Chesterfield Potato Day

Steve Sansom is a member of Transition Chesterfield. One of the group’s most successful projects is Potato Day and the group recently celebrated their 10th annual event at which they sold more than quarter of a million seed potato.

Potato Day is an annual opportunity for people to buy seed potato. We have almost 40 varieties for sale each year and people can buy anything from a single seed potato to enough for their allotment. We source our stock from Scotland, which is where most of Britain’s seed potato comes from, and sell it at a town centre location on the last Saturday in January. People can place a pre-order online a few months in advance and pick it up on the day. We also order stock for sale on the day.

It’s a popular event. This year, for the first hour we were open we had a queue of people the length of the shop waiting to pay, even with five people taking payments.

Potato Day helps us achieve our goal of making Chesterfield a more environmentally sustainable community. We’re helping people to grow their own food. One of the added benefits is that home grown potatoes taste infinitely better than shop-bought ones! We also make a small profit on each sale and this funds all our other costs as a group throughout the year.

The high moment for me is meeting people on the day, who often express their thanks that we put on the event. Personally, my worst thing personally is the admin. If only I had better skills in database management! We use a database of all the pre-orders to decide what to order for on-the-day sale. If one variety of seed potato has been really popular amongst pre-orders we will order more of that for on-the-day sale than a variety that has been less popular. Pre-orders also limit our financial risk as a community group as they are paid for upfront before we ever place our wholesale order.

There are about 40 volunteers involved in our event but you don’t need that many to start with. We have people involved in the planning of the event, those who spend an evening a few weeks beforehand weighing legume seeds (we’ve expanded into seeds other than potatoes in recent years). Some people come the night before to prepare the shop, others come on the day, and this year we even had a team who just came afterwards to clean up.

You can do it on a smaller scale though. We’ve helped Transition Loughborough set up their Potato Day and four years in they run the event with about 10 people on the day, and four involved in advance planning. Although you need several volunteers on the day, the rest of the year you need someone, or a few people, to really drive the project. If you’ve not got that, you’ve not got an event.

If you’re thinking of starting your own Potato Day don’t be afraid to ask for help. I had a really helpful conversation with some people who run a Potato Day in West Yorkshire. For the first few years we had a market stall for our event; then we asked the council if we could have an empty shop unit in our local shopping centre, which is part-owned by the council. So far, every year there has been a vacant shop unit available for us so it was worth the ask.

There’s definitely room for more Potato Days around the country. We’re keen to work with other groups wishing to set up a similar event, so long as they’re not too geographically close to us! If you want to share a wholesale order with us or want advice about how to run an event get in touch.

Find out more:



Steve was talking to Caroline Harmon in February 2018