Selling potatoes a family affair

Jeff Labine

In the back of Mike Siwak’s van, there’s bundles of potatoes ready to be sold.

With his window rolled down and earphones on, he waits for customers to pull up to his van along 15th St. to purchase his family’s homegrown potatoes. Siwak’s operation appears is fairly simple – there’s just him, his van and a few signs letting potential customers know what he’s selling and for how much.

But there’s much more going on than what motorists see as they drive by.

For starters, there’s two vehicles strategically placed at two different points in Prince Albert to grab the attention of customers. Not anyone can just park there so Siwak has an agreement to be there and has a business license as well.

“We’re not getting rich doing this,” Siwak said. “I’m not out driving a Ferrari or anything but it works out to be the same as what a job would be. This keeps me on the farm.”

Siwak’s family originally produced grain but the money needed to make the operation profitable was too much. So instead, Siwak’s father decided to grow potatoes but instead of staking out a single spot, he would deliver them to customers.

That proved too taxing over time so the operation changed to what it is today.

Siwak said roughly 90 per cent of their customers come back to buy from them.

“It kind of makes me happy in a sense because that means we’re selling a good product,” he said. “We do work really hard on selling a quality product that competes and I think beats anything you can get at the store.”

For $5, customers can buy a 10-pound bag of potatoes from Siwak or $8 for a 25-pound bag. In comparison, a three-pound bag of President’s Choice organic yellow potatoes is nearly $4. A 10-pound bag of Farmer’s market russet potatoes is nearly $5.

He said $5 for 10 pounds is a bit more expensive but that covers the cost to purchase the bags, put the bundles together and preparing them for sale.

Siwak explained his family doesn’t use any growth inhibitors so his potatoes will sprout if given enough time. He said stores prevent potatoes from sprouting so they can last longer on store shelves.

“Our potato is something you would grow in your own garden,” he said. “People appreciate that. At least I’m told they do.”

Over the past few years, Siwak has heard more people wanting to eat locally produced food but he also knows big box stores are buying up mom and pop operations to capitalize on this trend.

“As I’ve gotten older, I’ve seen a lot of family businesses that use to be in Prince Albert that aren’t here anymore,” he said. “I think that’s a sad thing. I think local people care more and I would rather see those dollars stay within our city or at least within our province.”

Siwak added there’s plans to start selling other produce but he didn’t want to give too much away.

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