Dozens chip in to dig potatoes at Spud Fest

August 17, 2003|by JULIE E. GREENE

Saturday's Spud Fest was a "taterific" treat for more than 70 people, including about two dozen children, who showed up to dig out potatoes and taste homemade potato chips.

Elisha Taney, 8, of near Boonsboro showed neighbor Virginia Slifer an odd-shaped potato that Slifer said looked like a hoot owl, except the potato had a tail.

"I think this is educational for the children. A lot of these kids, I bet they didn't know potatoes came out of the ground," said Slifer, 80.


Slifer was busy watching her three great grandchildren and Elisha pick potatoes the same way she did when she was 10 years old.

"I'm not picking any today. I've been there and done that," Slifer said.

Daisy Fitz, 77, of Maugansville, was reliving her youth as she busied herself filling a red bucket with potatoes, an activity she said reminded her of her childhood. She has her own cobbler and red potatoes to dig up at home, she said.

Katrina Needy, 29, of Hagerstown, brought her daughter, Miranda, 11, and son, William, 3, to Spud Fest at the Washington County Agricultural Education Center to give them something fun to do.

"They've never gotten to pick potatoes," Needy said.

Needy picked potatoes at a friend's garden when she was around 11 years old.

Her brother, Wade Needy, picked strawberries instead of potatoes when he was younger, he said. Wade Needy brought along his daughter, Claudia, 2.

"She's finding them by herself. She's doing pretty good," he said.

Occasionally, Bill Poffenberger and some helpers would go through the garden with a horse-drawn plow that tossed up dirt and potatoes to the top of the garden. Then the pickers would swarm in behind him to pick the potatoes.

Cole Nussear, 3, of Hagerstown, was properly dressed for the job with his new black boots, bought just for the occasion, said his grandfather, Phil Muritz.

While Muritz had picked potatoes before, it was new to Cole.

"We always raised potatoes," said Muritz, 57, of Smithsburg.

Even today, owners of small potato gardens use their hands to pick the root vegetables, Muritz said. They might use forks or shovels. Big operations use a potato picker or digger, he said.

Spud Fest was the brainchild of Velma Poffenberger, 62, of Beaver Creek.

"Just trying to promote agriculture and the way things are done in the old days," said Poffenberger, who is chairwoman of the Washington County Rural Heritage Museum's Special Events Committee.

Poffenberger hoped the event would get children involved and was surprised how many dug in.

"Being it was a success and nobody else in the county does it, we'll probably do it again," Poffenberger said.

Velma's grandson, Brian Poffenberger, 10, of Hagerstown, was focused on his work. An experienced potato picker, Brian was carefully scanning one row for any remaining potatoes before moving to the next one.

Brian said he likes picking potatoes because he prefers the taste of homemade potato chips that cook over the fire.

Brooke Atha, 38, of Hagerstown, held up a root to show her 7-year-old daughter, Savannah, tiny potatoes left clinging to the root.

"I thought it'd be a good experience for her," Atha said.

Savannah liked picking potatoes and finding ones with peculiar shapes such as those of a snowman and a duck, she said.

Odd-shaped potatoes, big potatoes and small potatoes were crowding Frank Artz's tailgate as youngsters brought their finds to him to be labeled with a Post-It note for competition. The winners were to receive candy bars.

Muritz had the cutest potato, shaped like a duck, while Winnie had the biggest potato and Jacob Stevens, Gabe Minnick and a boy named James won for having the smallest potatoes, said Marge Peters, a board member for Friends of the Rural Heritage Museum.

Earlier, James Jackson, 9, of Hagerstown, had submitted a tiny potato that Peters described as "hardly bigger than a grain of sand."

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