The Potato Park of Peru



 From David Bollier
Patterns of Commoning

Drive an hour northeast from Cusco, Peru, and you will encounter some beautiful high mountain lakes, historic Inca ruins, and the richest diversity of potatoes on the planet. Approximately 2,300 of the 4,000 known potato varieties in the world are grown here, making it one of the most biodiverse regions on the planet. The 7,000 Quechua people who live on this high-altitude Sacred Valley of the Incas have, with their ancestors, cultivated and improved Andean potatoes for seven millennia. That impressive record stems from a holistic way of life that blends deep spiritual traditions and cultural values with cultivation techniques, barter and exchange practices and ecological stewardship.

Potatoes are, of course, a central element of Quechua culture. When a reporter from Gourmet magazine visited the region, she was amazed to discover that “each potato, it seemed, had its own special or ceremonial use: There were potatoes to eat at baptisms; potatoes, like the bride potato, for weddings; and others for funerals. Potatoes like the red moro boli were high in antioxidants, while potatoes such as the ttalaco – a long, banana-shaped tuber – must be either soaked and steamed or made into a potato alcohol.”

Some potatoes must be grown on steep slopes above 13,000 feet. Some can be grown nearly anywhere. It is not uncommon for a single farmer’s field to produce hundreds of different varieties, many of them quite rare.