Lohbrunner Community Farm: Potato Breeding for Local Climate

Posted on Friday, 4 June 2021 under Stories

image of a farm

Photo courtesy of Ariella Falkowski

Here at Lohbrunner Community Farm we are passionate about sustainable farming and land stewardship. Along with that comes a strong desire to actively work on solutions for farmers and gardeners in the face of climate change.

One of our members, Scott Harris, is taking that to another level with his passion project. He is breeding a new variety of potato, developed in and for our local climate!

As many of you growers will know potatoes are not, like most other vegetables, usually grown from seed. This is, in large part, because potatoes do not grow ‘true to type’; a farming term for what grows will be the same as what you planted (i.e. the parent plant). The other main reason is protection against devastating diseases like potato blight.

Instead, the tissue culture from a desired variety is grown out in a sterile lab-like environment. The resulting very small seed potatoes are then planted, and grown out over a few generations into the seed potatoes sold to farmers and gardeners around the world. All along with this process, testing is done for common potato diseases to ensure only healthy, uncontaminated seed is sold (a good reason to buy certified seed potatoes).

While this helps control potato diseases and gives us good yields of varieties we know and love, this process does not give farmers the chance to save seed or adapt varieties of potatoes that grow particularly well in their local climate. It also keeps the genetic pool for potatoes relatively small because growing certified seed potatoes is an expensive and lengthy process reserved for the most popular types.

Enter Scott and his TPS, or True Potato Seed Project which began in 2020. He has taken the Ozette Nootka potato, one that was cultivated widely over a long period of time by the Indigenous peoples of North America, and hand-pollinated it with other varieties that have desired qualities (certain colour, delicious flavour, high yields, etc.).

This spring, he has sprouted the seed from those plants saved last year. These small potato seedlings were then planted out a couple of weeks ago and will be watered, hilled, and generally fawned over all season. They will then be harvested and the ones with the most desirable qualities will be saved for replanting. More seed may also be saved to further develop local potato varieties well suited to this climate, and to strengthen and broaden the genetic pool.

So here’s to local seed and food security of all kinds – thanks Scott!