Student Gardens in History Class: The Potato

Many students, especially those in urban or suburban schools have never experienced growing a plant. Yes, history classes can provide that experience and you can connect it to learning standards. Win-win in my opinion.

The Potato

This starchy carbohydrate has helped many people survive but is also linked to the death of untold more. Originating in South America, it quickly spread through the rest of the Americas in early human history and became a staple of many indigenous people.

The potato changed the landscape of agriculture in many places in Europe, specifically northern and eastern Europe. The potato is also heavily cultivated in China and India today. The potato has been embraced worldwide because it is easily grown, survives in a variety of climates, provides plenty of vitamins and minerals and is filling. Especially for laborers in history, potatoes are an excellent source of carbohydrates and calories ensuring people had enough energy to carry on.

When you focus on how the potato impacted history you are able to discuss the Potato Famine in Ireland from 1845 – 1849 followed by the mass migration to the United States. This can also lead to a discussion of bigotry and exclusion as well as the history of labor laws.

For teachers looking for a what if discussion, what would have happened if France had adopted the potato in the years prior to the French Revolution? The food shortage may not have taken place which would in turn could have avoided the French Revolution. Or was it inevitable?

The potato has long been viewed as a food of the working class but interestingly, when it arrived in China during the Ming Dynasty, it was a delicacy of the imperial family. Despite its new status among the Chinese nobility it was a food that definitely contributed to the population growth of the Ming Dynasty.

It would be really interesting to look at the potato recipes from India, Tibet, and China (where the potato is popular) and see how they differ from American or European preparations.

How to Grow A Potato Garden

Get your classroom a couple of planters (check out Pinterest for cool recycled options), garden dirt, and a water sprinkler or bucket. You will want to place your potato pots in your window for sunlight but don’t put it over your heating or cooling system. If you are going to be forced to place the plant in a dark corner, get a small grow light. I love this one from Amazon (not an affiliate link:

Get yourself a potato. Take an old one from your house or just go to the grocery story. Slice it and plant them! Water as you would any other plant – not too much water but don’t let it get dried out.

Potatoes take several weeks to grow. Once you see flowers there are potatoes underneath.


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