Thursday, September 13, 2012

A Lesson from the Potato Famine

One of the other downsides of the industrial approach to modern agriculture is that fewer and fewer different strains of crops are produced. For example, most of the corn planted in the US is of the same variety.

So if some kind of corn blight were to develop, it would spread across our corn harvest like wildfire, causing severe problems in the food supply system.

That is exactly what happened during the Irish Potato Famine. So many farmers planted potatoes that once the blight started, there were no barriers to the blight spreading.

If there had been a greater diversity in planting, with say, a field of corn, a field of beets, barley, peas, tomatoes, beans or other crops adjacent to a field of potatoes, the other plants would have acted as sort of a firewall.

But since potatoes were such a runaway favorite, once the blight started, it was a runaway too, changing the fortunes of the entire nation.

Diversity in our food is good in more than one way.

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