Bradford County 4-H sent one of the largest groups yet of potato judges for an annual youth contest at the Pennsylvania Farm Show. Participants this year included (front, from left) Monroe Bellows, Gweneth Bellows, Danica Vargason, Noelle Rogers, (back) Rachel Fritsche, Averie Cook, Ellie Cook, Eva Cook, Ariana Cook, Madelaine Alderfer, Grace Hall, Allie Bowen, Nadia Alderfer, and Ellie Bellows.
Story and lead photo by Rick Hiduk
Sporting new team T-shirts, fourteen 4-H members from Bradford County arrived in Harrisburg on Tuesday morning to compete once again in the Potato Grading and Identification Contest. The event is one of many specifically for youths at the Pennsylvania Farm Show. And, while the competition certainly unique, its organizers maintain that lessons learned through potato judging carry into real-life situations.
“They learn decision-making skills, quick identification, better communication, and team work,” PA 4-H educator and contest chairperson Kelly Weisner offered as examples. “Some of the kids apply the skills to other forms of judging like livestock. In addition, we talk to them about career options that are related.”
The contest is set up to simulate that which would happen at a county fair, as well as how farmers grade their own produce before it goes to market. The members of each team go through three stations. At the first, they encounter four plates on which there five potatoes each.
“They have to identify which plates are the nicest and rank them in order as if they were at a fair,” Weisner explained. Next, they sort through 40 potatoes looking for 20 specific defects, which include rot, fungus, pitting, softness, cleanliness, and odd sizes. Then they grade a final group of potatoes in a search for the limited number of US #1 spuds in the batch.
Bradford County 4-H advisor Cindy Williams noted that practices were intensified over the past year because the students she to Harrisburg was taking kept showing signs of improvement. This year, we moved two of last year’s first place B team members onto our A team,” she explained. “In practices, we did a lot of focusing on diseases and defects to help raise our scores.”
Rachel Fritsche has been participating in the contest for four years and says that potato judging is a lot of fun. “I enjoy making memories with my friends,” she remarked as they were being divided into three teams and she strained to hear instructions. Last year, she noted, Bradford County’s A Team took fourth place, and the B1 Team garnered first place.
“Now that we’ve all been doing it for a while, we have more fun with it,” group member Ellie Bellows concurred. “And we’ve gotten really good at it.”
Cindy agrees. “This is our fifth year we’ve had a team, so the kids are getting older and know what to expect,” she related. “Since they are older, we have been able to work on refining their own skills rather than learning the basics.”
And Ellie was right. Results released on the afternoon of Jan. 9 showed Bradford County’s A Team at the top of the heap, so to speak, a full 13 points ahead of the second-place team from Northampton County with a score of 1,307.5. Both B teams were also winners, locking up seventh and eight place in their division. Bradford County youths who also performed especially well on an individual level included Nadia Alderfer, Rachel Fritsche, and Ariana Cook, finishing sixth, eighth, and ninth, respectively.
“The team now moves on to ‘Honors’ if they wish to compete,” Cindy explained. “This is a longer contest with a potato weight guesstimating portion, a ‘premium pack selection contest, along with the normal grading and defect contest.” That would be held at next year’s Farm Show.
Celebrating the first-place finish by Bradford County’s A Team at the 4-H Potato Grading and Identification Contest held at the Pennsylvania Farm Show on Jan. 9 are (from left) Bradford County 4-H advisor Cindy Williams, members Ariana Cook, Rachel Fritsche, Nadia Alderfer, Ellie Bellows, and state 4-H council member Garrett Franck.