How much attention do you typically pay to a potato?

An ingredient in many recipes and edible on its own, the potato is commonplace in kitchens, particularly in an agricultural areas like Central Pennsylvania. However, few people have had the experience of inspecting a potato closely. Several Lebanon County 4-H members, however, have become masters at doing so.

This year, a Lebanon 4-H team competed for the second year in the Pennsylvania Farm Show’s 4-H Potato Judging Contest.

The competition had multiple parts: grading uniformity of plates of potatoes, grading 100 potatoes to determine whether they meet USDA Grade 1 designation, and finding defects on 40 potatoes.

The team, which placed seventh, started preparing long before the day of the competition. Through studying photos, individual flashcards and practice, and team meet-ups, members learned to identify flaws in potatoes and judge their overall quality.

This year, the team met with Ono potato grower Ken Moyer, who taught them about potatoes and provided “practice potatoes” for the group.

Team members Evelyn Troutman, Carolyn Troutman, Ashley Morgan, Jolene Bomgardner, Madalyn Troutman, Riley Werner, Owen Seibert, Joel Seibert, Anna Houser and Jocelyn Troutman competed under the coaching of Michelle Seibert and Joanne Bomgardner.

So how did Lebanon 4-H become involved with a potato judging competition? While the competition has been going on for over three decades, Lebanon County 4-H only competed in it for the first time last year.

Vice President of the 4-H Friends, Troutman was among the founding members of Lebanon’s team. Her mother mentioned seeing the Potato Judging Contest listed in a Farm Show booklet and Evelyn decided to put together Lebanon 4-H’s first potato judging team.

“I talked two of my friends and my sister into doing it with me, so we had a team,” Evelyn said, referencing the requirement of three or four participants per team. “We put the idea out to the club and found more members were interested so we had two teams.”

When she first heard of the contest, Evelyn partially became involved because she thought it was a silly idea. Going into the contest, she did not know what to expect.

“I decided just to give it a try, and if I absolutely didn’t like it, I didn’t have to do it again,” said Evelyn. “Once I did try it though, I found that I learned a lot and really liked the challenge.”

Going into this year, the team gained members—and T-shirts. Dieffenbach’s Potato Chips helped to fund T-shirts for the team, as members noticed many other teams with T-shirts last year.

Returning members increased their scores from last year, Evelyn said, though the team placed around the same as it did last year due to an overall increase in entries.

What was Evelyn’s part of the experience? The contest itself, she said.

“You learn so much doing it and it opens your ‘eyes’ about potatoes.”

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Read more coverage of the Farm Show…

Emily Bixler was born and raised in Lebanon and now reports on local government. In her free time, she enjoys playing piano and going for hikes.


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