Farmer Graham knows his spuds

Mayor of Ards and North Down, Alderman Alan Graham, with Comber Earlies grower, Ivan McKee, ahead of the Comber Potato Festival
Mayor of Ards and North Down, Alderman Alan Graham, with Comber Earlies grower, Ivan McKee, ahead of the Comber Potato Festival

A North Down mayor who certainly knows a good spud has told how he is “champ-ing” at the bit with enthusiasm for a four-day festival in honour of the humble potato.

Experienced farmer and DUP councillor Alan Graham said he is keen to assist farmers and casual gardeners at the annual Comber Potato Festival, which kicks off today.

The event will showcase the world-famous Comber Earlies and celebrate the finest local produce.

Mr Graham – who sprang to global fame after he criticised singer Rihanna for taking off her clothes whilst shooting a video on his land in 2011 – said he is looking forward to the event which is “unique to our borough” and “highlights our strong agricultural industry”.

The DUP councillor, who no longer grows potatoes due to “the labour intensity of the operation”, fondly remembers his childhood memories of potato gathering.

“Back then, schools took a week off here and in Scotland for potato gathering,” said the Mayor of Ards and North Down.

“You would have got a half crown then, which was worth a lot more in those days. I also remember the very welcome thing during the gathering was the ladies on the farm coming with a can of tea and sandwiches, which always seemed to taste better then. It was much more relaxed and informal.”

He said he used to grow potatoes on his own farm, “going back quite a numbers of years”.

“Then our early spud was British Queens, which in those days was called the ‘second early’. People used to travel all around to get them and they were very floury.

“I have now switched to growing wheat and barley.”

Comber Early grower Ivan McKee, who recently welcomed the mayor to his farm, said they had “experienced some problems this year when a late frost hit during a low tide and this has slowed down the crop somewhat, causing a slight delay”.

But he said they were “confident we will have the very finest local produce out for the festival”.

Comber Earlies have been granted EU ‘Protected Geographical Indication’ and are special both because of the unique climate and geographical position of Comber which produces the distinctive earthy, sweet and nutty flavour, and thanks to the expertise and dedication of the farmers who grow them.

Comber Potato Festival kicks off in the town square with a Farmers’ Market from 9am–1pm.

Other events include: a tractor run held in Parkway, Comber followed by a barbeque and live music tomorrow; children’s fun activities, food sampling and live music on Saturday; and a special Thanksgiving Service in Comber town square to close the festival on Sunday.