Ah, potatoes!  Humans have had a love/hate relationship with them throughout history.  They were “The Spore of Witches” to colonists in Massachusetts.  Russian peasants knew them as, “Devil’s Apples”[1].  And folks like Shakespeare called them, “Apples of Love”.  And during the Klondike Gold Rush… well, let’s just say that potatoes were “Solid Gold”.  In fact, miners may have traded for them, ounce for ounce.[2]

Think about it.  An average restaurant potato is 8 ounces.  Today, gold is selling for $1255.75 for one troy ounce.  A troy ounce equals 1.097 ounces.  But to make it easy, we’ll say it’s just 1 ounce.  Multiply 8 by $1255.75.  In today’s dollars, a single, eight-ounce potato would’ve been worth $10,046.  And, believe it or not, those expensive potatoes may have been worth every penny.  Why?  Potatoes have vitamin C.  And without vitamin C, one can die from scurvy.

Who’d have ever thought wealthy men would die in need of a humble potato?  Alas, starvation is not classist.  Remember the million Irish peasants that died from lack of healthy potatoes?  They went from eating 45-65 potatoes a day, per person, to starvation.[3]   True, it was a different situation than the miners.  However, it was another history lesson that healthy, homegrown potatoes can save lives… and “noses”.

Yes, there was a time that potatoes even saved “noses”.  In fact, it was the government food program of the day!  In the 17th century, Germany’s poor were required to feed themselves.  If they didn’t plant and tend their own food (potatoes), they were told their noses would be cut off.  So, how did the people respond?  Well, apparently they survived and their monument is still standing.  The inscription reads, “‘To God and Francis Drake, who brought to Europe for the everlasting benefit of the poor – the Potato.’”

And here in Minnesota?  Well, in the 1850’s “the state’s population grew, agriculture was so minimal that Minnesota was not raising enough to feed itself, and nearly all food except garden produce and wild game had to be shipped up the Mississippi from regions farther south.  … in August of 1857 when a large New York finance company failed…land speculators living here ‘were forced to become farmers’…Those who were farming suffered rough times…after planting their seed potatoes, ‘had to dig them back up to feed their starving children.”[4]



[1] (Howell, 2016)

[2] (Howell, 2016)

[3] (Landsburg, 2001)


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