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Nearly 75 competitors from across the region braved the fallout from Friday’s storm and converged on Ithaca’s Farmer’s Market for a taste of swede victory at the annual International Rutabaga Curling Competition.
Market vendors ended the season in traditionally fun fashion — by dressing up in ridiculous costumes, inviting customers to throw vegetables along the floor and broadcasting the roll-by-roll commentary, peppered with fun culinary facts.
What began as a bit of fun release for bored vendors 11 years ago has escalated into a full-out event that raises hundreds of dollars for charity and attracts hundreds of spectators to Steamboat Landing in the dead of winter.
For the uninitiated, the International Rutabaga Curling Competition involves the rolling of the large root vegetable — the cross between a cabbage and a turnip, sometimes called a swede — along a 79-foot stretch of floor, aiming for a cone at the end.
Loosely based on the rules of the official Scottish ice sport of curling, the Ithaca game originated in 1997 with the hurling of a frozen chicken. Feeling mischievous, market vendor Steve Sierigk was loudly pondering the potential pitching distance of produce when he inspired a customer to throw a recently-purchased chicken down the aisles. Potatoes, cinnamon rolls, cabbages and loaves of bread soon followed, and the sport was born.
As Scottish-attired referee Will Sellers of Ithaca explained, it takes a certain amount of skill to control an over-exuberant rutabaga, likely to roll beyond the periphery of the court and often ruled “oot” of play.
“Eye-to-arm coordination is key, as is the appropriate war cry to inspire the rutabaga,” he said. “Aerodynamics also has an influence. Square rutabagas do not roll so well, which is why it is especially important that you don’t step over the line, or your rutabaga will be shredded.”