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Ireland returns to an old love: the potato

As the popularity of local foods grows, the recession encourages the Irish to grow their own food.

Potatoes such as these, from southern England, are a crop popular among everyday Irish people hoping to economize by growing their vegetables. Several of the Irish-grown potatoes take their names from English royalty. (Simon Newman/Reuters)

DUBLIN — Ireland is renewing an old affair with the British Queen, the Duke of York and King Edward — not the royals who in bygone days ruled over the island, but varieties of potato. The humble tuber on which the Irish once relied for vitamins, minerals, protein, fiber and carbohydrates is making its way back into gardens and onto plates.


It is part of a back-to-the-land trend, as the needs of the recession coincide with a growing passion for organic food. Where dinner parties were once dominated by conversation about property values and how everyone was getting rich, now the topic is more likely to be about the economic crisis and the best methods for growing fruit and vegetables.

The week of St. Patrick’s Day is the traditional time of year for planting potatoes and many lawns in Irish backyards have been cut back of late to make way for vegetable plots. Apartment dwellers get in on the act by renting allotments on municipal land, which come at a nominal fee. Demand for council allotments has been so heavy this year that there are long waiting lists, and farmers are renting out vegetable patches to city folk for up to $400 a year.

In the Stoneybatter district of Dublin, where houses have small concrete yards, a former New Yorker, Kaethe Burt-O’Dea converted an empty lot into a very successful communal vegetable garden four years ago. Other districts are now following her example.

Anyone looking for an Irish business in which to invest during these hard times might do well to look at companies making garden sheds or selling seeds. Launching a campaign this month for the Irish householder to return to the soil, Mike Neary, manager of horticulture for the Irish Food Board, confirmed that, now more than ever, “the public have expressed interest in growing their own vegetables, fruits and flowers.”