Planting the seeds of survival

It’s boom time in the bunker business.

With nefarious foreign sources hacking, troublesome incursions to our social media increasing, relationships with our allies straining, trade war tariffs looming, and people’s search for dignity depicted as invading — some affluent people are hunkering — down.

These days, such folks are buying ” Survival Condos” situated in locations opposite to what they would normally choose — 15 stories down in abandoned missile silos. They’re paying big money for the depth of security such locations purport to offer.

It’s all down there: swimming pools, saunas, movie theaters, and more. The main selling feature is, as always, location, location, location. But these locations use lower dimensions to garner higher prices, requiring a minimum amount to sink to that degree of $1.3 million.

Lacking that minimum, I pursued an alternate survival strategy: seed potatoes.

Why? Because the spuds you buy in the grocery store usually can’t reproduce. I understand the popular Russet Burbank is a sterile male. Potatoes purchased at the Kruger Seed Potato Farm in Hawks, Michigan aren’t sterile.

The lowly potato is of enormous importance. It’s the fourth-largest contributor to worldwide caloric consumption. You don’t want to be caught in a survival condo without them or without the wherewithal to grow more of them.

Rod Kruger and his brother, Gerald, are the third generation of Krugers to operate the seed farm. After speaking with Rod, I discovered things have changed since I was down on the farm. We grew Sebago potatoes, but they don’t grow that variety much anymore.

Why’s that?

Because people don’t consume potatoes in the same way they used to. In my day, potatoes were served at every meal. They were boiled or American-fried or hash-browned or canned or stuffed with or into something, or hashed with something else, or baked or mashed or scalloped or made into salads, casseroles, or bread.

In the old comic strip, “Pricilla’s Pop,” Pricilla’s mother, Hazel, packed mashed potato sandwiches in her husband Waldo’s lunch pail. Hazel was on a mission to save money, and she did, but poor Waldo — even after their larder was full — still carried mashed potato sandwiches.

You don’t see those sandwiches much anymore. Sebagos made good ones.

Now, most Michigan-grown potatoes are processed into potato chips and, of course, a huge volume of the national potato production is consumed as French fries or some instant-potato formulation that didn’t exist in my day.

But there are good reasons to develop new potato varieties beyond improving their ability to hold up to a chip dip or for preparation convenience in a hurried world.

Potatoes suffer serious losses due to bacterial, viral, and insect attacks. The constant development of resistant varieties to those ever-evolving threats is ongoing.

In 2011, a breakthrough occurred. The potato genome was sequenced. That has opened new possibilities and promoted the development of potatoes that can be grown without using environmentally harmful pesticides and herbicides.

A leader in that effort is Prof. David Douches, director of Michigan State University’s Potato Breeding and Genetics Program. He’s known as Mr. Potato Prof. Rod Kruger called him a genius. Many new varieties used by Michigan farmers are the result of his efforts.

Need a hero? No need to attend a rally or a sporting event. You can find one along a row of potatoes.

As you know, potatoes aren’t just grown in Michigan. They were first cultivated in South America. In fact, the largest collection of potato seed in the world, constituting more than 7,000 varieties of native, wild, and improved varieties, are in a gene bank at the International Potato Center in Lima, Peru. It’s a resource used by farmers, breeders, and researchers from all over the world.

Preventing seed from South America crossing our border would be a big mistake, no matter their variety, national origin, sex, color, skin texture, shape, or size. We need the influence of their genome — and hybrid vigor — to ensure our survival.

That, irrespective of any survival condo we may occupy in an attempt to preserve some vision of purity otherwise unsustainable.

Doug Pugh’s “Vignettes” runs biweekly on Tuesdays. He can be reached at pughda@gmail.com.