Retired Cork chef surprised to discover bumper crop of Ukrainian sunflowers in field

Pat Coffey told The Echo that an acre on which pigs belonging to him and a group of friends had grazed last year was now full of seven-foot-tall sunflowers.
Retired Cork chef surprised to discover bumper crop of Ukrainian sunflowers in field

Retired East Cork chef and pig farmer Pat Coffey, in a field once cleared by his pigs and now filled wit Ukrainian sunflowers. Picture: Donal O'Keeffe.

A RETIRED East Cork chef was surprised to discover that a field his pigs grazed last year has now grown a bumper crop of giant Ukrainian sunflowers.

Pat Coffey, who lives in Ballyvoher, told The Echo that an acre on which pigs belonging to him and a group of friends had grazed last year was now full of seven-foot-tall sunflowers.

“We had pigs in there last year — it was completely overgrown originally — and the pigs completely cleared all the foliage,” Mr Coffey said.

“You’ll never come across a more efficient or environmentally friendly way of clearing overgrown ground than pigs, and while they were in the field last year, we used to feed them leftover fruit and veg donated by my friend, Kateryna, who is the manager in Mercury Cash and Carry in Midleton.”

Mercury is a wholesale supplier of Eastern European food, and it seems that among the leftover foodstuffs that Kateryna Bodzioch gave Mr Coffey and his fellow pig-farmers were Ukrainian sunflower heads.

Field reclaimed 

Whether the seeds from the sunflower heads were ground into the earth by the pigs, or whether they took root in some other way, the field has been reclaimed again by the wilderness, but is now full of giant sunflowers.

Last year’s pigs have long since been slaughtered, and this year’s herd is busy clearing the fields above an under-restoration stately home miles from Ballyvoher, chowing down on vegetarian swill made up of watermelons, cherries, and whatever other stock from Mercury is past its sell-by date.

“They’re marvellous creatures, and they’re very intelligent animals, too,” Mr Coffey said of the pigs.

Still, there’s little room for sentiment in farming, and he doesn’t approve of naming them.

More than three decades ago, Mr Coffey was the proprietor of An Bonnán Buidhe, in the heart of Fermoy, a legendary hostelry where TJ Goodtymes is now.

These days, Mr Coffey lives in Ballyvoher with his partner, Karen, and their company, Yellow House Provisions, makes homemade sauces and relishes, which can be paid for at the honesty box at their gate.

'A good omen'

Mr Coffey said that the sight of giant Ukrainian sunflowers growing in a previously barren field has lifted his spirits, even as the Russian invasion of Ukraine has ground on.

“If I was a superstitious man, I’d be telling my Ukrainian friends this is definitely a good omen,” Mr Coffey said.

Kateryna told The Echo that her brother and father are both defending their homeland from Russian aggression.

Ms Bodzioch has lived in East Cork for several years, and now her teenage nephew has come from Ukraine to live with her.

“It is very hard to think of what the Russians are doing to my country, and to my people, and you wish you could do something, but you can’t,” she said.

“I just try to keep going and I hope that we will win and my country will be saved.”

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