Last month, I – as a blog, that is – turned seven. Fancy that.
And while seven years might suggest, oh, a certain itchiness or an extended sojourn in Tibet, in spud years, I think of it as closer to 21, a coming of age of sorts. Though it’s been quiet on these pages of late, potatophile that I am, I have remained wired in to spud channels, and let me tell you that they have been abuzz. Not least among recent events – and coincident with my birthday last month – was the launch of a three year potato promotion campaign by Bord Bia here in Ireland and the Agriculture & Horticulture Development Board in the UK, sporting the tagline “Potatoes: More than a bit on the side.” It aims to encourage those who may be inclined to dismiss potatoes as old fashioned – fuddy duddy spuddies, as it were – to think again. I didn’t hesitate when asked to get involved.
Alas poor spud, we loved you well. Thing is, we seem not to love you quite as much now as we did way back when.
The situation is this: sales of fresh potatoes in these parts have been on a more or less downward trajectory for several years. Be it that they’re seen as a less than exciting, or less than convenient choice for dinner, or mistakenly perceived as fattening (when, they, personally, contain no fat to speak of) or because of general anti-carb sentiments, spuds have become a less frequent visitor to our tables. This is not news, exactly – it’s a story that has popped up regularly over the past couple of decades and, for that matter, regularly on this blog (prompting, among other things, my top ten guide to sprucing up your spuds).
Who loves ya, spud?
It was as cold a May as I can recall – except, perhaps, for that time during my college days when, on a day early in May, the theory of lolling around on warm grass was replaced by the practice of scurrying to avoid a brief, freak snow flurry. And though this year’s May might not have been snow-cold, it was, for most of its length, nippy nonetheless. During that unseasonably chilly month, I watched as my emerging tomato plants steadfastly refused to budge beyond their seed leaves, as if to say ‘feck this for a game of cowboys, wake me when you have the heat on.’ It’s only the belated arrival, in the past few weeks, of some actual summer warmth that has, at last, spurred them into growth.
Let’s just say I know how they feel.
Daily Spud observers will have noticed an extended period of dormancy hereabouts but, whether it’s the warmth, or the season of new growth, a bout of spud activity this way comes, with me in the thick of it.
So here’s the thing: if you find yourself in the vicinity of Strokestown, Co. Roscommon this coming Sunday and fancy getting some dirt under your fingernails, as well as the chance to participate – by way of digging potato beds – in an ongoing project which explores the very particular place that the spud occupies in our culture, then you should make your way to the Irish Famine Museum at Strokestown Park, where Deirdre O’Mahony will lead participants in making an “X” shaped lazy-bed on the Church Lawn at Strokestown House.
This is just one of many initiatives being undertaken by Deirdre – artist, academic and lecturer at the Centre for Creative Arts, Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology – as part of her ongoing SPUD project, which has featured collaborations between farmers, artists and art agencies.
She envisions the creation of the lazy-beds at Strokestown as a collaborative, temporary famine memorial, an X-shaped bed planted with potatoes – blight resistant Sarpos, mind, not Famine-era Lumpers – creating a space in which to publicly think through present day aspects of the Famine’s legacy. The event on Sunday may also be an opportunity for attendees to see old-school sod-turning skills, as Deirdre tells me that some members of the Loy association of Ireland, who foster the tradition of using the loy – an old style, narrow spade with a single footrest – will be there.
Proceedings will start at 10 am on Sunday 29th. If you’d like to participate – and all are most welcome – then drop an email to the project curator Linda Shevlin ([email protected]).