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One Hundred Mr. Potato Heads

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Can you imagine chips made out of some of these?!
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Here in the Quispillaccta region of Peru in the Central Highlands where Abeja and I have been living, people sure know their potatoes! One family in the village grew 140 different kinds of potatoes last year alone. Who knew there was more to potatoes than just baking and mashing? A.B.A., the group we've been visiting (see Abeja's article, "All in the Family") has been working to save these different varieties of potatoes, as well as the methods of growing them. Why is this so important you may ask? The different potatoes provide important vitamins, which have become part of the diets of the Andean people for thousands of years.

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Farming different types of one vegetable is becoming rare in Peru and in the rest of the world. For example, 500 years ago in the United States, you could find over a hundred different kinds of corn, each with a distinct flavor and color. (Imagine the choice of popcorn at the movies! Over 500 kinds!) But today you would be lucky if you could come across just 5 different kinds. Today, most farmers need to sell their crop to make money. It's easier for them to sell by planting only one kind of crop instead of 500.

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A rich crop of papas
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The people of Quispillaccta shake their heads to these ideas and show pity for us because they understand the importance of bio-diversity. The effect is lasting. Just as you need many different vitamins to grow and be healthy, the soil in the earth needs hundreds of different vitamins as well. Each kind of potato carries a different kind of vitamin. Planting only one kind leaves the soil without the other vitamins. Therefore, just as you would not be healthy if you didn't get all your vitamins, the soil is also not healthy.

Here, in Quispillaccta, families still grow their own food for their meals. Can you imagine having everything you eat grow in your backyard? You would never have to go to the supermarket! They also save their own seeds and plant in the same way as their ancestors, without chemicals or pesticides.

By growing different varieties of each crop, the people of Quispillaccta have maintained rich and fertile soils and a healthy diet. The A.B.A. has been helping and urging families to maintain their traditional ways of growing food, and more importantly, to save their seeds from season to season to maintain their rich diversity of crops. With so many of the earth's original species of plants and animals already extinct, it is vital to maintain the bio-diversity that now only remains in the hands and knowledge of a few small farmers around the world.

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