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Youngsters delight in old-fashioned 'tater harvest

August 26, 2007|By MARIE GILBERT

WASHINGTON COUNTY - The image seemed frozen in time - a man working the fields behind a team of horses and a plow.

Moving slowly under a hot summer sun, they kicked up clouds of dust - and potatoes - as they circled the land.

There was no sputtering and chugging from a tractor, only the soft sounds of hoofbeats against freshly turned soil.

It was horse-powered farming - a method consigned to the past.

But Saturday, it found new life at the fifth annual Spud Fest at the Rural Heritage Museum at the Washington County Agricultural Education Center south of Hagerstown.

The horse-drawn plow was among several attractions featured at the festival, which each year pays homage to the potato.

Visitors could watch potato chips being made, purchase french fries and see the museum's newest exhibit, which focuses on historic ways to preserve foods.

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But the highlight of the day was the children's potato picking contest.

After the horse-drawn plow had unearthed mountains of red potatoes, youngsters dove into the fields, loading up their bags and buckets with as many spuds as they could find.

Prizes were awarded for the largest, smallest and most unusually shaped potatoes.

According to Darce Easton, president of the museum's board of directors, about 100 pounds of potatoes were planted in March for Spud Fest.

Watching the children digging through the dirt to uncover potatoes, Easton said that years ago, this was how potatoes were harvested.

"There are a lot of older people who are here today who remember going out into the fields and gathering potatoes by hand," she said. "It was a job they probably hated. Now, today, they're having fun watching their grandchildren do the same thing."

Easton said Spud Fest is just one of many activities held throughout the year at the Rural Heritage Museum.

"Our whole purpose is to honor this region's rural and agricultural heritage," she said. "Events such as the Spud Fest bring people out to see what we're all about."

Among the youngsters having fun at Spud Fest were Paige Ashworth, 5, and her sister, Jenna, 3, of Hagerstown.

"They've attended the Spud Fest before, but this is their first time picking potatoes," said their grandmother, Sissy Ashworth. "They've been so excited about doing this."

Ashworth said she had second thoughts about attending the event because of the heat.

"But the girls would have been really disappointed if we would have decided not to come," she said. "So I brought lots of water."

Brian Colby of Boonsboro brought his 6-year-old son, Joshua, to Spud Fest "because I thought it would be a fun event."

Colby said he never had seen a horse-drawn plow in action, and thought it was "incredible."

"It's something my son and I will be talking about for days," he said.

As for the potato picking contest, Colby said they would be bringing home "quite a few potatoes for quite a few meals."

"Joshua really enjoyed it," he said. "It was like an Easter egg hunt, except, instead of eggs, we were hunting potatoes."

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