According to the FAO (and their “year of the potato” campaign from 2008), 2008 was the year of the potato. Did you all notice? I may not have, except for the year-long display in the horticulture building at the University of Minnesota. What I recently became curious about was how much garden space it would take for a person to grow enough potatoes to satisfy their annual average consumption. But if you make it past that math in this blog entry, you’ll read about recent congressional action on the tasty tuber. The government is not telling us how many rows of potatoes to plant in our backyard, but they’re discussing how many potatoes our kids can eat.
"La Ratte" fingerling potatoes
But first, how much space do you need for your annual potato need? OK, I’ll skip the math, but we need to assume what yield we can expect. If we can get (on the low end) 100 pounds of potatoes per 100-foot row, we’d need a 35-foot row to get 35 pounds of potatoes. And 35 pounds of potatoes is what the average American eats per year (not including pre-processed chips and fries and instant flakes, etc). If we can get 150 pounds per 100-foot row, we’d only need a 24-foot row for 35 pounds of potatoes. Imagine that this way: take 8 to 12 big-sized steps in a sunny spot in your yard. Now imagine that area meeting or exceeding an average American’s (fresh) potato needs for the year. Seem reasonable? Why not try it next year?
But were this your typical blog, authored by enthusiasts or hobbyists, you’d be satisfied learning that much. But no, this horticulture blog is rooted in science and current issues. So by now, you’re pining for some research to sink your teeth into. Some scientific debate or controversy, or even recent policy news, pertaining to potatoes. So with that, I present to you: the Senate Agriculture Appropriations Bill for FY 2012. This juicy piece of legislation (passed on Nov. 1) has a potato provision, a tuber maneuver, to bypass the USDA, which wanted to limit the amount of ‘starchy’ vegetables served in school lunches to 1 cup (2 servings) per week. Their list of starchy vegetables also includes lima beans, peas, and sweet corn. Two senators from potato-rich states (Colorado and Maine) put the amendment in, effectively blocking the power of the USDA to implement such a rule. The reasoning given is that the rule would be a burden to school districts, which would have to find a way to meet nutritional guidelines with more ‘nutritional’ vegetables. A conference committee merged the House version (with no amendment to limit the USDA’s power) with the Senate version on November 15, and the full legislation does indeed contain the Senate’s provision to protect potato producers.
Harvesting beets. (Not sure why this is here. Maybe because beets are better for you than potatoes? Maybe just to see how darn cute Charlie’s son is?)
So what do you think? Should kids not be allowed to eat more than a cup of lima beans, potatoes, corn, and peas in school each week? Should it depend on how they’re prepared (French fries, for example)? Can we grow enough broccoli to replace the potatoes that kids aren’t eating? Would your kids eat kale and squash at school if peas and sweet corn were taken away? Are you more like the average Russian, who eats about 286 pounds of fresh potatoes per year? Discuss.