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Hartford’s villages square off in potato growing contest

  • The town of Hartford is having a potato growing contest that will end in September, with a festival, games, food and awards in various potato categories. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Paige Heverly, left, of Community Resilience Organization of Hartford talks with Meg Reid, of Quechee, Vt., at the Upper Valley Food Coop, in White River Junction, Vt., on Thursday, May 9, 2019. Reid was holding the free seed potatoes she would plant for the Hartford Potato Fest contest to see which of the five Hartford villages can grow the most potatoes.(Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Resilient Hartford demonstrates a way to grow potatoes for the Hartford Potato Fest contest to see which of the five Hartford villages can grow the most potatoes. The organization handed out free seed potatoes outside the Upper Valley Food Coop on Thursday, May 9, 2019 in White River Junction, Vt. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Megan Culp, left, of White River Junction, Vt. signs up for the Hartford Potato Fest contest with Kye Cochran with the Community Resilience Organization of Hartford outside the Upper Valley Food Coop on Thursday, May 9, 2019 in White River Junction. Culp planned on taking part in the potato growing contest. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.



Valley News Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 14, 2019

When Meg Reid took a paper bag from the folding table set up outside the Upper Valley Food Coop and unrolled its top to release the earthy scent of the potatoes inside, she thought of her mother, a school teacher in the 1940s.

“During the war, all teachers were asked to bring people in to teach them how to do victory gardens,” said Reid, of Quechee.

Never mind that most of the people in town were farmers. Reid’s mother answered the call anyway, instructing her students’ parents in the basics of gardening, Reid said.

A bit of that same sense of duty marked the kickoff of the Hartford Potato Fest, a summer-long competition to see which of Hartford’s five villages can rally the most people to grow potatoes, culminating in a potato-themed festival in the fall. Organizers hope the free bags of seed potatoes and the friendly rivalry will grow into something a little richer and longer lasting: a feeling of self sufficiency and community togetherness.

“We’re seeing it as kind of a gateway to gardening for a lot of people. So many people don’t really know where their food comes from,” said Paige Heverly, who was manning the table for the White River Junction kickoff for the potato fest last Thursday (kickoffs had already taken place in the four other villages).

Heverly is chairwoman of the The Community Resilience Organization of Hartford, also known as Resilient Hartford, one of six such organizations piloted in towns around Vermont in response to climate change and other threats. The idea is to be proactive about building strong communities that can solve whatever problems arise.

Heverly and co-organizer Kye Cochran, who conceived of the potato contest and is a long-time Upper Valley Food Coop board member, figured a lighthearted event would get more people’s attention than straightforward attempts to discuss hazard mitigation. They chose potatoes for their simplicity.

“Potatoes are something everyone’s familiar with,” Heverly said. “The amazing thing about potatoes is it’s hard to keep them under control.”

Finding homes for the seed potatoes took some effort, even though they were free. Cochran and Heverly employed salesperson-like enthusiasm in greeting shoppers entering and exiting the small, White River Junction coop. Along with each bag of potatoes, they gave out a handmade grower’s guide, containing sketches by Cochran and advice for planting, growing and harvesting potatoes.

As they neared the end of the final kick-off event, they’d given away roughly 150 pounds of the 750 pounds of seed potatoes donated by West Lebanon Feed and Supply. They hope by word of mouth and the help of some garden clubs to enlist more people in the effort.

Another challenge: keeping track of participants by village. The villages’ borders are up for debate in certain places, and some residents are unsure about which one they actually belong to. For her part, Cochran lives between West Hartford and Quechee, leaving her to wonder which village to grow for. Maybe both.

At any rate, it’s all in good fun. The Hartford Potato Fest will conclude with a potato-themed celebration on Sept. 14 in Lyman Point Park. There will be a potato potluck, songs, games, skits and, of course, a prize for the village that gets the most people to grow potatoes.

Sarah Earle can be reached at searle@vnews.com or 603-727-3268.