By Slow Food USA Biodiversity Intern Regina Fitzsimmons
You may already know about the project in Sonoma County to save the Sebastopol Gravenstein apple. But, in upcoming years, a new project is going to hit California farms and backyards.
When Elissa Rubin-Mahon, a member of Slow Food Sonoma County, heard rumored stories of Bodega Reds growing in her California neck of the woods, she didn’t rest until she uncovered the full history. The Bodega Red, according to folklore, was brought by a Peruvian to Sonoma County where it grew near the coast in Bodega. Sonoma County was once the potato capital of California—there’s even a California sandbar named after the Bodega Red and a lookout named “Spud Point.” But after some time, the Bodega Red started falling off the map. Genetically similar potatoes, like the Burbank, even died out. The Burbank became extinct because of potato blight and infestations of viruses. And, not helping matters, Elissa discovered that growers used to eat and sell the high quality potatoes, and plant the worst ones, thus propagating genetically weaker and weaker potatoes.
Elissa was especially intrigued by the Bodega Red because it was one of five or six potatoes introduced to the United States directly from the potato motherland: South America. Most potatoes sailed to Europe where they were grown and eaten and then sent to North America during the time of European colonization. Bodega Reds didn’t make that extra boat ride. Like the Makah Ozette potato, they made their way all the way up the West Coast and into Alaska.