. “It is a constant struggle.” A farmer cannot just run out after a heavy rain and put the pumps on. “You have to plan, the pumps have to be in place and the draining must be kept up,” Mark explained. “Canal must be constantly cleaned and cleared.”
Johnson’s Potato Farm grows red and white potatoes, as well as Yukon Gold and a variety of onions. They grow what is called “table stock”, not the type of potatoes they use in potato chips. The onions grown at Johnson’s are send to the New York City area. Their potatoes end up in Pennsylvania, and they also sell both potatoes and onions at their farm stand on Route 88 in Sodus.
Potatoes and onions are planted in April and May and harvest begins in late August or September. Mark sadly expects some areas of the land to be totally wiped out this year from the rains. Other areas, surprisingly are flourishing. It is a crap shoot at best. There were three years out of five that were disasters, but Mark admits that it the nature of farming. At age 52, Mark still thinks that muck farming is a good job and can be lucrative some years.
“This year, not so much” Mark laments.