Editor: A recent letter-writer has made a light-hearted suggestion that the potato industry should be developing a square-shaped potato, for greater efficiency in producing french fries. In fact — according to a report in the 24 August 1911 edition of the Charlottetown Patriot — something along these lines has already been attempted on the Island.
At that time, Andrew Macphail and his brother Alexander had already devoted five years to experimenting with different potato varieties on the Homestead farm at Orwell. In 1911, three of a total of 30 acres of potatoes were devoted to the so-called “Orwell Square,” a variety they had developed themselves. Its chief characteristics were “freedom from rot, uniformity of size, regularity of shape, toughness of skin, and fine quality and flavour.”
The square shape was an asset in shipping potatoes in crates, since they could be packed more tightly.
The Macphail brothers, both university professors, were believers in what they called farming by scientific principles. And it was their practice to supply high-quality seed potatoes to the local farmers.
In his great memoir The Master’s Wife, Andrew Macphail extolled the social and cultural attributes of the Island family farm. It was his hope that scientific agriculture might make such farms more efficient and profitable, thus increasing their viability.