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The Urban Potato: It’s Time Has Come


1st prize: Eitan Abramovich, Peru
“Harvest of native potatoes”
International Year of the Potato World Photography Contest

The Urban Potato: It’s Time Has Come
By Jac Smit
October 29, 2008
From the Desk of Jac Smit

A few years ago I stood on the roof of a hospital in Port au Prince, Haiti. The surface was half straw and other half organic thrash and half potato foliage. A week later I visited a friend in Washington DC. He took me out to his porch and there was a bale of hay [wire bound] with potato foliage on three sides.

I soon learned that these two cases were examples of “Lazy Man Farming”. Lazy Man was invented in Germany in the 19th Century. Its most cited practice is roadside cultivation in Newfoundland Canada. There the farmers collect seaweed, off load it on the side of the road, and insert seedlings.

Potatoes, sweet and sour, do not need soil. Potatoes can be produced soil free on any flat surface: roofs, roadsides, off-season ski resort parking lots, and-so-forth. And its not just hay or seaweed; supermarket and restaurant waste work as well or better.

On a recent visit to Mexico City I discovered the “Potato Tree”. I learned that potatoes grow up and sideways, not down. Home owners and shopkeepers were planting potatoes in a waste filled discarded automobile tire; in a few weeks they added a second tire and within three months had a six-tire high “tree” full of potatoes. The ‘Potato Tree’ is also practiced in garbage cans, black plastic bags and in wooden boxes.

On a visit to a health care center in Nairobi, Kenya I learned of the many benefits of Sweet Potato production. Not only does the sweet potato have the benefits listed above but the foliage is edible and very healthy. The more you harvest the leaves the more the root is stimulated to expand. Sweet potato also lasts longer in storage than most regular potatoes.

A lot is happening in the arena of the potato. The United Nations declared 2008 to be “The Year of the Potato”. In China potato production was up 50% from 2005 to 2007. In India yields increased on demonstration farms from 4 tons to 8 tons per acre, when they bought better seeds. In Peru, where the ‘Potato Center’ research includes 200 varieties, yields were up 20% from 2007 to 2008.

I am sorry that none of these stats report on the Urban Potato. They do hint at what’s possible in the bag, the tire and on the roof.

A rural acre of potato delivers more protein than an acre of wheat in half the time. Urban potato technology produces ten to twenty times as much per square yard as the rural potato patch and it requires both less storage and less shipping.

Urban Potato References:

1. UNFAO, UN Food and Agriculture Organization, Bambi Lotalado, Italy
2. CIP, International Potato Center, Pamela Anderson, Peru
3. McCain Food Ltd., David Caldiz, USA
4. AGRITECH, Bangalore, India
5. AVRDC, Asian Vegetable Research and Development Center, Taiwan
6. Univ. Of Idaho, Potato Production Systems Program
7. Grow-Potatoes-garbage-can
8. Mother Earth News: Grow Potatoes in Hay

See more of Jac Smit’s writing here.

The International Year of the Potato 2008 website here.

See ‘A History and Social Influence of the Potato’ by Redcliffe Salaman here.

Edible of the Month: Potato – National Gardening Association.

The Book of the Potato


Early 1900’s book cover: The Book of the potato. A practical handbook dealing with the cultivation of the potato in allotment, garden and field; also the pests and diseases thereof; together with selections and descriptions of the most productive, best cooking, and disease-resisting varieties, etc.
By T. W. SANDERS, F.L.S., F.R.H.S. (Thomas William), 1855-1926
Editor of “Amateur Gardening” ; Author of “Allotment and Kitchen
Gardens,” “Vegetables and their Cultivation” etc.)
See flip book edition here.

1 comment

1 Najma Sadeque { 02.25.11 at 6:48 am }

The time for the urban potato is definitely on. But it takes some urban hunger, food shortages and anger for people to get kick-started. Thank you for the ideas in this article which we’ll disseminate through our campaign for urban food gardening.