184. No Small Potatoes: A Journey More Than Meets The Eye | Own Your Creativity | Elizabeth Johnston

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No Small Potatoes: A Journey More Than Meets the Eye GMOs

No Small Potatoes: A Journey More Than Meets The Eye


Elizabeth Johntson

It’s the middle of March! Today I have a wonderful guest who’s going to talk about a topic that has come up many times on my show, she’s gonna talk about food and nutrition who’s written a book called No Small Potatoes: A Journey More Than Meets The Eye!


Elizabeth Johntson‘s fascination with the potato brings her on an absorbing journey through many of the pivotal issues affecting how we live today. The stark reality of GMO domination, leading to the destruction of agricultural communities, the limiting of food choice and the loss of traditional knowledge and farming practices is central to the book. She skillfully demonstrates how science has lost its integrity in response to the lure of big business but points out that there is hope for small scale farmers working to preserve genetic diversity and food security. Elizabeth’s account of how native Peruvians are reclaiming their dignity and spiritual connection to the land and her call for a grassroots movement for food independence make this a captivating read. — Cait Curran, (editor of Organic Matters)

I’m excited another friend I met in a FB group it’s fun to meet colleagues and people that are near and dear friends I wouldn’t have met otherwise.

Getting Messy: A Guide to Taking Risks and Opening the Imagination for Teachers, Trainers, Coaches and Mentors

Getting Messy: A Guide to Taking Risks and Opening the Imagination for Teachers, Trainers, Coaches and Mentors

Tell us a little about yourself.

I too like the technology that allowed us to connect…. I actually went off of Facebook for quite a while, for about a year….

  • who cares about status updates?
  • and who had a cup of coffee?
  • and some trivial things?

then I realized that’s what it’s not about. I don’t have to invest a lot of energy there and don’t pay attention to them.

Then I started getting involved in the groups in Facebook and you do really feel like you make friends!

I’m a creative writing instructor at a university. I also teach business communication

  • skills for university success and
  • self management techniques

It’s for people who have failed out of their program who need a refresher on strategies that are gonna help them succeed. It takes me a little bit away from the creative aspect of myself

Teaching Career

I’ve been teaching that for going on 8 years. The people who take that are not happy to be there initially. It can be stressful to dealin with people that are not happy where they are in teh process it can be quite challenging and stressful.

I needed to get back to my creative source

nurturing that in a creative way.

nurturing way

I’ve always been creative

video poem

I have come to realize how important creativity is in your life. That it shouldn’t be something that’s an add on. Or when you have time. I believe it has to be integrated to your whole life. It has to be a habit.

Recently I have been thinking about a follow- up to the book that you mentioned which is about GMOs and why they are not good for us. 

No Small Potatoes: A Journey More Than Meets the Eye GMOs

No Small Potatoes: A Journey More Than Meets The Eye

Back in 2008

really what started me on my organic journey

now even thought I don’t have a garden I do buy organic as much as I can

I am more interested in the connection with the food we put in our bodies and how it will affect on our brain

i.e. our creativity

what we put in our brain and how that affects

I’m all about creativity

some of the relitazations … and the relationship between friends and creativity.

One of my all time best friends wrote a book about Creativity too, and I also, when I first became a teacher they told me you will be ok, because I have no sense of humor and that’s a big quality in a teacher but they said I had enough creativity that would be my strength. They were like you just breathe creativity you’ll make up for that. I agree with it does have to integrate into your whole life. I met so many teachers that were in my classes 

Tell me about your first gardening experience? You’re in Canada right.

I’m in Montreal.

You see I totally feel like we will might meet in real life! I’ve got a long life to live.

Well, I actually don’t have my personal gardening experience, it’s not like I as a kid.  My grandparents had a garden, they were from Poland and came here after the 2nd world war and they were both from rural communities. They were farmers themselves in Poland. 

When they came here they opened a camper park. Near

Wasaga Beach — north of Toronto. summers growing up where from age 5. Every weekend there during the year

spent a lot of time with my grand parents.

Fruits and Vegetables

They grew

  • raspberries
  • blueberries
  • strawberries
  • pear trees
  • apple trees
  • plum trees
  • potatoes
  • cucumbers
  • onions
  • corn they grew for a while
  • beans

on top of running the campground

2 big plots

One near our house and elsewhere on the property

So I didn’t have to do the work around it, except like going and picking for things for the meal. They would send me go out to the garden and get some cucumbers.

When I got older I thought I’m gonna start growing things myself

seeds for brussel sprouts and red peppers

grew them on top of my roof of the place that I live

first foray into growing vegetables for myself. The peppers were stunted but they were tasty!

That’s a big part of it, our Health odd store’s motto is It’s all about the Taste.

How did you learn how to garden organically?


they were not

they used fertilizer and pesticides

I didn’t really pay attention to what they were doing

it wasn’t until much later until that I learned the dangers of pesticides. Do you want to talk about that and your book? Is this a good place to do that. 

I was taking a photography class, the last part, the instructor said we had to take a series of photos of things that hadn’t been photographed to death. 

Then what popped into my head


I hadn’t seen a lot of potatoes and I thought wouldn’t be interesting.

darkroom photography

black and white

in the end I didn’t do that, I did portraits. But I was so intrigued about that idea, about potatoes, maybe they were in the art world and I did research I just amassed papers and papers. Not as anything that I thought was going to lead to a book. I moved to montreal to torotnot

going through my things

came across this milk crate full of papers

research on the potato

should do something with his

forgoe it

this is it, Im gonna do something with this or I’m gonna throw it all out

I applied for a grant

for the writing and research

didn’t get it the first time, but I did the second time. That gave me enough money to do some more research and do some traveling!

I’m just fascinated! I’m like you got a grant to do what and what?!

I went to Peru, I talked to  Alejandro Argumedo

He was my contact there. He is part of the indigenous network there to help the indigenous people become self sufficient. Able to make a living from their agriculture. He is a Canadian citizens he worked for the Candian government for many years. s

worked here for the government

introduced electronically

by another person for the book

Árpád Pusztai

got some money to go down to 

International Potato Center

Peru is in South America right?

Yes, and when I was doing the research initially I thought potatoes came from Ireland

but in the course of my resource no they actually come from Peru. They are indigenous there, that is the only place on earth.

All the potatoes that are grown around the world once came from there.

So there are like regular white potatoes? Baker potatoes right?


White potatoes. Sweet potatoes are a different animal. So


They originated from there.

In peru

5000 naturally occurring varieties of potato

amazed by that


I went down to  the potato center

in cusco?

It’s outside the city of potatoes

where they live

They grow the potatoes there organically naturally

They created it so it was like eco-tourism

so they could stay and learn about how they husband the potato

an apothecary there,

natural remedies they make from potato…

flowers and other crops that they grow.

When you say potato flower, you mean like the flowers that grow on the plant of like potato flour you bake with?

of the potato

so it’s a way of

taking charge of their economy and their lives

doing that thru what they do best which is grow potatoes

There is an International Center in Lima

  • international
  • bio-technoology
  • like a bank or a repository
  • of potatoes

and variaities

went there and interviewed a scientist and had a tour

and Alejandro Argumedo was instrumental in repatritationg the types of potato

taken from the ketchewa

lost those varieties

He was instrumental the back the varieties. He was also he was establish the no GMO law there….in a particular area so that their potatoes in the center could be protected from the 

  • transfer the GMO spread
  • from the wind and birds

I learned a lot about potatoes!

I have pictures in my book of the different varieties of potatoes

  • all sorts of shapes
  • different kinds of potatoes
  • red and it actually looks like a carving of soap of a rose
  • others that look like hands or feet

Incidentally the one that looks like a rose it’s got a lot of knobs on it, it’s not a smooth round or oval shape, 

  • indents
  • round knobs

Traditionally when a man wants to marry a woman, the mans family gives the prospective bride and she has to peel it without cutting off any of those knobs.

I’m thinking they are more nutritious because you don’t have to peel them. Probably makes some art piece.

Alejandro Argumedo was invaluable in taking me around the lay of the land

I was introduced to him because


World According to Monsanto

the World According to Monsanto

It’s about 20 years old now and still relevant today which is sort of sad. In the movie.

Árpád Pusztai was a traditional scientist in Scotland

asked the lab where he worked at


won the bid

Scottish government

scientists to test  the GMO potatoes to make sure they were safe for human consumption. They needed official scientists to be objective not part of activity. They wanted them to rubber stamp but they did these tests and the research 


these potatoes were fine


cause for concern

The rats had an actual enlargement in cells around stomach, that means it’s a pre-curser to cancer. So they let them know.

Árpád Pusztai was interviewd on tv about the results of his findings. And it blew up in Scotland and Árpád Pusztai ended up being discredited for 10 years and accused of incorrect findings and it took about 10 years for his reputation to be restored, and the story to come out in fact  to prove that he was right all along

Went to Hungary to interview him and his wife who was also working at the same lab at the same time. Went to the lab and did a similar kind of research. 

Both agree with Genetic Modification that they believe in the science

but not now, maybe down the line.

how to make this

Now they are using GMOs in transforming our food but it gets out there and it changes things irrevocably. You can’t bring them back. Once they replicate in the wild! It’s hard to tract them down. You can’t go back on that. 

Árpád Pusztai and his wife were saying this is not science that’s ready to go out there. They did agree with it in principle but not in practicality.

That was interesting to me as well. And as I’m doing all this research, it occurred to me most people don’t know what GMOs are and why we should care. When I started this research, it was about 10 years before I  published in 2008

even today I’ll be chatting with someone that still don’t what GMOs are

Do you want to explain?

As Árpád Pusztai he explained, what they’re oind basically they’re closing their eyes

shooting at the vegetable, shooting blind they don’t know where on the dna strip is landing they don’t know what the combinations are gonna be. That’s why.

The way the vegetables shuffle the genes is unique to them

You can come out with all manner of weird things that don’t

The idea is to make them  more resistant to pesticides

predominantly hear about this in wheat

Persy Snider

his property here in Canada

here in Torotono

He found some Roundup ready wheat in amongst his crops. He was involved in this huge long protracted battle with Monsanto. 

Basically if any of Monsanto GMO products, if they end up in your garden, you’re responsible and doesn’t matter if the birds brought it  or the wind, and it’s on your crops you have to pay for it.

people’s side

with wheat

they can pour all manner of pesticides and 

on this GMO wheat it will grow

all of that pesticide is on the thing is your doing.

The reason they’re putting the pesticides on is so everything that’s a weed etc around the wheat is dying and only the wheat grows.

everything that’s living around it is growing

  • bigger yields
  • save more of their crop
  • more that they can sell at the market

we’re getting high concentrations of all manner of things in them. Just the very fact of modifiying them affects our guts just like it did the guts of the rats.

there’s a lot of info out there

lot of suggestion

increase in diseases and allergies is attributed to that

I haven’t come across any hard and fast connections, it seems odd, with the rise of GMOs and having to use so much more pesticide.

That’s what happened in india, they started growing gmo crops and then they had to buy the special pesticide that goes with it, you have to use inordinate amounts to grow it. 

it costs a lot of money

farmers in india

couldn’t pay

rash of suicides

couldn’t feed their family

high cost of seeds

and this ripple effect

not just of us personally on our 

  • nutritious

  • cognitive ability

  • environment

  • social how a community functions

I’m pretty ignorant too, but I did watch the movie GMO OMG! a couple of times. I watched the part where he points to the corn field and says that’s technically a pesticide. And then I’ve been hearing things that the sweet corn that humans in the store is not GMO. Mike’s always saying you don’t want to eat corn but you eat corn chips, and I eat a lot of popcorn thinking it’s low cal snack if I don’t put the butter on it.

How long did it take you to write this?

After I got a grant, it to

didn’t cover everything


after I got the grant took me about 4 years

down east to interview

Raymond Lew

He’s a Prince Edward island potato farmer

his family

blight resistant organic potato

They are very hard to grow, especially when it’s monoculture

very susceptible to blight

that’s why people wanted wanted GMO potaotes 

Island Sunshine

I went and talk to him about all of that. 

Where’s Prince Edward Island? Is that in Washington or in the East?

island off of east


nova scotia

I went there and I interviewed him

I had a researcher did some research on Ireland. That’s on my bucket list to go to ireland one day. He went and he interviewed people in Ireland about potatoes.  It took about 4 years. The actually writing of the book didn’t take me as long as I thought it would. I transcribed interviews that I recorded so took a long time to transcribe them all myself. 

I went through all the interviews and I had this sort of general outline. about how to incorporate the research and quotes

Once I got it all organized, it took about a month of writing everyday. After that I had it edited. Then rewrote it again, then did it again. Altogether it went through 3 edits. Then I published it in 2008, which was the international year of the potato. I felt like I have to get it out during this year!

So what’s the solution? Go organic? 

I think that people just need to be a lot more vocal and a lot more informed about what they are putting in their mouths. 

you can’t see it if you looked at a gmo potato and a regular potato or GMO corn or regular corn

regular you can’t tell any difference from the outside

People are passive about this but I think that just

  • to be more vocal

  • more aware

  • vote with your dollars

get organic food

yes it is more expensive but in the long run it’s healthier for us an the environment

it’s not a quaint old fashioned nice thing to do

to be an organic gardener it has profound effects on your health and the of your community…

I think… that’s gonna really inspire listeners, especially someone who’s on the edge and thinking can I do this, is it just a pipe dream, but I think they might be inspired to make an organic farm because they realize it’s importance in our society. And I think Jean Martin Fortier talked about potatoes are hard to grow and he let’s other farmers do it and Anastasia Cole Plakias from the Farm on the Roof in BrooklynFarm on the Roof in Brooklyn said they couldn’t grow potatoes based on the space etc. So I think this is inspiring for someone. Mike has talked about potatoes.

My knowledge is pretty ignorant when it comes to where do things really grow. Waht comes from where, I know a lot about food comes from farms but what farms where I am pretty ignorant.

our creativity

is not only affected by the food that we eat

affected an informed by the activities that we do

gardening can be one of the greatist cataelistysts for your garden

meditative time you get by gardening can actually create the soil for other projects.

Megan Cain  from Creative Vegetable Gardener talks about the creativity of putting frutis and colors and flowers and desifn so it’s an expression of your creativity and because her’s is in her front yard and tying ito listeners and what they feel. They are not just growing us a garden but also a greener future. 

Final question-

If there was one change you would like to see to create a greener world what would it be? For example is there a charity or organization your passionate about or a project you would like to see put into action. What do you feel is the most crucial issue facing our planet in regards to the environment either in your local area or on a national or global scale?

I think for me if

it would be the GMO thing! It’s almost the tip of the ice berg, haha iceberg lettuce…. but it connects to so many other things

if people realize the importance of that they would understand

  • how big business factors into
  • the social issues that make it necessary that we have GMOs.

It’s a huge huge topic of understanding GMOs what they are and why they are not good for us to get their head around the global scale of that issue. Just if they would realize why is it that I should not put GMOs in my body…

something that I would love…

Can we just revisit that if someone is like why shouldn’t I put GMO’s in their bodies

  • there’s that it changes our guts
  • changes our internal body
  • because it’s all very technical

basically when we are ingesting GMOs changes gut bacteria and can lead to 

  • leaky gut syndrome
  • other things that are not good for our bodies…

I’m not a science expert, but I have read a lot and from enough different sources

This is something playing with, and blythly putting in our mouths and bodies and not just taking it for granted that corporations have our best interests at heart.

Or that the government is protecting us.If they are putting on the shelves adn I think a lot of the EPA and FDA hands are tied, and deregulation and it’s tough even if they want to do something. 


its about the people


send email when pictures…

How do we connect with you?

No Small Potatoes: A Journey More Than Meets the Eye GMOs

No Small Potatoes: A Journey More Than Meets The Eye

If people want to get in touch with me

Own Your Creativity Elizabeth Johnston No Small Potatoes


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Elizabeth Johnston


About the author, Jackie Marie

I'm an artist and educator. I live at the "Organic Oasis" with my husband Mike where we practice earth friendly techniques in our garden nestled in the mountains of Montana.

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