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October 22, 2014 / Rick Swann

Potato harvest and lesson!

Makah Ozette potatoes


The Makah Ozette Potato is the only potato in North America that did not come here via Europe. It was imported directly from South America, arriving via ship in 1791. That spring a ship arrived in Neah Bay, Washington, manned by Spaniards with plans to establish a mission there. They planted a garden, but abandoned the site within the year when severe winter storms created conditions unsafe for moorage of their vessel.

The Makah people continued to grow the potatoes the Spaniards brought with them directly from from South America, and it became a staple in their diet. In 2004 Slow Food recognized the potato by naming it to their Ark of Taste. Slow Food Seattle has been making Makah Ozette seed potatoes available to local school gardens and I’ve been working on lesson plans for this crop that is so rich in history.

Here is a math lessons with a Common Core tie in:

Mathematics: Have students count the number of seed potatoes, and depending on their age, weigh them as well. Weighing them can introduce a lesson on grams and kilograms. CCSS.MATH.CONTENT.4.MD.A.1 Save the data!

At harvest time, next year’s students can compute how many potatoes each seed potato produced and, for older students, ratios of seed potato weight to harvest yield. Word problems such as: “If you had used x amount of seed potatoes what would the harvest have been?” can be constructed. CCSS.MATH.CONTENT.4.MD.A.2

This summer I grew potatoes in an old 10-gallon bucket in my backyard. I started with it 1/3 full of soil and added more to it as the plants grew over the course of the summer, ending up with a bucket full of soil by early August. I put in 3 very small Makah Ozette Potatoes I had left over from the year before. My harvest, pictured above, was 51 potatoes, or 17 times the number I started with. But the potatoes I grew were much bigger! By weight my yield was 42 times what I started with!

In 1919 the Seattle school district ordered 15 tons of seed potatoes for students to grow as part of the U.S. School Garden Army initiative that began during the Great War. Now I can understand how students managed to grow over $100,000 worth of produce. Adjusted to 2014, that’s about $1,300,000 worth of vegetables!

These potatoes, by the way, are great eating. The trick is to not eat them all, so you can grow them again the following year! Just store a few in a cool, dark, and dry spot over the winter and plant them come spring. Can’t wait!

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