by Julie Huss
---- — DERRY — You say potato, they say make it an official state symbol.
The potato is one step closer to being the most revered vegetable in the state.
Lawmakers in the New Hampshire House approved House Bill 535 to make the potato the state’s official vegetable on a 276-75 vote on Feb. 20.
One lawmaker, Rep. James Parison, R-New Ipswich, gave a nod to broccoli prior to the final House vote. He said Thomas Jefferson had grown broccoli.
“That makes broccoli a patriotic vegetable,” he said. “Maybe if we made broccoli the state vegetable, we could get kids to eat it.”
Rep. John O’Connor, R-Derry, made it his mission to make the starchy spud the state’s top vegetable. With local history supporting the notion that the potato got its start here in Derry, O’Connor said the time is right to make it official.
“It has been confirmed that Rev. James MacGregor brought a sack of seed potatoes and planted them in 1719 in an area called Nutfield, now known as Derry,” O’Connor said.
He enlisted the help of fourth-graders at Derry Village Elementary School and visited a class there in December to talk about the potato bill. Students from that school were on hand at the Statehouse during last week’s potato vote.
O’Connor noted the BBC in Northern Ireland also showed interest in monitoring the progress of the potato bill and hoped to include the information as part of several school projects with children there.
“All the representatives in Derry, along with Sen. Jim Rausch, are also supporting the bill,” he said. “Even I didn’t know we did not have a state vegetable.”
O’Connor said town historian Richard Holmes helped with the potato project.
According to Holmes’ book “Nutfield Rambles,” the potato has long been famous in these parts.
Early settlers arriving here most likely brought the white potato along. Many believe it first grew in the New World in New Hampshire.
There have been other attempts to make the potato official. Early efforts in Derry included a committee, The National Potato Shrine Committee, working in the 1960s to erect an official “ode to the potato” shrine in town.
A state historical marker standing in East Derry gives credit to the town for the first potato grown in North America. The bill now goes to the Senate and, if approved, will head to the governor’s desk to be signed into law.
Staff writer John Toole contributed to this report.