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2017 Potato Patch July 2

The Potato Project. (Click to enlarge.)

Ms Norland led a group of Grade 3 pupils and Grade 7 mentors from Vimy Ridge Public School Earthkeepers to Thistle Ha’ again this year to plant potatoes on June 12. The Earthkeepers’ two rows of potatoes are on the right, and their row of sweet potatoes is in the middle. This activity’s history is explained in The Potato Project post below.

Click on the 2017 Potato Project link in the Pages column on the right to see progress photos of the Earthkeepers potato patch during the summer.

The Potato Project. (Click to embiggen.)

I had a conversation with a neighbour in April about the success that the naturalist and environmental movements had in making outdoor nature studies part of the local school program. This discussion prompted a question: why wasn’t the farming community providing a comparable learning experience? Most children, particularly those living in urban areas, know little about local sources of their food, or how it is grown. Students from some rural Ontario schools visit a farm or an agricultural fair for a day, but I am not aware of any pupil in this province having the same experience as a farmer – going to a farm field, preparing the soil, planting seeds, and then watching the crop grow until they can harvest it for food.

I asked if any local school had interest in participating in a potato growing pilot project at Thistle Ha’. Potatoes are the most commonly grown vegetable in the world. Planting and harvesting fit well within the school calendar. A teacher at Vimy Ridge Public School in Ajax very enthusiastically agreed to participate in our Potato Project this year. So a couple of weeks ago, a school bus came to Thistle Ha’, loaded with 19 willing potato planters and two teachers from the Vimy Ridge Public School EarthKeepers Club. We planted potatoes the same way my ancestors did – in hand-made furrows. The first lesson learned was concern about the weather. The soil was just workable due to wet weather prior to planting day. Rain threatened during planting, but except for a few drops, it remained fair, and we planted five rows, totaling over 100 potato seeds, in two hours.

During school summer vacation, I do the hard part, controlling weeds and potato plant eating pests. Provided that we have good summer weather and rains, there should be plenty of potatoes for the EarthKeepers to return to harvest in September.

Click on the 2014 Potato Project link in the Pages column on the right to see progress photos during the summer.

The Thistle Ha’ corn harvest is done. Despite a late planting due to a very wet spring, the corn yield was quite good.

I accompanied a 20-tonne load of corn to the local mill, and talked to the general manager. He surprised me when he said that they sell most of their corn as ethanol feedstock. Although Canada started promoting use of biomass (corn, wood products) to manufacture ethanol fuel in 2000 to combat global warming, he said the shift of corn sales from food to fuel has occurred just recently, after the U.S. government started subsidizing corn as a biofuel. This resulted in construction of numerous ethanol plants using corn as feedstock.

40% of the 2010 corn crop in the U. S. was converted to ethanol. This is past the “tipping point”; the U. S. corn crop is now insufficient to meet food needs. The wet spring in the U. S. mid-west and drought conditions in southern hemisphere corn growing regions has resulted in reduction of world-wide corn production in 2011, pushing corn to its highest price in recent memory. This has led to increased prices for other food crops such as soybeans and cereal grains. Although this trend has been beneficial to grain farmers and big agribusiness, increased feed prices have hit the poultry and hog industries hard. Cattle farmers are less affected since the corn mash byproduct from ethanol production is sold for cattle feed. More worrisome, some economists claim that the price of corn has started to track the price of crude oil. Has the U. S. policy to increase corn ethanol production in an effort to reduce the cost of imported crude oil to the American economy not only failed to reduce the cost of energy, but actually caused a permanent increase in global food prices?

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