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. It certainly provided this Hollywood A-lister, aka ‘space pirate’, with his nutritious fresh food. Perhaps they took the lead from the guy who 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 at times if it’s dead and overworked. 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 freeze-dried human shit direct from the ‘can’ to grow his crops.
To be honest I found it inspiring stuff. When there’s a need for creativity unconstrained by hidebound convention or fear of precautionary regulation.
Thank goodness the stark Martian atmosphere kept potato blight at bay. A virus which had a tragic impact on the Irish population reliant on the crop resulting in the mid 19th potato famine which killed a million people. The virus is still an Achilles heel of commercial organic farming when they sometimes have to use a ‘heavy metal’, copper sulphate, to control blight; albeit blight resistant potatoes are out there for gardeners and GM blight resisting spuds are progressing.
Before we HAVE to take a trip to another planet, we should be more creative in how we husband our own increasingly environment, not put all our spud varieties in one basket, and embrace as many ways to grow food as possible.