The Potato

The potato plays a very big part in the migration of all our families. The potato was brought to Europe in the 16th century by the Spanish from South America. It turned out to be a miracle vegetable, as it yielded four times the food product of wheat. It also could be grown in soil that was for the most part useless, and it did well.

The potato was the main reason for the population explosion in Europe in the 19th century. Growing potatoes, a farmer now could feed his family and livestock on one acre of ground rather then the four acres it took to produce the equivalent crop in wheat.

It also had the side effect of producing an excess of food that could be turned into a home-brew made by the local farmer. This caused many village populations to drink a lot more than they had in the past. Never having enough wheat, they ate all of it and had none left for making home-brew. The one acre rather than four acres per family ration now meant that the local farmer could divide his land holdings for all his children rather than just the oldest. This and the home-brew production took much of the pressure off the head of the household.

This potato crop also meant that the population became highly leveraged and the peasants very existence and survival depended on the potato. In 1848, due to the potato blight, this meant disaster in Ireland and throughout most of Europe causing mass emigration starting in 1848.

Michael McTiernan

N40 03' 09.4"
W75 24' 14.1"


Last updated 5/14/96 MPM

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