Friday, August 24, 2012

The Amazing Potato

When we think of potatoes we probably think of Ireland, or Germany, or possibly Idaho.  Really though, we should think of ancient Peru and the South American Andes Mountains.  In the high elevations of these steep mountains is where the potato originated up to ten thousand years ago.  During these ancient times, literally thousands of varieties of potatoes were developed, a far cry from the handful of varieties typically available in the grocery store today.  It wasn't until the late 1500's through when explorers finally brought potatoes to Europe.  Then, by the 1700's potatoes had spread across Europe and provided the agricultural system and calories needed to start the industrial revolution.  It is very likely that without the potato being imported from South America the industrial revolution would have never happened.  Without the potato, today's society would be vastly different from what it is, and I'm not just talking about the supper table.  Without the food provided by the potato, much of the technology we have today probably wouldn't be around.

Today, many of the thousands of varieties of potatoes are still found in the Andes Mountains.  Modern varieties of potatoes developed for wide scale agriculture are more productive though.  This additional productivity is not without its cost though.  Old varieties, possibly thousands of years old, are more disease resistant, require fewer pesticides and fertilizers, are less prone to crop failure, and taste better.  The increased productivity of modern varieties comes at the cost of requiring more chemicals, being more prone to disease and failure, and don't taste as good.  Each of the old varieties has a distinct color, consistency, and taste making the potato a very diverse food fit for nearly every meal.  Columbia for example uses a great diversity of potatoes in nearly every distinctly Columbian recipe.

If you want to grow potatoes for yourself, the easiest thing to do is buy a potato at the store.  The potato can be planted whole in the soil.  Or, you can wait until "eyes" grow on the potato and cut a square inch or so size chunk of potato out around the eye.  Let the eye and attached chunk of potato dry out for a day and then bury an inch or so in the soil.  Potatoes aren't extremely picky on soil type, but do not do extremely well in high clay content soil or rocky soil.  Make sure the soil remains moist but not soaking wet. 

To see some of the variety of potatoes check out these National Geographic photos: Potato Variety

Also, check out this CNN article: American's just don't understand the potato.  Columbian's do.

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