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San Luis Valley Potato Festival celebrates spud harvest

Each fall the San Luis Valley's many potato farms and packing sheds, along with individuals and families who contribute to Colorado's rich potato legacy, are celebrated with a harvest festival — and this year's is shaping up to be one for the history books.

On Sept. 5 and 6 the Colorado Potato Administrative Committee will host the 2014 Potato Festival in Monte Vista not only with an expanded schedule of Friday evening and all day Saturday but also with an expanded focus. As it pays tribute to the Valley's No. 1 industry, the event will also recognize local servicemen and women who fought and died to keep the United States free.

veterans-parkDonations at the 2014 San Luis Valley Potato Festival will go toward completion of the Faith Hinkley Memorial Park. (Photo courtesy of CPAC)According to Linda Weyers, assistant director of CPAC, the Potato Festival will kick off Friday, Sept. 5, at 5 p.m. with a family-style dinner in the Glen Martinez Memorial Pavilion at Chapman Park on Highway 160 west of downtown Monte Vista. Following the dinner, Colorado Springs singer and entertainer Arch Hooks will begin his performance at 5 p.m. in the pavilion, a structure built in fall 2008 to honor fallen Marine Sgt. Glen Martinez of Monte Vista.

Both dinner and concert are free to the public, and donations will be accepted to go toward expanding the Faith Hinkley Memorial Park in Monte Vista. That park was created in memoriam of 23-year-old Army Sgt. Faith R. Hinkley.

Sgt. Martinez died at age 31 in May 2008 when the Humvee in which he was riding hit a roadside bomb in Iraq. Sgt. Hinkley died in August 2010 when her unit came under attack in Baghdad. Both Martinez and Hinkley were Monte Vista residents and graduates of Monte Vista High School, and both were recipients of numerous medals and ribbons for their service.

Weyers said a portion of the Hinkley Park expansion will include a veterans memorial wall, which will bear the names of all fallen heroes from the region who have died in action.

Saturday's activities start at 8 a.m. with the arts & crafts and food fair in Chapman Park. An antique tractor display will run simultaneously, and homemade ice cream — and free baked potatoes from the San Luis Valley — will be served until 5 p.m.

As in years past, a free Potato Field Bus Tour running from 8:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. will provide festival-goers the opportunity to learn how potatoes are grown, harvested, packed and shipped, and CPAC will be selling bags of SLV potatoes, T-shirts and cookbooks at its booth. Weyers said that while most of the activities are being conducted at no charge, all donations on Saturday will also go to work on the veterans park.

Always a favorite with the crowd is the annual chefs competition and judging, which brings several professional and student chefs from the American Culinary Federation Colorado Chapter together in a spirited contest to create their tastiest potato dishes. That portion of the festival runs from 12:30-2:30 p.m., and from 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. a Downtown Potato Recipe Tasting Tour will give the public a sampling of the versatility and flavor of San Luis Valley spuds.

Throughout the day live entertainment will be provided by Boulder musician Danny Shafer, and kids will be kept busy with a full slate of festival carnival games and competitions, including the popular Potato Decorating and Potato Shooting contests.

For additional information on field tours and cook-off times and locations, contact Weyers at 719/852-3322 or visit the CPAC on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest as well as its website, www.coloradopotato.org.