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May 30, 2018

Aroostook County organic potato farmers file for bankruptcy

The former owners of the organic potato farm Wood Prairie Family Farm in Bridgewater have filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection.

Jim Gerritsen told the Bangor Daily News the filing was precipitated by crop losses due to wet conditions in 2011 and 2013. Gerritsen and his wife, Megan, sold the farm to their son Caleb Gerritsen in 2016. As president of the Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association, Gerritsen in 2011 led a legal battle challenging agricultural seed giant Monsanto Co.'s seed patents and seeking assurance that Monsanto could not sue small farmers if traces of its patented biotech genes were found in their crops.

They listed more than $460,000 in debt, according to the BDN.

In 2013, a federal court ruled that organic growers should rely on promises on Monsanto's website that the company will not sue farmers whose crops are found to have trace amounts — less than 1% — of its proprietary seeds. At the time, Gerritsen told the Portland Press Herald that his group didn't believe the company's assurances. He said the association wanted to appeal the federal court decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.

But in 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court denied the association the right to argue its case.

"The Supreme Court failed to grasp the extreme predicament family farmers find themselves in," Gerritsen said in a press release at that time.

In December 2017, it was announced in the Fiddlehead Focus that Wood Prairie Family Farm, now operated by Caleb Gerritsen, won a 2018 Green Thumb Award for a potato variety called The Organic Potato Plant Detective, named one of the two best new edible plant introductions in the United States by the Direct Gardening Association in LaGrange, Ga. Wood Prairie Family Farm started in the 1970s.

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