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The Saint of Spuds: How a Utica man saved the potato

By ALLISON NORLIAN

UTICA, N.Y. (WKTV) -  Reverand Chauncey E. Goodrich, a father, husband, reverend and Utican is the reason for 94 percent of the potatoes in existence today. 

Goodrich lived during the mid 1800's, a time when famine was taking over the country, and the world. Blight was killing billions of  dollars' worth of potatoes, causing hunger among many Americans. Goodrich set out to create a strain of potato that was resistant to blight.
 
Debra Richardson of Slow Food Mohawk Valley has been researching Goodrich's journey. She says Goodrich realized in order to create a blight resistant potato, the growth had to begin from a seed.
 
"Reverend Goodrich realized that potatoes, after 150 years of cutting and cloning them, that they weakened," Richardson said. "So he set out to get original stock, grow the plant and harvest the seed instead of cutting the potato and replanting it." 
 
It took him 19 years of trials, and began with him bringing original potatoes from South America to Utica.
 
"He started with 19,000 seedlings, got it down to 75 families, weeded those out down to six and then after five years, they were resistant to that fungus and that blight," Richardson said. 
 
That potato Goodrich created is called the Garnet Chili potato and  thousands of potatoes we consume daily have its genetics; an example being the Russett Burbank potato, which is what McDonald's uses to make its french fries. 
 
"The Garnet Chili is the grandmother of the Russett Burbank," Richardson said. "I don't think there is an American out there that hasn't eaten a little piece of Utica, New York." 
 
Richardson, the staff at Slow Food Mohawk Valley, multiple farmers, and Cornell University Cooperative Extension all plan to reintroduce the Garnett Chili potato and they've begun their journey by gathering as many across the country.
 
"This potato has every opportunity to be recognized internationally as something that saved an economy," Richardson said. 
 
According to Richardson, Goodrich died penniless and unknown for the work he did. Men made millions of dollars based on his original findings. He and his wife had four daughters, all of which did not have children. Richardson wants to not only bring the Garnet Chili back to Utica because of its history, but also to keep Goodrich's name alive.
 
"It's like he's the unsung hero and he did it because he's a humanitarian," Richardson said.
 
Richardson and the various organizations will grow the Garnet Chili potato at the Reverends grave. They are also working on finding various sites with the correct soil conditions. They hope gardeners will see what they are doing and jump on the bandwagon.
 
Richardson's research has been documented in a short film that was a collaboration between Ryan Miller of Youutica.org and the Utica Firefly Storytelling Series. The film is available to watch at http://youtica.org/the-patron-saint-of-spuds/.
 
The ultimate goal is for larger farms and restaurants to start using the potato that got its start in Utica.
 
 

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