A local farmer, Hugh de la Haye, bought two enormous potatoes from a local store. One of them had 15 of the ‘eyes’ from which new plants would sprout, so he and his friends cut the potato into 15 pieces and planted them on a ‘côtil’ (the name for Jersey’s steep, south-facing fields) above Bellozanne Valley in St Helier.
When they cropped the following spring, the plants had produced a large and very early crop of unusual kidney-shaped potatoes.
Hugh de la Haye was later formally honoured by his fellow islanders and given a purse of gold sovereigns.
(an ancient land measurement still used in Jersey) the equivalent of 2,300 acres or 930 hectares of land, and they form the majority of the island’s fresh produce exports. Depending on weather conditions during the growing season, the Island produces up to 30,000 tonnes annually – with as many as 1,200 tonnes exported every day during peak production in May. Jersey’s soil is light and well drained, and many farmers still use ‘vraic’ – the local seaweed – as a natural fertiliser and soil conditioner (a tradition that dates back to the 12th century).
Their delicious nutty flavour and smooth, waxy texture have made the Jersey Royal a national favourite and it’s especially good in salads.
In that first year, after talking to the Jersey government and local growers, we agreed a site for a new pack house on the outskirts of Jersey’s capital, St Helier. The site was formerly one of the largest dairy farms on the island, although the owner, Stuart Mourant, and his son Nick had recently stopped growing Jersey Royals. However, they were so encouraged by our long-term commitment that Nick started growing the crop again!
Our state-of-the-art facility can wash, hydro-cool and pack the highly prized Jersey Royals within hours of them being harvested, so they arrive in stores almost two days fresher than was previously possible. Hydrocooling means that the potatoes are showered with water to cool them down rapidly after harvesting, which helps to keep them fresh. Processing at the source also cuts down significantly on road haulage and reduces the carbon footprint.
We use advanced technology to conserve water and lessen our impact on the environment, working closely with our experienced growers on Jersey, many of whom are fourth and fifth generation. We help them with planting and agronomy strategies, as well as irrigation, harvesting and seed storage. We are committed to meeting our own strict sustainability and environmental objectives as we grow and develop.
To pay tribute to the generations of islanders who have braved the steep slopes to hand-plant and hand-pick these wonderful new-season potatoes, we decided to commission a commemorative sculpture.
Fashioned in bronze to a design by Archie Forrest – one of Scotland’s leading contemporary artists – it depicts a potato picker at work. The statue was unveiled by Mrs Alex Bartlett at the official opening of our Jersey pack house, on 23rd September 2009.
When we commissioned Archie, we asked him to produce a piece of work that would capture the heritage and character of the Jersey Royal industry.
His sculpture depicts one of the workforce harvesting the early-season Jersey Royal crop by hand – the method used since the first exports began back in 1880. The plaque uses the Forth Road Bridge as a graphic link between Jersey and our head office in Scotland. It reads: “This sculpture has been commissioned and created for the enjoyment of the people of Jersey.”
Archie started by visiting Jersey, for inspiration and to understand how the whole Jersey Royal process works. Initially, he had considered fun ideas for a statue, such as a ‘potato head’. After his research on the island, though, he concluded: “Why run away from something so steeped in history?” The process of picking a potato from Jersey’s côtils has not changed in 100 years and so this is still the classic image of the annual Jersey potato harvest.
During the creative process, Archie worked through sketches, to a scaled-down clay ‘maquette’, to a scaled-up wax cast, and finally to the bronze statue which was cast in Glasgow. The small details, including the creases in the material of our potato-picker’s clothes, were hand carved by Archie.
The statue is now proudly on display at our Jersey operation. It is one of the first things you see on the drive up to the pack house and, as intended, serves as a fitting tribute to the hard work and traditional skill that goes into harvesting our wonderful Jersey Royal potato crop.