I've noticed supermarkets here (Connecticut) advertising 10 pounds of potatoes
for 77 cents. Less than 8 cents a pound.
Yesterday on the AP wire, there was a story from Kennewick, Washington.
Potatoes for processing (Meaning that they will consume lots of additional
energy before they're eaten and will likely be covered with various more or less
unhealthful substances for the enrichment of a few large corporations and the
enlargement of our country's health care costs.) are bringing between $95 and
$100 dollars per ton, versus $88 a ton last year. That's 5 cents a pound top
price. Fresh market potatoes are bringing only $75 a ton because of large
supply, less than 4 cents a pound.
At the farmers markets in the run-over and fading-fast valley towns nearby we
are able to sell most all the potatoes we are willing to part with for $1.50 and
$2.00 a pound. People come back especially to buy more from us because they
like the flavor. (What must potatoes taste like when they've been sprayed two to
three times a week with poisons. Ciba claims that Ridomil "Protects for months
in storage and transit." Put some of that on a BT engineered potato and what's
the taste effect?)
A friend who sells at a market in the area where New Yorkers spend the weekend
gets up to twice as much for his choicest (the smallest) potatoes. His most
expensive potatoes sell first.
Perhaps there is some middle ground between these two systems which might also
What about soil health? Usually once we disturb a system it changes. I would
imagine that the mix of pesticides sprayed on potatoes not only kills many
helpful organisms in the soil and in the air, it also selectively breeds for
resistant pests. Is this behind the evolution of late blight?
Fowler and Mooney make it clear that while the narrow genetic base of the Irish
potato and its monoculture had a role in devastion of the late blight, it was
the social system and export agriculture which caused the human disaster. They
write that at that time "4,000 people owned 80 percent of the land and the
annual earnings of a rural laborer rarely equaled the rent on a single acre of
land," and that during the famine, "80 percent of the countryside was still
being grazed, not cultivated, and that grain continued to be exported at a time
when hundreds of thousands were perishing."
The social system in this country is in at least as bad shape as agriculture is.
Five percent of the farms earn 75 percent of farm income. 100 vegetable growers
control almost one quarter of the market.
The "Marketing Sector" of "Agriculture" now takes about 80 percent of each food
dollar and it wants even more.
Yet many keep trying to solve only "Production Sector" problems and insist that
agriculture (production and marketing sectors together) not be held accountable
for any social effects.
The marketing sector is left for the market (after all possible environmental,
energy, social and health subsidies are exploited) to work out.
The potato marketer with the lion's share of the snack chip market brags on its
bags that it takes 4 pounds of potatoes to produce one pound of chips. Since
presumably the fat and salt have some weight, it must waste over three quarters
of the potatoes it buys. I suspect this waste is connected with the wasting of
farms and ecosystems in order to meet the processors' demand for cheap raw
Agriculture in the cities:
With just about 1/2 acre of cropland per person globally, we've got to learn to
grow in small spaces, especially since industrial agriculture has no intention
of making whole and healthful food available to the poor who live in the cities.
It's easy to find chips or fries (in small containers at four to six dollars a
pound) almost anywhere in the city, but try to find a well-raised potato (other
than in community gardens) in poor neighborhoods. With urban populations in
this region shrinking and buildings being torn down, and with the joy, learning
and pride that school and community gardens provide, expanded urban agriculture
is one of the most hopeful things on the horizon.
Those who don't want to participate in producing their food, or supporting local
farmers will get about that they deserve- food that is genetically engineered,
sprayed nearly (or even) to death, robbed of its nutrients in processing,
expensively advertised and produced by an industrial agriculture that certainly
will crash, and may take major ecosystems and civilization with it. It will be
delivered exclusively by entities with the morals and greed of Philip Morris,
Nestle, ADM, Pepsico and McDonald's.
Thanks for your attention and interest in potatoes.