Trip of a Lifetime

WSU Team Explores Potatoes' Birthplace

Published in the January 2016 Issue Published online: Jan 13, 2016 Don McMoran, Washington State University Extension
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Extension faculty members have the pleasure of meeting the needs of the producers with the knowledge base of their respective universities. Beginning early in my tenure with Washington State University’s Skagit County Extension, the potato growers of western Washington knew they wanted to do a trip collectively. They just didn’t know where. Once someone suggested the birthplace of potatoes—Peru—the extension program, the potato producers and the university really locked in on making the trip of a lifetime a reality.

It all started with a call to Dr. Fred Smith from Anglatin Travel. Fred is a retired Oregon State University extension economist; he and his wife Consuela operate Anglatin Travel and have traveled extensively in South America. With the Smiths’ help, we were able to put together a top-rate itinerary. All the components—beginning in Lima to finishing at the ancient ruins of Machu Picchu—were surreal and potato- or farm-focused. To someone like me who comes from a family that has grown potatoes since they showed up in Ireland, what could be better?


Lima, our starting and ending point, is the capital and largest city of Peru (9 million residents, one-third of the country’s total population). Located in a valley on a prevalent desert coast overlooking the Pacific Ocean, it only receives 1 to 2 inches of rain a year. While in Lima, we visited the holy grail of the potato world, the International Potato Institute. The Institute performs research, promotes potato use around the world, and maintains over 5,000 varieties of potatoes.

Chincha and el Carmen

Next, we traveled down the coast for three hours to Chincha. Peru’s entire coast is desert, so farming only occurs near waterways that provide irrigation. We also saw large poultry operations periodically situated in the dessert. Poultry is a major protein source in Peru. We even got to mix it up with some farmers with both large and small operations.


Next, we traveled to the town of Pisco. Pisco sour is a major alcoholic drink in Peru. No trip to Peru would be complete until you have visited this economic driver of Peru and danced with the locals.

Cusco, the Andes, the Sacred Valley, Village Visits

We first used Cusco as a home base to visit three rural villages high in the Andes. Our travels to the villages and to Machu Picchu took us through the Sacred Valley. It is a 26-mile-long valley tucked high in the Andes that contains many little towns and very productive farmland.

We descended into the valley from Cusco on asphalt roads, then took dirt roads to villages as high as 13,000 feet above sea level. Sometimes we had to wait for sheep to edge to the side of the road. The villagers gave us festive dress and involved us in common activities including digging potatoes the old-fashioned way, gathering flowers to make a dye to dye T-shirts they gave us, husking corn and shelling beans that were part of our lunch, and dancing to music played by local musicians.

Machu Picchu

Our last stop was Machu Picchu. Breathtaking and almost unbelievable, it is a “must visit” location if one ever gets the chance to visit Peru.

There’s nothing like spending the day in a 500-year-old abandoned city to help put things in perspective. After all, what could be better than experiencing the trip of a lifetime? How about experiencing two trips of a lifetime? I hope you can join Fred Smith and me as we embark on a trip to Ireland and Scotland this summer from June 27 to July 8. For more information, feel free to contact me at