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Festival pays homage to the mighty potato

August 29, 2009|By MARIE GILBERT

SHARPSBURG -- When it comes to popularity contests, the mighty potato is no small fry.

Boiled, mashed, baked and scalloped, people really dig them. On Saturday morning, more than 100 people literally did just that at Spud Fest, unearthing as many tubers as they could find at the Rural Heritage Museum at the Washington County Agricultural Education Center.

The annual festival pays homage to the potato, and this year featured sack races, potato races and a sampling of homemade potato chips. The highlight of the day was a chance for children to harvest potatoes the old-fashioned way -- by hand.

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

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Prizes were awarded for the smallest and largest potatoes in various age groups.

According to Mary Poffenberger, a volunteer with the Rural Heritage Museum, potatoes were planted in April for the festival.

Watching the children digging through the dirt to uncover the spuds, she noted that years ago, that was how potatoes were harvested.

"This is a good experience for children to see where potatoes come from," she said. "They have fun, but they also receive a bit of an education."

Poffenberger said each child could take home one bag of potatoes. The remainder would be donated to local food banks.

For Don Talbert of Hagerstown, the potato harvesting brought back a lot of memories.

Born and raised on a farm in Downsville, Talbert said his father had a team of draft horses that plowed the fields.

"It was a lot of work," he said.

But for Kelly Duca, 6, and her sister Paige, 4, combing the dirt for potatoes was fun.

Both Hagerstown girls thought it was a little bit like an Easter egg hunt.

"We made it a contest to see who could get the most," Kelly said.

Visitors to the Rural Heritage Museum also had an opportunity to see potato chips being made in large kettles over a wood-burning fire.

About four bushels of potatoes were washed, sliced and dropped into sizzling-hot oil for the festival, said Howard Thomas, a volunteer and member of the board of directors for the museum.

Thomas said he has been helping to make potato chips at Spud Fest for the past four years.

"The thing you quickly learn is that you have to stay with them," he said. "It only takes 10 minutes to do a full kettle. It's a job you can't walk away from."

Howard Myers of Smithsburg, a member of the museum's board, said he remembers eating homemade potato chips when he was a boy.

"We ate them as fast as my mother could fry them," he said. "There's nothing better than homemade chips."

Organizers said the festival was made possible through donations and support from the community.

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