You Say Potato, I Say…Leadership

A few months ago, several members of my family attended our local theater to see, The Martian.  While we were thoroughly entertained by the variety of dilemmas, science, humor and suspense, there was a subtle nudge I took from the film that I used for a new way to enjoy a long-standing activity with my children.

A botanist by the name of Dr. Mark Watney (played by Matt Damon), who was errantly left behind by his colleagues, must figure out how to make the remaining food he has last long enough until the next mission to mars occurs—some four years away.  Soon, Watney determines that his best chance to survive will come from rationing the remaining food at the base station and to supplement that by replanting and growing the existing potatoes.  This becomes a quite interesting segment of the story as we learn and see how Watney makes this possible.

For the past few years, my family and I have enjoyed participating in the care and cultivation of a community garden space.  We’ve grown nearly two dozen varieties of vegetables and fruits that we’ve enjoyed complementing our dinner table with in the form impressive side dishes, salads and fresh deserts.  But one thing we’d never thought to grow was potatoes.  The garden space is quite modest: perhaps less than 250 square feet of growing space.  But being outdoors and sharing in the learning of fundamental lessons such as planning, commitment, patience and care have allowed my wife and I to see our youngest children become remarkably skilled and very informed on the subject of gardening, and helped cultivate an additional sense of trust and confidence in them.

So, with the inspiration of a move character that grew potatoes on a planet with no water some 80 million miles or more from Earth, we set out this past spring to grow some spuds.   We were also intrigued by the very simple process of planting the potatoes:  Merely cutting them in half, or, as we opted for, using smaller potatoes, “tubers”, as our ‘seed’.  So one, day, we arrived at the garden to plant these seed-potatoes, one-by-one.  In all, we planted 41 small potatoes.  Keep that number in mind.

It took a while, and after several days, I’ll admit that I was growing skeptical of my initial ambitions and expectations.  But, in about three weeks, we began to see small stems and leaves appear and over the coming two months, we saw these plants mature fully until they had completed their growth cycle and then wilt down, signifying the completing of the term for our desired potato harvest.  During this time, we regularly visited the garden a few times a week.  We maintained it, watered it, and even talked to it in encouraging tones, as we also tended to the other vegetables we had planted.  Having a target date of May 31st, we grew a bit more excited because the kids did not entirely understand how one potato could create several more potatoes.

May 31st came, and when we arrived to the garden, each of the kids began to carefully pull up one stem as a time and looked on in amazement as a string of potatoes followed up from the ground.  In some cases, as many as 11 potatoes were on the vine, though most averaged about 5-7.  As they did, my children quickly began to understand the power of the potato, and I began to explain to them why I decided to grow them.

I explained that the original potatoes we had planted were like leaders.  I explained to them that like leaders, these potatoes needed to be put into an environment in which they could create new leaders.  I explained why supporting leaders is important, because only if we do that can leaders create new leaders for the future.  And I explained to them that each potato we had planted directly supported the new potatoes that came after; that together they formed a team that was truly connected to the leader.

Those 41 potatoes we planted provided us 251 new potatoes.  Imagine how productive we might feel if we could create such legacies of successors in leadership.  We may never know, but tomorrow does look like a terrific day for planting.

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