March’s Harvest of the Month is potatoes. Harvest of the Month is an initiative of Poughkeepsie Farm Project’s Farm to School program. A different local farm product is served in school meals at area schools each month and we are helping to promote these locally available farm products.
Pass the Potatoes
By Allison Herries, Dietetic Intern, The Sage Graduate School
Potatoes! We love them mashed, fried, baked, smashed, boiled, and roasted. So how did these humble tubers become one of the most popular vegetables in the world?
Potatoes are the most consumed vegetable in the United States. The average American eats about 48 pounds of potatoes per year, but mostly in the form of fatty French fries or potato chips. This has led to potatoes getting a bad rap as a food that is expanding our waistlines and contributing to the obesity epidemic. However, potatoes are naturally fat free and chock full of nutrients that are good for our bodies. They are also an excellent source of vitamin C and potassium when consumed with the skin intact. One medium baked potato with the skin contains about 620 mg of potassium or about 20% of the daily requirement. This is more potassium than a banana which only has about 420 mg! Research suggests that diets high in potassium and low in sodium may help reduce the risk of high blood pressure and stroke. By limiting fried foods in our diets, such as French fries and potato chips, and focusing on healthy cooking techniques, potatoes make an excellent addition to a balanced diet.
White potatoes make up most of the potatoes eaten in the United States. But did you know that potatoes come in almost every color, including white, yellow, orange, red, and purple? Different varieties of potatoes boast different nutrition contents. For example, sweet potatoes are known for their beta-carotene (aka vitamin A) and fiber. In fact, beta-carotene gives the sweet potato its vibrant orange coloring. However, no one type of potato is best for health. Focus instead on including a variety of different types of potatoes in your diet.
Fun fact: Potatoes originated in South America thousands of years ago! The Spanish imperialists returned to Europe with the potato crop which flourished and eventually became a staple in many European cultures. Today, there are still about 4,000 varieties of potatoes that grow in the Andes Mountains of Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, and Chile.
Here at our farm, we grow a variety of potatoes including whites/yellows, reds, and blues. Each variety has its own differences and strengths, but in general, they are all good for soups, roasting, boiling, and mashing. Our potatoes are planted in the spring at the end of April. Fun fact- some say that potatoes should be planted when the first spring dandelions start to bloom. Each potato plant starts from a single seed potato. What exactly is a seed potato? A seed potato is a piece of a potato leftover from the previous growing season. A new potato plant sprouts from the eyes of the potato seeds. You may have noticed this process occurring if you ever left a potato on the counter too long and it started to grow another plant! Since potatoes are highly susceptible to disease, it is important to choose a reliable seed potato. Look for “certified seed potatoes” when planting potatoes in your own garden. We get our seed potatoes from Sparrow Arc Farm in Copake, NY.
The potatoes are harvested once the plants start to die in the fall, usually at the beginning of September through October. Since it is the tubers that we are interested in eating, the potatoes are collected by digging them out of the ground. Digging potatoes is a favorite activity of many of our CSA shareholders! We also invested in a new potato digger last season which makes harvesting potatoes faster and safer. Potatoes can last a long time when stored under the proper conditions. This allows us to distribute our potatoes throughout the fall and winter months.
At the PFP we love roasted potatoes for their wonderful flavor and nutrient content. Roasted potatoes also make a great comfort food, which is great for these last few weeks of winter! Furthermore, it couldn’t be easier to make roasted potatoes. Simply begin by preheating the oven to 450˚F. Cut potatoes into cubes and toss with oil (we prefer olive oil for heart health!), pepper, rosemary (preferably fresh), and a pinch of salt. Spread in one layer on a baking sheet. Bake in the oven for about 20 minutes or until potatoes are tender, stirring occasional. You can also experiment with a variety of different spices and herbs, making roasted potatoes a versatile dish that can accompany any meal. Enjoy!
And potatoes are never boring. With so many varieties and colors to choose from, there is a potato for every occasion. Not feeling like roasted potatoes tonight? Check out these additional recipes for another of our favorite vegetables, sweet potatoes, instead!