Students learn about the potato and why it is an important part of Idaho’s economy. Students write a short essay about the affects any change in the potato crop would have on Idaho’s economy.
This lesson is part of Great States: Idaho | Unit 8: State Symbols which illustrates how the images associated with the state reflect the geography, American Indian heritage, economy, and history of exploration and settlement that have created present day Idaho.
Standard: 4.SS.5.1.3 Identify Idaho’s role in the global economy.
- Notebooks or loose-leaf paper
- Pens or pencils
- Explain that the potato is an American Indian plant, originating in what is now Peru. The word “potato” comes from Spanish “patata,” which came from the Nahuatl word “potatl.” Idaho's unique environment (including its rich volcanic soil, water, and clean air) provides excellent growing conditions for potatoes, and today it is the largest producer of potatoes. Idaho began growing potatoes in the 1830s, when missionaries moved west to teach the American Indians there to grow crops. However, the discovery of gold in Idaho in 1860 had a big impact on potato production: the potatoes were grown to feed miners in the gold and silver camps. By the time Idaho became a state in 1890, its potatoes (the Russet Burbank variety) were becoming well known.
- Ask: Why was the potato was chosen as the state vegetable? [Idaho is the largest producer of potatoes in the United States.]
- Explain that potatoes are Idaho's leading export. Half of McDonald’s fries come from Idaho. Other brands such as Betty Crocker, Dole, Idahoan, and Green Giant rely on potatoes from Idaho. The state has a Big Idaho Potato truck that tours the country and a museum! Despite so many changes to the state since the first potato crop was grown in the 1830s, Idaho still has the environmental conditions that produce excellent potatoes, and potatoes are still an important food product both in the United States and all over the world.
- To conclude the lesson, have students consider what might happen to the potato crop if Idaho’s environment changed in any way or if Idaho stopped growing and selling potatoes. Have students write a short essay to address this question.