If you were to leave Northern Europe en route for America, chances are the last landfall you would pass over would be West Cork on the south-westerly coastline of Ireland, where Mount Gabriel’s geodesic domes connect your plane with navigation co-ordinates for the trip.
Down from the foothills of Mount Gabriel is a small fishing village, Schull. Decimated in the famine, the population fled hunger to America and Europe. Those who stayed on struggled with the land and the sea, managing to re-build a truly rich community. They eventually restored a way of life so evocative that in the 70s the last migration – hippiedom – found this European Eden and settled, bonding and building itself into West Cork’s wonderfully generous population.
Recent years have brought wealth to Ireland, West Cork has become a tourist haven and Slow Food has come to Schull!
Schull Community College is a flag ship of the Vocational Education Board of Cork, a remarkable environment for a school, with the games fields running down into the Atlantic and the children a rich mix of backgrounds: sons and daughters of farmers, fishermen and ‘blow-ins’ from all over the globe. Eight languages are spoken (Irish unfortunately only by an enthusiastic select few).
In Ireland, during the fourth transition year in secondary education, the children have to develop a mini-company to hone young entrepreneurs. In Schull, teachers Nuala Gallwey and Grace Linehan looked for sponsors from the village, including Gubbeen Cheese, made on a local farm by Tom, my husband, and myself. We have sought to take the concepts of Slow Food to the class.
I run the Slow Food Cork Convivium and the proposal for a Slow mini-company grew from an initial lesson I gave on the Slow philosophy and the students own ingenuity to adapt the original challenge of food that can be made from locally grown seasonal food in an honest and delicious way. The answer they came up with was – Superspud!.
They spoke of ‘quality driven’ products, and their main aim was ‘to promote the potato in a unique and revolutionary way’. They developed a recipe book, The Humble Spud and a web page, baking and frying until they almost blew up the home economics room. But they progressed and finally rewards started to flow in. First they won the Gubbeen Award for the Best Local Food Product, then on the school Open Day they were awarded the prize for Best Overall Company in the school.
It was in September last year, when they went up for the Regional Competition, bringing home the Cork County award, that the real tests began. They had to develop business plans and sell their product locally and at fairs in order to finally prove their company’s viability on a national scale. Then in May, they went up for the BUPA All-Ireland Award (fully audited accounts, interviews and serious scrutiny of their Business Ethics and Team work) up against 14 other schools from all over the country. Superspud won!
Killian O’Connor (Managing Director), Daniel Patrick McCarthy (Finance
Director), James Powers and Martha Brazier (Marketing), Barry Looney and
Peter Sweetman (Production) came home not only richer in the pocket but also full of pride for their spectacular achievement – a combination of the humble spud, some Slow ideals, and dedicated hard work.
Giana Ferguson is the Slow Food Cork Convivium leader and maker of the prize-winning farmhouse cheese, Gubbeen
Photo: Schull (http://www.ginnisw.com/Cork%20Postcards/ Thumb/Schull.htm)