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Potato Festival celebrates an industry that has all but vanished

Troy Chichoctky, 9, of Calverton, left, and Benjamin

Troy Chichoctky, 9, of Calverton, left, and Benjamin Owens, 5, of Centereach, eats mashed potatos during the mashed potato eating contest during the Long Island Potato Festival held in Calverton, Sunday, Oct. 2,2016. Credit: Steve Pfost

From a potato salad contest to a mashed potato eating competition, the Long Island Potato Festival in Calverton on Sunday offered a variety of potato-related attractions for starch enthusiasts.

More than 30 contestants competed in the potato sculpting contest, creating art from one pound of mashed potato. The roster of sculptures included miniature ducks, snowmen, Pokemon characters, and more.

Kristen Ferguson, 25, said she drove from Manhattan to the festival on the former Calverton links golf course to check out the quirky festival with her friend Patrice Dowd, also 25.

Dowd had crafted a fall-themed potato sculpture featuring a pumpkin spice latte and, though she wasn’t feeling confident about her chances of winning, she said it was an entertaining way to spend the day.

People also browsed the grounds featuring about 30 local vendors and exhibitors. One local farm was represented, Mattituck-based MarGene Farm.

Gene Krupski, 51, the owner of the farm, grows potatoes and other organic vegetables on five acres of his family’s farm, which comprised about 200 acres about a century ago. Though both his grandfather and father were potato farmers, he said farming only potatoes today is no longer sustainable.

Long Island was once potato country. At the turn of the 20th century, potato farms covered more than 275,000 acres, according to state figures. Today, this number had diminished to about 2,500 acres.

Moriches resident Ivis Penalver, 45, said she was heartened to still see farm stands scattered around the island. Kristyn Dolan, one of the organizers of the festival, said celebrating Long Island’s potato heritage was the purpose of the day.

“Why not celebrate where we live, work and play?” Dolan said. “The goal is for people to learn more about where they live.”

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