Restoring Regional Roots
Between 1950 and 1970, a De Peyster-based plant breeder named Fred Ashworth collaborated with Cornell Cooperative Extension to produce a dozen different potato varieties, many of them blight-resistant. Since that time, all but six of those potatoes have been lost. Milkweed Tussock Tubers is working with Bill and Diana MacKentley, Seed Saver's Exchange, Cultivariable and seed keepers to renew and re-popularize these spuds. Over the years, the seedstock has become riddled with disease and must be cleaned, regrown as germplasm and then grown as minitubers. This is a multi-year process; patience, love, determination and hope are necessary ingredients.
Right now, we are growing the Ashworth and the CDF9 on the farm. Fellow seed keepers are trying to clean them of viruses. With hard work and a little singing, these taters will soon be available for those living right in Fred's backyard.
Rejuvenating The Rare
We love the oddball varieties, and don't want them to be forgotten. Right now, we are growing out Garnet Chili, Seneca Horn, Spaulding Rose and Makah Ozette potatoes.
In 1837, Reverend Goodrich of Utica, New York, invested $200 dollars and 16 years to find a hardy potato that would thrive in New England’s growing conditions. By 1853, the Garnet Chili Potato was the winner in hardiness, prolific growth and disease resistance. DNA fingerprinting shows that this rosy spud is the mother of 150 potato varieties - most famously, the Russets. Spaulding Rose is one of the first daughter potatoes to have come from the Garnets. Slightly more well-known, they are larger than their mother and just as schnazz. The Makah Ozette and Seneca Horn are two unique taters who made their way to North America from the Andes hundreds of years ago, and are now facing the struggles of climate change and cultural genocide. These varieties are grown primarily by the Makah and Seneca tribes, and both are listed on the Slow Food Ark of Taste.
As much as we love a good spud, we recognize that they're from the Andes Mountains, thousands of miles and a completely different ecosystem away. As such, we are establishing plots of native root and tuber crops. Many of these plants are endangered due to overharvesting and the destruction of their homes. In offering them a safe place to grow, we encourage the thriving of our ecosystem, learn about their culture and diversify our harvest. These plants are resilient perennials, providing food and medicine even as climate change hits us.
The Mohawk name for these prolific producers means, 'all of a sudden there were potatoes...an excessive amount of potatoes... potatoes everywhere!' Also known as Jerusalem Artichokes, these sunflower cousins can grow upwards of 12 feet. Edible both raw and cooked, these nutty, versatile perennials are sorely underappreciated. They are a suitable potato replacement for those with diabetes and can be stir-fried, boiled, thrown in soup or munched on. They grow with ease and bloom in glorious yellow late into Autumn weather.
An unusual member of the birthwort family, wild ginger root is unrelated to the Chinese ginger found in grocery stores. These plants carry a similar pungency and warm flavor, however, and historically the roots are candied. Their broad leaves and rhizomous spreading means they are also a wonderful forest ground cover.
These hardy perennials produce white bell flowers beloved by the local hummingbirds. Growing well in a variety of conditions, they also can be prepared in a variety of dishes. The sprouts are similar to asparagus, and can also be tossed in a salad. The rootstock, which is the part we focus on, is scrubbed, cubed and boiled just like a potato. A great alternative to spuds during rapid climate change!