What rice is for the Philippines, most of Asia and parts of Africa, the potato (or spud as it is sometimes called here) is for the western world. Originally from Peru, this lowly tuber was introduced to Europe only in the 16th century but has radically transformed western cuisine.
All the while I thought potatoes were native of Europe, or at least Ireland, because I’ve heard of the potato famine and I’ve seen some potato farms here. It was also a surprise to know that at certain times of the year the UK imports spuds from Egypt (think pyramids and hot desert sands!). A TV documentary showed Scottish seed potatoes growing in acres of sand. They dug thousands of feet deep for water (endangering the water supply of the country) to sprinkle on the spuds (they are thirsty plants) and with fertilizer as the sand does not have any nutrients. Upon harvesting, the potatoes are covered in grit (imported from Ireland) to prevent bruising, and the potatoes are shipped back to the UK. This creates jobs for the Egyptians but raises certain issues about sustainability and carbon footprints – which is another topic.
If they can grow potatoes in the desert, surely, even I can have a go, right? Problem is I didn’t know much about gardening. Aside from the jack fruit I planted with Glen when we were novices, my knowledge was confined to watering and weeding. Although I do love taking pictures of flowers.
So I spent a lot of time on online research, bought the seeds (you can choose colours, consistency, versatility), rolled up my sleeves and wore my wellies. Since the soil in our back garden has been idle for donkey’s years, I had to weed it out, till, manure, water and loosen it up before I could plant the seeds. It’s amazing how many things one had to pay attention to for growth and maximum yield: chitting, distance, time, water, position, light/sun, earthing, pest control, etc.
Preparing the soil was back-breaking labour but it is definitely worth every effort. I was not expecting much from my first attempt at growing crop, so after 3 months I was pleasantly surprised with my first spuds. The seed I planted weighed about 15 grams (roughly the size of a grape). Its yield was 2.5 kilograms of spuds (some of which were bigger than my fist)!
Our community has been enjoying homegrown spuds since August and we’ve also shared some to our sisters in the 3 branch houses. I recently harvested all the potatoes (before moles finish them off and frost turn them to sugar) and got 2 wheelbarrows-full of pink, red and white with pink on top (their proper names are Maxine, Duke of York and Ulster Classic). Since potatoes can be stored for months, I think we’ll have enough supply for winter.
There are obvious lessons in the process but what amazes me most is the miracle of life. I sowed but the seed came from God. I tilled the soil, God filled it with nutrients. I watered, God made the seed grow, and the sun to shine, and rain to pour. Remember the parable? The farmer did not know how growth happens, day in, day out. I think it’s the same for the spiritual life. Each little effort to pray, to study God’s word, to suffer in silence, to be patient and kind, to forgive, to forget one’s self in order to serve another bears fruit in wheelbarrows. We may not know or see it now, but we shall certainly be told it in heaven.
As I enjoy the crunch of roast potatoes, I thought of the intricate web which has brought it to our table. No one person can claim credit for it or for anything. The spuds grew thanks to the people who produced the TV documentary, the person who sold the seed potatoes, the webmasters of the different sites I consulted, those who uploaded step-by-step videos for planting potatoes, friends who shared tips and invaluable advice, and my sisters who watered the seedlings while I was away, those who made the trowels and spades, workers in the horse farm who provided the fertilizer, etc. And I am simply “a link in a chain” as John Henry Newman said. An important link perhaps, nevertheless a tiny part of an immense body.
I matter, you matter, each one of us matters. God sees each of us and all our tiny efforts, puts it together, breathes life into it and recreates the world anew each day.