From a photograph by Solomon D. Butcher of four daughters of rancher Joseph M. Chrisman, at their sod house in Custer County, Nebraska. From left to right, Harriet, Elizabeth, Lucie, and Ruth. Photographed in 1886.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Potatoes to Feed the World

Versatile potato has great potential



Today on the Scotsman.com, I read an interesting article about potatoes. Reporter Terry Wade writes from Lima, Peru, about a new-found respect for the potato's potential:

Potatoes, which are native to Peru, can be grown at almost any elevation or climate: from the barren, frigid slopes of the Andes to the tropical flatlands of Asia. They require very little water, mature in as little as 50 days and can yield between two and four times more food per hectare than wheat or rice.

"The shocks to the food supply are very real and that means we could potentially be moving into a reality where there is not enough food to feed the world," said Pamela Anderson, director of the International Potato Centre in Lima, a non-profit scientific group.

Like others, she says the potato is part of the solution to the hunger caused by higher food prices, a population that is growing by one billion people each decade, climbing costs for fertiliser and diesel, and more cropland being sown for biofuel production.

Source: "How potatoes could save the world" by Terry Wade, at news.scotsman.com


I've often had volunteer potatoes pop up in the garden from potato peelings or from small potatoes that I missed when digging up a crop. The potato's ability to survive and thrive has made me wonder what it is like where potatoes grew wild. In the countryside of Peru, are there places where the wild potatoes grew together so thickly that they choke out other plants?

I grew my best-ever crop of potatoes the year that my Mennonite neighbor brought me a load of straw bedding from his barn. It had a lot of manure mixed with it. I used it to mulch my little potato patch. Truly, it was a very small patch, but I harvested three 5-gallon buckets of nice potatoes.

When we lived in Bolivia, we ate some different sorts of potatoes. One type that I remember particularly was in the soups that we ate in La Paz. It was called chuño. To make chuño, the potatoes were spread outside to freeze overnight. After they thawed the next day, the juice was squished out of them (by walking on them}, and they were left in the sun to dry. This process was repeated every day for a couple of weeks, until the potatoes were completely dehydrated.

I could ramble on and on about potatoes. I could tell a few stories about my Grandpa Sees's potato farm at Gordon, Nebraska. I could even give some potato recipes.

2008 is the International Year of the Potato, so that gives me a good excuse to revisit this topic another day.

3 comments:

Mark said...

Potatoes don't get much respect.

Anonymous said...

when we lived at Gordon, Nebraska we raised potatoes and picked the potatoe bugs

Genevieve said...

Mark, you're right. The potato has long been cited as a food to avoid when dieting, but I've been reading lately that the complex starches in the potato break down slowly, thus staving off hunger for a long time.

And yes, I remember potato bugs, even though I haven't planted potatoes for a few years. When we were little, my mom paid us a penny for every 10 potato bugs we picked. Picking potato bugs was supposed to be one of our chores, and I guess the pennies were supposed to encourage us to be more thorough.

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CONTENTMENT: Keep your heart free from hate, your mind from worry, live simply, expect little, give much, sing often, pray always, forget self, think of others and their feelings, fill your heart with love, scatter sunshine. These are the tried links in the golden chain of contentment.
(Author unknown)

IT IS STILL BEST to be honest and truthful; to make the most of what we have; to be happy with simple pleasure; and to be cheerful and have courage when things go wrong.
(Laura Ingalls Wilder, 1867-1957)

Thanks for reading.