Master Teaching

a blog for teachers who follow the Master Teacher

Potato Perspective

img_3831c250 pounds of potatoes! Potatoes are almost always part of LEAPAsia’s book project visits to impoverished areas, but one trip stands out. That time we came home with five 50-pound bags, gifts from a Seed Fund scholarship family and the schools we visited.

Yesterday some Seed Fund students helped me research potato farming. Without the help of farm machinery, the students told me, three family members can harvest about 1650 pounds of potatoes in a day. (I didn’t believe them either, so I double-checked. It’s true!)

250 pounds of potatoes = 1 hour of hard labor

In the desert mountains of Northwest China where not much else will grow, potatoes are the local commodity. This year potatoes are going for eight cents a pound. And so my friends–the three of them working together–earned $130 for a day’s hard labor.

250 pounds of potatoes = 1 hour of hard labor = $20 (divided by 3 laborers)

In between lesson planning and leading a teacher support group, I did research for this blog post, all while earning my salary. While I typed and taught toward my just over $1000 per MONTH, I learned that the average household income in those desert mountains is just over $1000 per YEAR.[1]

250 pounds of potatoes = 1 hour of hard labor = $20 = 1 week’s salary

According to Facebook IQ, in one month around the world there are 1.1 billion interactions about cooking and baking. 18 million of those posts, comments, likes, and shares happen in the U.S. every day.[2] (And then there are all the pictures of meals in restaurants…)

For my friends, food is not an indulgence or a good story. It’s a daily necessity. For them, potatoes are a food staple. They’ll keep 2000 pounds for the year’s food supply and next year’s seed.

250 pounds of potatoes = 1 hour of hard labor = $20 = 1 week’s salary = 2 months’ supply of food staple

IMG_5547In recent years each American has spent around $700 per year on Christmas gifts and other holiday supplies. Almost half of those shoppers make their purchases online, I assume from the comforts of home…or a coffee shop.[3]

In the dusty desert mountains of Northwest China, there are few “comforts of home.” Even a necessity like water is scarce. Every drop used to wash  after a day of digging is precious, often lugged by hand from a community well. From their work-worn and dirty hands to mine, they offer their gift of potatoes with apologies for its simplicity, but I’m not sure it’s value can be measured.

250 pounds of potatoes = 1 hour of hard labor = $20 = 1 week’s salary = 2 months’ supply of food staple = rare gift

Someone advised me recently to be thankful for what I have in comparison to what others lack. Every time I return from one of our book deliveries in poverty-stricken areas, I am especially thankful for my heated home, warm clothes, and healthy food. But being thankful for what I have in contrast to what those students and their families lack somehow doesn’t seem right. Instead, I honor their gift: 250 pounds of potatoes and a lesson in the art of sharing. Out of their poverty, they make me rich.

[1]Chinese Ethnic Areas See 10% Growth
[2]Moments that Matter: Cooking up Connections
[3]The Commerce of Christmas

Further exploration

What’s your perspective?

  • How have you been made rich by those you’re trying to help?
  • What lessons in the art of sharing have you learned recently?
  • What’s your favorite way to share? (Include a link if you can so that we can learn more.)

Post Author

Melissa K. Smith

6 comments on “Potato Perspective

  1. kimberlytodd2015
    November 18, 2015

    I like to share by keeping clothing storage spaces small and uncluttered. Each member of our family has two dresser drawers and half a small closet. Every item of clothing we own for all the seasons fits accessibly in that space. We each give away or recycle items every season. We needed to tear down the walk-in closets.


    • Melissa
      November 18, 2015

      Thank you, Kim and Angela. You are both reminding me of my efforts to wear things out (especially clothing) before I buy something new. And sometimes the worn out item doesn’t need to be replaced at all. I haven’t done so well with that, but I will try harder.


  2. Angela
    November 18, 2015

    This is a timely message for me, as I’ve been working to downsize my “kingdom” and supersize the kingdom of the Master Teacher. This involves some simple steps of giving away my far too numerous possessions, but also increasing the sharing of my extravagant (compared to the potato salaries!) funds. I have a couple of favorite ways of sharing:


  3. Melissa
    November 18, 2015

    I’ve been trying to make my purchases count. I love buying gifts for people from The Starfish Project ( and Rapha House ( And here’s a timely one. Evergreen ( sells beautiful handmade cards. Too bad I don’t send Christmas cards anymore. 🙂 I may have to spend a little more in order to buy this way, but I figure my money is well spent, in these cases to help women in poverty or rescued from sexual slavery.


  4. Julie Prentice
    November 21, 2015

    Good reminders… thanks each of you. I’m pondering the fact that de-cluttering and down-sizing and simplifying can free us on multiple fronts. While we are called to be givers, it seems equally true that hands and lives freed from the unnecessary kinds of entanglements can be offered in service.

    Thanks for the encouragement toward purchases that count. I echo the blessing of buying from The Starfish Project, as well as Scarlet Threads ( but need to be more purposeful in this. Anyone else have more resources to share on this?


    • Melissa
      November 23, 2015

      Thanks for that site, Julie. I’ve added it to my bookmarks. 🙂

      In order to make my purchases more purposeful, I try to do some research on a company before I buy their products…to know how they treat people. A couple of my favorite sites–all companies that are making an attempt to follow fair labor practices: For clothing: Pact (–I love their leggings; Fair Indigo (; and Prana ( For bags: Baggalini (–They make some pretty strong statements about not supporting slavery and human trafficking from their About us page. And if you ever want to buy me some chocolate ;), my current favorite is Lake Champlain’s Fair for Life certified bars (

      I may have to spend a bit more in order to buy this way, but then that just motivates me to buy (and eat!) less and keep my “kingdom” reduced.

      I still have a ways to go in this. It’s something I’m working on. So, I’d love to know about other’s favorite brands too. 🙂


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