As tomorrow is Saint Patrick's Day, I thought it was appropriate to talk about one of the most famous agricultural mishaps in history: The Irish Potato Famine.
After Sir Walter Raleigh brought the Potato to Europe it became wildly popular in Northern European counties where grains were not always consistent. Potatoes also provided much larger amounts of food per acre. As such, the potato was grown extensively in Ireland, where they were going through a population boom during the industrial revolution.
The problem was that in Ireland there was only one strain or breed of potato, a monoculture. This stopped the genetic evolution of the breed and meant that all the potatoes in Ireland were susceptible to the same bugs and illnesses.
In 1849 a ship bringing crops from America arrived in Ireland with a particular strain of air-borne fungal spores that Ireland's potatoes stood no chance against. Within months most of the potatoes in Ireland had turned black and the scent is said to have lingered on the air for years. Millions of people were left without food or a way to support themselves.
So what is the lesson we can gain from this? Crop diversity is important. However, large scale farming is leading to monoculture as the demand for uniform food products like the potatoes for fast food French Fries is driving plantings. We as consumers must try to embrace food diversity to give large food corporations incentives to provide diversity in their products and give farmer's opportunities to diversify crops. And even on a small scale in your garden, planting more than one variety of tomato will help make sure that you harvest tomatoes and may introduce you to something that becomes your new favorite.
What is your opinion on American Monoculture? Do you plant multiple varieties of the small thing your garden or on your ranch?