By Ruthanne Johnson
MONTE VISTA—This year’s Annual San Luis Valley Potato Festival likely broke all attendance records, easily reaching around 1,000 festivalgoers. And from the festivities at Chapman Park to the potato harvest tours and extreme motorsports event, everyone had a blast.
Saturday’s tater fest offered an early morning spud run and lots of goodies to buy from local arts and craft vendors, such as crocheted hats and scarves for the upcoming winter season handcrafted by Del Norte artist Judy Waller. There were foods such as baked potatoes served up by the Monte Vista High School basketball team and perogies fried up by Chef Carrie Baird of “Top Chef” fame as part of a scheduled cooking demonstration under the big tent. And there were entertaining things like human hamster balls and bungee trampolines for the kiddos as well as games like the cornhole toss for adults.
The Colorado Potato Administrative Committee (CPAC) organized and hosted the festival.
Later in the evening, elite athletes from the extreme motorsports company Octane Addictions performed a mixed bag of flips, jumps and other motorcycle tricks for the community at Ski Hi Complex. “The performance lasted about 1-1/2 hours, and we were extremely happy with the attendance,” said CPAC assistant director Linda Weyers.
While vendors and other festival participants were finessing the last setup details for the day, a merry band of potato enthusiasts was whisked away by bus for a harvest tour that first took them to the Colorado State University SLV Research Center just up the road in Center. Tourists on the tour bus hailed from Oregon, Texas, Kansas, Washington, Illinois and even as far as Canada.
A group of about ten talented chefs from the Colorado Chapter of the American Culinary Federation also attended the tour. Chef Christopher Moore, who whips up fabulous creations for the Colorado Museum of Nature and Science, drove all the way from Denver with his wife and son, David. So did Chef Scott Smith, a culinary educator at Johnson and Whales University; and Chef Katie Walter, who just graduated from chef school and intends to start up her own business. The production crew and host Brian Freeman from the “Modern Eater” broadcast that airs on iHeartRadio and 630 KHOW in Denver were also on the tour.
The chefs and other spud lovers enjoyed digging up several different types of potatoes---yellow, purple and a marbled skin color of red and yellow---to take home for cooking. The potato strains were part of the research farm’s breeding program, and folks ended up with at least one big paper bag filled with freshly dug up potatoes.
The tour also took participants to Martinez Farms north of Alamosa. Tourists watched in awe as massive harvest machines scooped up potatoes from the ground and piled them into the back of transport trucks. They watched as workers sorted malformed potatoes from the typical oblong-shaped ones going to market and then enjoyed picking through the throwaway boxes for heart-shaped spuds. They also toured a massive storage shed, where millions of potatoes from the farm are stored in temperatures somewhere between 38 and 40 degrees for later shipping.
The tour bus dropped off folks at Chapman Park at about 11:30 a.m., where they went on their way to fill up their bellies, shop and learn more about potatoes and the San Luis Valley communities. But most of all, everyone was there to have fun.