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Potatoes

Posted 7/28/2015 10:58am by Judy Lessler.

Last winter I bought the two-volume Cambridge World History of Food. Each volume is over 1000 pages long and printed in two columns and in about eight point type. There is a huge amount of information available in these volumes. The nutritionist, historians, horticulture experts, and botanist who prepared this book recruited a large number of authors to write various sections. The book is well researched and has lots of references. You don’t need to buy one; call me if you need to know anything about any vegetable.  

We grow potatoes on Harland's Creek farm. Potatoes are considered as staple food throughout the world. The editors of this book divide staples into two groups. The first group is grains and includes amaranth, barley, buckwheat, maize or corn, millet, oats, rice, rye, sorghum and wheat. The starchy staples includes bananas and plantains, manioc, white potatoes, sago, and sweet potatoes or yams. 

Potatoes are the fourth most important staple food. They evolved in the Andes and spread throughout the world. Different varieties of potatoes are found throughout South America and Central America. There are over 200 different varieties of wild potatoes. It’s not clear when potatoes began to be domesticated because hunters and gatherers also assembled stocks of potatoes from the wild. In Peru and Bolivia, there’s evidence of their use as a domesticated plant between 10,000 and 7000 years ago. In South America, there was a vertically integrated production system in which quinoa and corn were grown at lower altitudes and potatoes and other tubers grown at higher altitudes. Llamas were raised at the very tops of mountains. There was communication between farmers at the various altitudes, and crops were traded with the llamas being used as the "beast of burden." 

Sir Francis Drake is credited with bringing the potato to Europe. There is however some doubt about that. He did write about the potatoes on his round the world voyage which lasted from 1577 two 1580.

The potato spread throughout Europe and was such an important crop, that it is credited with the elimination of famines by the early 19th century. Potatoes were cheaper than wheat bread and could be grown on small holdings. Combining potatoes, some greens, and flesh from farm animals resulted in a nutritious diet. One of the disadvantages of the potato is that it can be not be stored for many years the way some grains can. Therefore, it must be planted every year. In some places, particularly Ireland, people became so dependent upon the potato that there was widespread famine d when the potato was hit by late blight.  

Potatoes are spring crop in North Carolina. We plant them in late March and have usually harvesting them completely by the end of June. Were able to grow organic potatoes in North Carolina easier than farmers in the northern regions can because we plant them, cultivate them, and harvest them before late blight blows through. Our yields of organic potatoes are as high as yields of non-organic potatoes in northern region.

Harland's Creek Farm grows organic  red, Yukon gold, and two varieties of fingerling potatoes,. You can buy them at our stand at the Durham Farmers' Market.

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