Our visiting professor weighs in on potatoes

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.

7 thoughts on “Our visiting professor weighs in on potatoes”

  1. My kids like fries and mashed potatoes as much as the anyone else’s, but I’ve found myself telling them “no more beets until you finish your pizza,” for example. That sounds silly when I hear myself say it, but they love beets.

  2. Leave the skins on the things, don’t fry them in anything, don’t serve huge pats of butter (or that inedible “food” called margarine) with them, have lots of catsup available to put on everything, and you have one solution to the unstated problem of overweight children. If you limit the starchy vegetables to no more than one cup per week per child, what do they propose to serve to replace them? Yep, I ate my beets and broccoli and cauliflower at school like a good girl. Yeah, right! Most schools can’t cook a decent pizza, so who expects them to make these veggies, that most children already hate, edible to them? They’re going to end up in the garbage. Give them nutritious food they will eat, keep the vending machines out of the buildings and off the school grounds, and get them off their backsides and outdoors to run and play like the young of every other species on the planet. Leave the potatoes and corn on the menu. (You might leave the limas alone since most people who weren’t raised in the south can’t cook them either!)

  3. November 15, 2011 by wendy
    Hmmm, 286 lbs of potatoes per year. Does that count the amount that is distilled into vodka?

    Vodka is so cheap in Russia it doesn’t make sense to use perfectly edible potatoes for it. Besides, potato vodka tastes like crap.
    No, this amount of potatoes is what people really eat.
    I remember my grandparents in Ukraine had about a quarter of an acre for potatoes alone. The harvest was split between 3 families and only lasted until spring.

    After moving to America I noticed that a 10-lb bag of potatoes lasts about a week in our family of 2.

  4. I believe that the focus on potatoes misses the point. School menus have become awful from a nutritional standpoint, at least based on what they serve in my school district. Potatoes are fine if prepared away from a vat of oil. I can’t understand how we’ve become so irresponsible towards the care of our children. We cut Phys-ed down to the bone, serve them junk food and are creating a generation that will probably not live as long as the baby boomers in spite of medical break-throughs. When I was a child school food tasted terrible but at least it was planned by a nutritionist or dietition.

    I’ve nothing against trying to serve kids more nutritional vegetables as long as it’s done strategically through research to be sure they will actually eat them. However, it is even more important that they engage in much more vigorous physical activity- maybe vegetable gardening as a required subject would help solve both issues. Orchards would be even better- kid’s will almost always eat fruit.

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