If you’re Irish, you exist partially because of me.
It began with the Spanish seeking riches in the New World.
Along with untold amounts of silver, the Spanish discovered me.
I was just one variety of potato, among thousands of varieties that had been developed over thousands of years. There were potatoes of all of different sizes, shapes, colors and tastes. Some grew well in the mountains, others in the valley. Some liked the sun, others more rain. Mostly we did well in what you’d call ‘lousy soil’ and while it’s wasn’t orderly, we were productive and fed the growers and their families.
The Spanish brought riches back to Europe and that wealth helped fuel the Industrial Revolution. I, and a few other types of potatoes— and corns & tomatoes and loads of other seeds, plants and animals— also made the voyage to Europe. We helped feed the (factory) workers of the Industrial Revolution.
At first, I wasn’t popular. The Catholic church called me a “dirty, sinful food” because potatoes grew underground.
But Ireland was a land full of poor and hungry peasants and once they learned how many calories me, the Lumper, could provide, they planted more and more of my offspring on the small farms they rented and in their family gardens.
More calories for the peasants meant they could raise more children.
More children meant they had to grow even more potatoes for more calories.
In just a few decades, the population of Ireland exploded.
Until one year.
A certain fungi attacked the Lumper plants and turned their growing potatoes into mush. There was nothing to combat the fungi and protect the plants from devastation. The fungi spread from Lumper plant to Lumper plant, all across the county. It was a blight. A famine.
Plants died and, without food, people died, from starvation and from diseases which attacked hungry bodies. One of every eight Irish died. Ireland lost 1,000,000 to death while another 1,000,000 or so left Ireland.
This happened even as there was more than enough food in Ireland to feed everyone. As the peasants starved, the large landowners continued to export food, like wheat, oats, barley, butter, bacon, even cows, out of the country. The government did little because they were told (by the wealthy who wanted to protect profits) to let the ‘free market’ work.
It was a disaster. And, right or wrong, me, the Lumper Potato gets blamed.
Many of the Irish sailed to America. Free land was available (if you were white and male) because tens of millions of Native Americans died with the arrival of Europeans.
Today, there are parallels to what happened more than 150 years ago in Ireland:
1.We’ve wiped out most of the genetic diversity of our plants and we rely on fewer varieties to provide nearly all our calories. Our grocery stories provide the illusion of choice, i.e. the majority is a couple varieties of corn, soy, wheat & sugar processed, marketed and sold to us by a handful of companies. As we reduce diversity, we weaken the ecosystem, lose resilience and raise our risks.
2.We promote export agriculture. The best lands are increasingly owned by fewer people and used to cultivate food for export, and to feed animals and cars. Small farmers are forced off the land into cities where they must buy food. Each year, we grow far more than enough food to feed humanity, yet about 900M go hungry due to lack of access to land, information or money. Increasingly, crops are fed to animals and cars, i.e. ethanol & biodiesel.
At the same time, an increasing number understand the flaws in the system. Rather than just focus on teaching people to make better food choices, they aim to get to the roots of the issues and work on what’s possible.
We join and support:
1.Those growers who create systems based on the wisdom of nature. Rather than scale and maximize, they design and optimize, building diverse, resilient systems. It’s epitomized best in the permaculture movement going mainstream. And international agencies releasing study after study with evidence that small, diverse farms are the only way to feed the world.
2.Humanity organizing to take back independence from the few who increasingly control the world’s governments and the land and food supply. It’s largest force is The Global Peasant’s Movement, under the banner La Via Campesina
So much is possible. Especially when we realize we’re all a part of nature. Rather than overpower or modify nature, when we apply what we learn from it, we thrive.