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Hot Potatoes

Explores the dangers of potato blight and the chemicals used to control it.

A printer-friendly version of this page 57 minutes
Closed Captioned

Directed by John de Graaf
Produced by John de Graaf and Jack Hamann
Writer and Narrator: Jack Hamann
Editor: John de Graaf
Camera: Diana Wilmar and David Fox
Music: Michael Bade

Hot Potatoes reveals the little-known story behind a disaster that changed science forever. Before the Potato Famine of the 1840s wiped out much of Ireland, scientists had little appreciation for the destructive power of microscopic pathogens. The very science of Plant Pathology was born when researchers tried to understand and conquer the blight that had wiped out potato crops throughout Europe.

More than 150 years later, potato late blight is still an immense global threat. Potatoes have gradually become one of the world's three most important sources of nutrition, especially in developing nations. But the failure to heed the warnings of an exceptional scientist back in the 1950s is having dire consequences at the beginning of 21st century.

Hot Potatoes tells the story of American plant geneticist, Dr. John Niederhauser, who was the first to discover that the fungus that destroyed crops in Ireland a century before had likely come from the remote Toluca Valley in Mexico. Starting in the 50s he began a decades-long quest to breed blight-resistant potatoes. He was sure that farmers in developing nations could scarcely afford the sophisticated chemical sprays that were becoming the staple of American, Canadian and European potato production. Darkly, he warned that blight might someday become resistant to many chemicals then available. Decades later, that prediction has come true.

Hot Potatoes is also the story of Don McMoran, a third-generation potato farmer in Washington State who speaks with painful honesty about the expense and uncertainty of using chemical sprays. And it is the tale of Rebecca Nelson, winner of a MacArthur "genius grant", and a tireless resource for thousands of peasant farmers battling blight in the Peruvian Andes, birthplace of the potato.

Other films by John de Graaf are AFFLUENZA, ESCAPE FROM AFFLUENZA, BUYER BE FAIR, SILENT KILLER: The Unfinished Campaign against Hunger, THE MOTHERHOOD MANIFESTO, BEYOND ORGANIC, ON NATURE'S TERMS, FOR EARTH'S SAKE: The Life and Times of David Brower, DAVID BROWER: A Conversation with Scott Simon, and WHAT'S THE ECONOMY FOR, ANYWAY?.

Grade Level: 7-12, College, Adult
US Release Date: 2002     Copyright Date: 2001
DVD ISBN: 1-59458-964-X     VHS ISBN: 1-56029-923-1

"With splendid photography and writing, Hot Potatoes is a must-see for farmers, students, researchers, extension workers, policy planners, and media who are interested in knowing more about one of the biggest threats to the food supply throughout the world."
K.V. Raman, Exec. Dir., CEEM, Professor of Plant Breeding, Cornell University

"An interesting and illustrative story...about the dangers of pathogenic resistance to chemicals and unsustainable agriculture...Recommended for college classes studying genetics with an emphasis on food crops, sustainable agriculture or similar subjects. The technical quality is excellent. This would make a superb addition to any college library with an agricultural focus. "
Christy Caldwell, UC Santa Cruz, Educational Media Reviews Online

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Hot Potatoes

"A must see." K.V. Raman, Exec. Dir., CEEM, Professor of Plant Breeding, Cornell University

Hot Potatoes Web Site

Awards and Festivals
The Silver Chris Award, Columbus International Film & Video Festival
Honorable Mention, National Press Club Journalism Awards
Honorable Mention, EarthVision Environmental Film Festival
Environmental Film Festival in the Nation's Capital
Hazel Wolf Environmental Film Festival
Cornell University Environmental Film Festival
International Environmental Film Festival "Green Vision" in St. Petersburg

Air Pollution
Central America/The Caribbean
Latin American Studies

Sustainable Agriculture

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