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Spud lovers cook up potato art at festival in Calverton

Samantha Cunningham, 18, of Farmingdale, makes a sculpture

Samantha Cunningham, 18, of Farmingdale, makes a sculpture of the Statue of Liberty, at the Long Island Potato Festival in Calverton on Sunday, Aug. 9, 2015. Photo Credit: James Carbone

Josiah Peters' mound of spuds molded into a race car took first place in the under-12 mashed potato sculpting contest Sunday at the Long Island Potato Festival.

Good thing too. The 11-year-old from Commack loves cars, as well as potatoes, he said.

"He's a vegan, so he eats a lot of them," said his mom, Mary Peters, 34, who sported a "Starchivore" shirt.

In the adult division, a mashed potato cat sitting on its haunches beat out a Statue of Liberty and a foot sculpture that had a "Po-Ta-Toe" flag planted in the biggest digit, among other entrants.

Cat sculptor Christine Klein, 28, was exuberant about the trophy.

"I finally found a use for my art degree," said the computer programmer who lives in Port Jefferson, and is a graduate of Binghamton University.

Working with potato, she said, was mushier and mealier than Play-Doh. Her friend Lauren-Rae Romero's pixie statue, complete with bay leaf wings, toppled over in the winds. "We definitely had structural issues," she said.

Sunday's event was the second annual ode to the tuber, which before homes and vineyards was a staple of the East End landscape. In the 1940s, there were more than 70,000 acres of potatoes in Suffolk and Nassau. Now there are about 2,500 acres, according to the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County.

The festival had free French fries -- while supplies lasted, and for those willing to wait in a line that seemed as long as the eyes could see -- and vendors selling local wares, including North Fork Potato Chips, grown in Mattituck, and vodka made from local potatoes.

Entrance to the event, held at the now-closed Calverton Links golf course in Calverton and organized by Starfish Junction Productions, was $20. It attracted an estimated 1,500 people, the same as last year.

Some attendees saw more opportunities to feature potatoes, rather than food carts selling festival wares and food and music.

"I actually expected to see more local farms, people selling potatoes," said Jen Howlett, 32, of Selden.

Jessica Wells, 34, whose family has been farming the Wells Homestead in Aquebogue for 15 generations, said farmers have had to specialize where farming can be so expensive.

"We used to grow everything," she said. Her parents, Susan and Lyle Wells, now specialize in asparagus in the spring, cut flowers and zucchini in the summer and winter squash in the fall. At her farm booth, she sold local potatoes other farmers dropped off.

The Sidor family is still making a go of it with 170 acres of potatoes in Mattituck, said Cheryl Sidor, 41, selling bags of potato chips.

Her parents, Marty and Carol Sidor, were out on in the field Sunday harvesting a crop.

She said the potato-chipping business, first started in 2004, was a way for the family to keep farming. "It was something to sustain us," she said.


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