4H Youths Sort Duds from Good Spuds at PA Farm Show

4H potato judges at the 106th Pennsylvania Farm Show included (top, from left) Averie Cook, Madelaine Alderfer, Ariana Cook, Danica Vargason, Monroe Bellows, Gwynn Bellows, Landon Shanks, Lydia Shanks, Ellie Cook, Nadia Alderfer, Rachel Fritsch, and Eleyana Bellows. Rachel Fritsch’s Penn State-themed potato (below) collection garnered a first-place win in the Mr. Spuds contest.

Story and photos by Rick Hiduk

(originally published in the Daily Review)

It’s all about potatoes for 12 Bradford County 4H members who traveled to Harrisburg on Jan. 11 for a judging contest. Several of the same youths had also entered decorated potatoes for the Mr. Spuds contest at the Pennsylvania Farm Show, which ran from Jan. 8 to 15. Not only was it the largest group that 4H adviser Cindy Williams has taken to the show in recent years, the judges fared better this year than their last in-person visit in 2020.

While most people simply judge a potato by its taste, these youths have learned that there’s much more to consider about a potato before it goes to market, including size and shape and the presence of any diseases or defects. Team members met on Sundays for two months to prepare for the event. They had hoped to go to the Lehigh Valley to get more practice in a potato judging contest, but Covid derailed the trip.

Returning judges on Jan. 11 included Ariana and Ellie Cook and Rachel Fritsch. It was Ariana’s third state competition. Her participation in the event motivated her sister, Ellie, to give it a try. Their mother, Angela Cook, was one of the chaperones who noted that the dedication and talent of the youths is impressive considering the fact that there are few potato farms in Bradford County.

Some of the kids have started growing them in their gardens,” Angela related, adding with a laugh, “If we get potatoes out for dinner, they start judging them and looking for diseases.” Rachel agreed that it more or less becomes a habit.

The competition provides a combination of lightening rounds and some for which a little more time and attention are required. One table, for example, holds 30 potatoes that contestants scan quickly to determine the number of Grade A spuds. Another contains potatoes that have deformities or blight, which they have learned to identify. A final round offers potatoes of similar size and appearance on paper plates that the youths rank on visual quality and potential market value.

When the scores were tallied, Bradford County Team B1, comprised of Nadia Alderfer, Ellie Cook, Eleyana Bellows, and Monroe Bellows, took forth place. Bradford County Team B2, made up of Averie Cook, Danica Vargason, and Landon Shanks, received sixth-place ribbons. Rachel Fritsch and Ariana Cook took first- and second-place, respectively, in the Mr. Spuds contest.

Photos by Rick Hiduk

Lainey Alderfer (left) and Ariana Cook work across from each other during one of the lightening rounds.

Lydia and Landon Shanks grade potatoes as part of the 4H potato judging competition at the PA Farm Show.

Nadia Alderfer takes a closer look at some potato abnormalities during the potato judging contest.

First-year potato judge Gwynn (left) Bellows learned and worked alongside her mother, Loren Bellows, at the PA Farm Show.

Ariana Cook took home a second-place ribbon for her potato-turned-Monarch butterfly in the Mr. Spuds contest.

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