Farming authors to read from their work at Carlow potato feast

Authors Lorna Sixsmith and Suzanna Crampton will read from their recently-published books at a harvest and feast to celebrate the potato in An Gairdin Beo community garden, Carlow, today (Saturday, July 28) at 3:00pm.

The feast will mark the harvesting of a potato crop planted last spring by a number of community groups in association with a new film ‘The Persistent Return’ by Deirdre O’Mahony, commissioned by Workhouse Union and co-produced with VISUAL Carlow.

An artist who frequently centres her work around rural and farming life and communities, Deirdre is about to start an artist residency with Teagasc.

Survived drought

Over 300 seed potatoes were planted as part of ‘Spud Reboot’ which focuses on community planting, harvesting and sharing. The feast will celebrate the potatoes that have grown and survived this year’s drought. Varieties planted included: Rooster; Imagine; Infinity; Cara; and Setanta.

‘The Persistent Return’ is a large-scale two-screen film installation that reflects on the history of the potato and the role it played in consolidating and concentrating power in Europe in the 17th and 18th century.

It will run at VISUAL’s digital gallery until September 9.

Artist Deirdre O’Mahony began the ‘Spud’ project in 2009, initiating a research process that led to collaborative projects, commissioned art works, events and installations in Ireland, Europe and the US from 2011 to 2017.

‘The Persistent Return’ marks the concluding phase of the project and will tour to national and international venues.

Deirdre sees the potato as a potent image to evoke in relation to food and food security in Ireland, exposing conscious and unconscious attitudes to land and alterity within and beyond the nation state.

The potato brought with it a possibility of freedom from recurring cycles of famine, but also a precarious dependency on monoculture. ‘Spud’ was initiated to present a more nuanced understanding of the potato’s role in Irish culture, in relation to food security and globalised food production.

By looking to the Irish famine, further back to the colonial violence that brought the potato to Europe, and connecting it to migration, famine and food security today, Deirdre makes use of the potato to map controversies around these threads, providing an understandable and accessible entry point for a public discourse on sustainability, food security and tacit cultivation knowledge.

The community engagement project ‘Spud Reboot’, which is supported by Carlow County Development Partnership, put the spotlight on sustainability, food security and growing.

Week off school

Lorna Sixsmith who recently published ‘Till the Cows Come Home; Memories of an Irish farming childhood’ commented on the topic, noting:”My dad and his siblings got a week off school every year to harvest the potato crop and felt as rich as kings at the end when each received 10 shillings.

While the whole family doesn’t have to be involved to such an extent now, this event will remind us of the amount of work and skill involved in growing a good crop. The drought situation this year has made it a difficult year for potato growing too.

“There’s nothing as tasty as early floury potatoes with butter and salt.

“Even though rice, pasta and cous cous feature on dinner tables frequently now, the humble potato remains queen of the crop for me and it’s wonderful to see it being celebrated at this feast,” said Lorna.