Youths Determine Difference Between Good Spuds and Duds

4H potato judges at the Pennsylvania Farm Show on Tuesday included (above, from left) Andrew Housenecht from Columbia Crossroads, Ellie Cook of Powell, Mya Calaman from Powell, Willow Bacorn of Athens, Melody Wright from Powell, Ariana Cook of Powell, and Rachel Fritsch from East Smithfield.

Photo and story by Rick Hiduk

(Also published in Daily Rewiew)

Most people judge potatoes by their taste, but seven teens from Bradford County know that the American food staple is highly scrutinized before it ever gets to market.

For the past decade, 4H leader Cynthia Williams has taken teams to the Pennsylvania Farm Show to compete as potato judges. First, the spuds get a quick scan based on outward appearance. Then the youths look for diseases and defects.

The Potato Judging contest all but faded away in 2011 when only 19 contestants showed up. But, according to organizers, it has grown steadily since. This year, a record 142 youths representing 23 teams participated in the competition, which ran through the day on Tuesday.

“It is amazing how it has grown, ” Williams remarked.

Willow Bacorn, Ariana Cook, Andrew Housenecht, and Melody Wright made up this year’s A team for Bradford County, having competed in previous years. First-time judges Ellie Cook, Rachel Fritsch, and Mya Calaman comprised the B team.

The competition provides a combination of lightening rounds and elements for which the contestants can slow down and give a little more attention.

One table, for example, holds 30 potatoes that the youths must quickly scan to determine the number of grade A spuds. One contains potatoes that have obvious issues, such as natural deformities or blight, which they have learned to identify. A final round has potatoes of similar size and appearance on paper plates that the teens quickly rank on visual quality and potential market value.

When all was said and done, Bradford County’s A team placed eighth out of 13. The B team finished 12th out of 20.

“They did really well. I was very proud of them,” said Williams, who noted that individual rankings will be released later in the week.

Four of the 4H members also won awards for their decorated potatoes as part of the Mr. Spuds contest. (Read related story here: )

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