September 26, 2011

Governing your potatoes.

I recently converted to Google News, where you can hand pick and easily organize your news. It’s fantastic, and allows me to congregate any news I can find on agriculture all in one place. Today, the top stories are that the USDA wants to take potatoes out of school lunches, puréed pork and ground beef have been recalled, and food stamp users don’t have any income. It takes a few stories to see agriculture related headlines: Alabama’s commissioner is promoting free trade, Michigan is supporting new dairy programs, Minnesota should export more, and dry weather in Nebraska is allowing early harvesting.

Agriculture equates to food for a lot of people, and understanding food on the level of what we should and shouldn’t be eating: we shouldn’t be allowing children to eat so many potatoes and we shouldn’t be eating tainted meat. But potatoes aren’t really all that bad if they don’t come breaded and fried. Potatoes have plenty of vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals stored inside which can help fight disease, maintain healthy blood pressure, and if baked only cost around 161 calories. That’s not so bad. The Huffington Post article goes over the political fight regarding funding of USDA guidelines limiting potatoes and it’s starchy friends while favoring other nutritious options in school meals. On the opposite side, senator Susan Collins of Maine’s potato country with Colorado’s potato growing Senator Mark Udall are worried about the loss to their farmers. Politics. Isn’t it interesting that the factors affecting how we feed our children in schools comes down to politics?

This is how we understand agriculture – politics and the food that ends up on your plate based upon those policies. It explains why we only eat white potatoes. The grocery store allows your pick between russets, Yukon gold, or red potatoes and maybe fingerlings if you’re looking. But potatoes come in all shapes and colors with varying nutritional values and tastes depending on the variety. In fact, Seed Savers Exchange (who saves and shares heirloom varieties of vegetables) lists sixteen different varieties for purchase in it’s catalogue – long, skinny ‘Purple Peruvian’, chubby ‘German Butterball’, and a completely brown flesh ‘All Blue’ variety. If you want a potato for soups, grow ‘Carola’. If salad is your thing, try the ‘Rose Finn Apple.’ And if you just want great yield with an overall great taste, then order the ‘Carible’. But it doesn’t end there, as Seed Savers Exchange has over 650 named varieties of potatoes with over 657 available through its network of fellow seed savers. That’s amazing. So how is it that you have so few choices at the grocery store? We’ll get to that when I explore fruit. 

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