Katie Navarino was sitting in the library at Hofstra University in Hempstead Wednesday morning when she saw a giant potato drive down Hempstead Turnpike.
The 28-foot-long, 12-foot-wide, 11.5-foot-tall tater arrived on campus shortly before 10 a.m. on a flatbed truck, and it didn’t take long for word of the spud sighting to spread throughout the student body.
“I started seeing pictures on Facebook and I got intrigued and had to come and see it for myself,” said Navarino, 20, a sophomore from Berkshire County, Mass.
The “Big Idaho Potato,” as it is called, was parked for eight hours outside the David S. Mack Sports and Exhibition Complex, where a food show was taking place. Throughout the day, Navarino and many other students and visitors took turns posing next to the 6-ton spud, but soon learned that it was a “faked” potato.
The biggest real potato ever grown weighed only 11 pounds. This one is actually made of steel, plywood, foam and spray-on concrete, similar to what is used to create a rock-climbing wall, explained Tyler Pagel, part of the three-person “Tater Team” touring the country with the potato.
“People ask us all the time, ‘Is it real?’ and our response is, ‘It’s really awesome,’” said Pagel, 23, a Seattle native who now calls Boise, Idaho, home.
The purpose of the “Famous Idaho Potato Tour,” now in its second year, is to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Idaho Potato Commission and its partnership with Meals On Wheels Association of America.
In the past two years, the commission has donated $200,000 to Meals on Wheels, which delivers more than 1 million meals each day to senior citizens in need, explained Pagel. Visitors to BigIdahoPotato.com — where facts like the biggest real potato can be found — can also donate to the association on the site.
The seven-month tour, which started in Pennsylvania earlier this month, will stop in 72 cities in 28 states. It’s headed to Manhattan next.
While on the road, the giant “potato” elicits strange looks from drivers and passengers, prompting many of them to snap photos.
“Yesterday, we had a guy with his iPad hanging out the window of his car,” said “Tater Team” member Kristie Wolfe, 30, of Boise, Idaho.
The person who shoots the most creative photo of themselves with the big potato and submits it to the Big Potato Big Apple photo contest by 9 p.m. on April 20 will win either two Knicks playoff tickets or $500 cash. To enter the contest, people can upload photos to the “Big Idaho Potato Tour” Facebook page or use the hashtag #bigidahopotato on Twitter or Instagram.
Hofstra freshman Kadar Vernes recruited five friends for his photo entry, which he thinks has a good chance of winning.
Vernes, 18, of Santa Monica, Calif., said his friends were “bummed” that the potato wasn’t real, but he still thinks “it’s rad.”
“People get to drive around in a giant potato for a job,” he said. “That’s awesome.”