Smilin' Eyes Irish Gold, a distinctive new spud, is coming to P.E.I.

A West Prince potato farmer is hoping a new variety of spud with distinctive pink markings will be a big hit in Island stores, and eventually make its way to the U.S.
The Smilin' Eyes Irish Gold potatoes cost more than regular potatoes because they're a specialty spud. (Submitted by Johnny MacLean)

A West Prince potato farmer is hoping a new variety of spud with distinctive pink markings will be a big hit in Island stores, and eventually make its way to the U.S.

Johnny MacLean, from West Devon, bought the exclusive North American rights for the seed. But the potatoes didn't have a name — just a number. So he dubbed them Smilin' Eyes Irish Gold.

"The eyes on them are kind of flashed pink eyes, and some of them look like they're smiling at you, that's why I named them Smilin' Eyes."

MacLean said the yellow-fleshed spuds not only look good, they taste good — and he's eaten a lot of potatoes during his 40 years of farming.

"The best potato I ever eat," he said. "Not because I got them. I never cared for some of these other yellow potatoes, but everybody that gets them says there's nothing like them."

Johnny MacLean from West Devon planted 100 acres of Smilin' Eyes potatoes last spring. (Submitted by Johnny MacLean)

MacLean got the exclusive rights to sell Smilin' Eyes from the Potato Variety Management Institute in the U.S.

PVMI handles licensing and royalty collection on potatoes on Washington, Oregon and Idaho potato varieties.

Executive director Jeanne Debons said MacLean submitted a marketing plan outlining why he should get an exclusive contract for Smilin' Eyes in North America. The five-year contract cost $15,000, and PVMI charges a $1 per hundredweight royalty on the seed.

The flowers of the Smilin' Eyes potatoes are pink rather than white. (Submitted by Johnny MacLean)

Distinctive flowers, too

MacLean planted 100 acres of Smilin' Eyes last spring.

He said the potatoes even attracted attention while they were still in the ground thanks to their pink flowers.

"The prettiest field you ever want to see," MacLean said. "People would stop there. I seen two, three, four cars stopped there at once, taking pictures. They're real pretty."

Some stores in Prince County have just started selling Smilin' Eyes.

MacLean said they cost a bit more than regular potatoes because they're a specialty variety.He's not sure how many acres of Smilin' Eyes spuds he'll plant next spring, saying it will depend on how sales go this winter.

MacLean has his eye on the U.S. market, especially in Boston and New York, where he says there are many people of Irish descent.

Johnny MacLean is working with growers in the U.S. to market and distribute the potatoes. (Pat Martel/CBC)

About the Author

Pat Martel

Pat Martel has worked with CBC P.E.I. for three decades, mostly with Island Morning — from a writer-broadcaster to a producer. This year, Pat joined the web team with an eye to create great video. Pat also runs an adult coed soccer league in Stratford. He always welcomes great story ideas that are visually appealing. pat.martel@cbc.ca

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