Derry once sported a sign, dedicated in 1962, that commemorated the first Irish white potato grown in North America, planted in 1719 in the settlement then known as Nutfield in the “common field” that ran next to West Running Brook, made famous centuries later by Robert Frost.
Almost 300 years later, Fred Plissey of Caribou, Maine, and a former Londonderry resident, came to Derry on Monday, July 20, and planted Green Mountain potatoes at the site of that original planting.
Plissey said he has been talking with Derry Town Historian Rick Holmes over the last few years about doing a commemorative planting. Attending the ceremonial potato planting Monday were Town Council member and State Representative Phyllis Katsakiores; Carl Morrison, chaplain of the Veterans of Foreign Wars; West Running Brook Assistant Principals Mitch Edwards and Lorrie Belinsky, and Will Stewart, president of the Derry/Londonderry Chamber of Commerce.
“I wanted to bring the potato back to the site of the first potato planting that took place in Colonial times and plant them at that original site,” Plissey said. “This is a special occasion because Derry is the home of the first astronaut (to go into space), Alan Shepard, and it is known that potatoes were grown in space. I have been trying to find out if Shepard was associated with that project.”
According to Holmes in his book “Nutfield Rambles,” the claim for the first potato is supported by the U.S Department of Agriculture, the Ontario Pork Producers and the Potato Institute of America.
Holmes wrote, “ In 1718 when the Reverend James MacGregor sailed to the British province of New Hampshire, he brought with him a sack of seed potatoes. These he planted in 1719 in the common field of colonial Derry. This, most believe, was the genesis of the massive potato industry in America.”
Holmes acknowledged that Derry has much to be proud of and said it is a good thing to remember what has happened in the past so it is not forgotten.
“The West Running Brook Middle School was built on the land that was known as the common field, which ran down next to the West Running Brook,” said Holmes. “It seems an appropriate act to plant potatoes here again at this time.”
Plissey added with a smile, “We’re back.”