Whole countries, or even a whole planet if you’ve seen The Martian, have relied on the potato.
It may have been corny. They may not have been a high grade Scottish seed potato but the chips were down when Matt Damon, marooned on Mars, discovers his only of bag of spuds and manages to propagate a life saving crop within his space hut.
The potato has the accolade as being the first ever crop grown in space thus providing the Hollywood A-lister with his nutritious fresh food – perhaps they took the lead from the guy that ate just spuds for 2 months (the BBC reported that there were no ‘strange side-effects’) – a star quality veg not currently found within the ‘leafy greens’ on the menu for astronauts on today’s Nasa missions.
The key was in the growing. We love our connection with the soil. Even if it’s dead and lifeless. Whereas snippets of red Romaine lettuce are grown with LED lights under sanitised conditions, our film star got down dirty mixing inert planet dust with human sewage freeze-dried direct from the ‘can’ to grow his crops.
To be honest I found it inspiring stuff – the need for creativity unconstrained by hidebound convention or fear of regulation.
Thank goodness the rather stark Martian atmosphere kept blight at bay. A virus that saw the downfall of an Irish population that had come to rely on the crop when the mid 19th potato famine killed a million people. It’s still an Achilles heel of commercial organic farming that they have to rely on a ‘heavy metal’, copper sulphate, to control blight; albeit blight resistant potatoes are out there for gardeners and GM blight resisting spuds are still being researched.
Before we have to take a trip to another planet, we should be more creative in how we husband our own increasingly alien environment, not put all our spud varieties in one basket and embrace as many ways to grow them as possible.
Addendum May 2107 – my conversation with farmers at Hay Festival 25 May 2017 on how agri-tech can reduce farming’s footprint on the environment