Potato, you say?
When the nasty exotic fungus Phytophthora infestans found its way to Ireland and devastated the nation’s potato crop several years consecutively, causing the starvation of roughly a million people, the lesson couldn’t have been clearer: Plant your food crops diversely, and stability and security will follow. Yet modern agribusiness has done it again, and today’s potato industry is by and large a one-crop machine that spits out french fries so long as we feed it russet potatoes.
But a visit to Roscoe Zuckerman’s farmers’ market stands reveals the rainbow colors of diversity to be found in the potato, one of the oldest cultivated crops that grows. On Saturdays in Davis and Sundays at Sunrise Mall, Zuckerman sells about 20 varieties of reds, yellows, whites and purples—and he sells year-round.
Winters farmer Lloyd Johnson, though, has observed that the explosion of summer fruits and greens tends to leave the humble potato paling in comparison. Thus he plants early, in March, harvests his crop by June, and sells it out by July.
“Potatoes are just something to pass the months before my peppers, tomatoes, eggplants and basil come in,” said Johnson, a twice-weekly vendor at the Davis Farmers Market.
Zuckerman notes that each potato has its culinary virtues. Even the big bad russet, he concedes, has its own honorable place in the oven. Fried in cow fat, of course, it practically feeds the nation.
Indeed, Americans tend to equate this starchy root to unhealthy eating and cholesterol. Potato consumption has even been declining for the past five years as Americans’ health awareness grows, as though the potato, rather than the cow blubber we fry it in, clogs our veins. Perhaps it’s time, then, to lay off the beef, embrace the nutrition and diversity of the potato that made it the dietary staple of pre-Columbian Peru and follow this tuber back to its roots.