Mapping Monday: The Geography of Potatoes and Sweet Potatoes

Picture 019 QC by CWL

Cover photograph by Jodi Cobb, National Geographic.

When it comes to gathering the ingredients for a perfect Thanksgiving feast, where’s the first place you go? Probably the grocery store, right? But where do grocery stores get what we need to make our favorite family recipes? With Thanksgiving just around the corner, this is a great opportunity to join in the fun of National Geographic‘s focus on “The Future of Food” during this year’s Geography Awareness Week (November 16th through the 22nd)!

One fantastic way to incorporate this into your classroom is to take a sneak peak as to where staple foods are grown by using National Geographic Education‘s MapMaker Interactive.  The interactive contains map layers of many different staple food crops, but since Thanksgiving is coming up, let’s check out where some of our favorite menu items come from!

In particular, let’s examine the geographic difference (or similarities!) of potatoes and sweet potatoes, two very different root vegetables (despite their similar name) that are often served at Thanksgiving. How far have they traveled to make it to your dinner plate?

To begin, discuss with your class the origins of potatoes and sweet potatoes. We know that potatoes first sprouted in Peru, whereas sweet potatoes got their start in Central America. Where else were they grown? Who grew them? Next, take a look at the potato and sweet potato staple food map layers in National Geographic Education‘s MapMaker Interactive and investigate where these plants grow today.

Word Potato Production, 2010-2012

Potato Production

Map Data: National Geographic, Esri, DeLorme, HERE, UNEP-WCMC, USGS, NASA, ESA, METI, NRCAN, GEBCO, NOAA, iPC. Potato Production Layer: © FAO. Production – Crops – Rice. Downloaded 7/11/14.

Sweet Potato Production, 2010-2012

Sweet Potato

Map Data: National Geographic, Esri, DeLorme, HERE, UNEP-WCMC, USGS, NASA, ESA, METI, NRCAN, GEBCO, NOAA, iPC. Potato Production Layer: © FAO. Production – Crops – Sweet Potato. Downloaded 7/11/14.

How did the seeds spread from Central and South America? Why are these plants grown in some places more than others? Why is the bulk of production no longer in Central and South America?

By seeing the data on a map, your students will have a better idea as to where these two Thanksgiving staples come from. But not only that, they can see who else in the world may be eating potatoes and sweet potatoes too! Keep your class interested by checking out some other staple food map layers available in the MapMaker Interactive. Do any of the staple food production locations surprise your students?

For a continued discussion about Thanksgiving foods, check out our This Day in Geographic History – 1863: Thanksgiving page. Your students might be surprised that potatoes and sweet potatoes were not even on the menu when the Pilgrims first feasted with their Wampanoag neighbors! This is a great opportunity for your students to do some digging and uncover when potatoes and sweet potatoes first made their appearances as traditional Thanksgiving menu items!

More related resources from National Geographic Education

Website: National Geographic Kids – Thanksgiving Traditions

Collection: The Future of Food

Collection: Food Education

Program: Geography Awareness Week

Spotlight: Staple Food Crops

This Day in Geographic History: 1863 – Thanksgiving

One response to “Mapping Monday: The Geography of Potatoes and Sweet Potatoes

  1. Pingback: 11 Things We Learned This Week | Nat Geo Education Blog·

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