Potato Pirouette

When COVID-19 hit Lions in France, they didn’t stop dancing, they just changed their moves.

Adults and young children pick potatoes
Picking potatoes is family affair for Strasbourg Argentoratum Lions, who believe you’re never too young or too old to participate.

The Lions Club Strasbourg Argentoratum in France formed on January 17, 2020, before they and the world knew what was in store for 2020. Because they had a farmer in their ranks, they decided that their first project would be to plant, cultivate, harvest, and sell potatoes. “We were ambitious and wanted it to be a 100% Lions project,” says P.D.G. Olivier Meazza.

With the profits from the sales, they planned to organize outings for people with vision impairment.

However, 2020 was not a year to make plans. France went into lockdown on March 17, 2020 and stayed that way until May 11, 2020. During that time Lions watched with shock and sadness as students from around their dynamic young city lined up at the university for food aid.

“We are the third city in France to welcome the most international students,” says Meazza. “The lockdown caused so many of these young people to lose the jobs that helped finance their studies.”

The potato action team, as they had named themselves, decided to change the direction of their project. The proceeds of the potato sales would no longer go to support action for sight, but instead support action against hunger.

Lions Club members sell potatoes
Lions hawk their wares by the 25 kilo (55 pound) bag. All together the new club grew and sold 3 tons of potatoes to contribute to the fight against hunger.

Lion Catherine Huck, founding member of the Lions Club Strasbourg Argentoratum and owner of the Tilleuls farm in Eschau, a few kilometers (approximately one mile) south of Strasbourg, was responsible for selecting and planting the Monalisa and Marabel potato varieties on an area of ​​approximately one-half acre.

“After a few weeks, beautiful tubers appeared,” says Meazza. “And then beautiful potatoes.”

By the end of August they had picked and bagged 3 tons of potatoes in 3 kilo (55 pound) bags. They stored them in a cool, dark room to prevent germination and then faced their next challenge: sell the potatoes.

“We became potato salespeople,” says Meazza. In addition to selling of loads to friends and family, Lions found a supermarket in Eschau and a location on the Illkirch Graffenstaden market to sell their bounty. Both locations gave Lions space at no charge and they were able to sell 500 kilos (1,102 pounds) in one day in front of the supermarket entrance.

The Strasbourg Cathedral Lions, who are close to the Strasbourg Argentoratum club, also purchased 150 kilos (331 pounds) to donate to the students of Strasbourg.

However, on October 29, 2020 France entered its second national lockdown. Lions were unable to continue selling their potatoes, but still had 1,500 kilos (3,306 pounds) still sitting in their cool, dark room.

“To see these potatoes sprout was to see all our efforts go up in smoke,” says Meazza. They had to act fast. They tried to donate the potatoes directly to students, but logistics made it too difficult. Then Cafes Sati (a roasting company based in Alsace) stepped in to help. They bought the entire stock of potatoes and then donated it to the Strasbourg food bank.

Despite multiple setbacks, the potato operation was a success. All it took was some pivots.