Alive and Well on Meadow Street
By Edward Shanahan
At the dinner table, as a boy, I heard often about the terrible famine in Ireland, this intended to inspire me to finish eating the food on my plate.
And later on, I read a good deal of Irish fiction and history, notably Cecil Woodham Smith’s classic ‘The Great Hunger,’ which chronicled the blight that wiped out the potato crop, a staple of the Irish diet. Millions died between 1845 and 1849, and millions more fled the country, in the great Irish diaspora that brought a flood of immigrants to Massachusetts and, particularly, to the Boston area.
So when the previously lushly green potato vines that covered fields on both sides of Meadow Street in Florence this spring and summer begin to wilt, I started to worry.
There had been news stories about blight reducing the tomato harvest and area tobacco farmers were reporting heavy crop losses as well.
Each day as I passed the fields, I increasingly began to think of the experience of the Irish in their native land.
Unfamiliar with the nature of potato plants, I thought the worst had happened and the green vines turned brown and looked to be in great distress. The potato crop was doomed. What a shame.
So I finally called the Szawlowski Potato Farm in Hatfield, one of the biggest growers in the region, and the firm whose equipment and workers had plowed the fields and planted seed potatoes in the Spring.
Don’t worry, I was assured by Ailsa Duda at Szawlowski’s. At a certain points the vines begin to die naturally and then the grower finishes the job, by spraying the vines, leaving the field looking seemingly devastated. But it’s part of the process, she said, and done on purpose.
She said she was aware of reports by other growers of blight to other crops, but there had not been any blight in Florence. The grower planted some 100 acres of Florence fields, which occupy both sides of Meadow Street as well as acreage on the north side of the Mill River at the foot of Greeley Avenue.
It is the first time in many years that these fields have been planted with potatoes, she said. I recall previous corn crops as well as pumpkins growing in some of these fields.
The potatoes will be left in the ground for another few weeks to cure—to let the skins toughen before being harvested.
The specific variety of potato that was planted is an experimental russet developed in Wisconsin, she said.
So the news is good. Good news is always a welcome surprise.
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