Elizabeth City Celebrates North Carolina Potato Festival
Do you know what the second-most consumed food in the United States is? Here’s a hint—it might have been part of your breakfast, lunch or dinner.
Give up? It’s the potato.
Pasquotank Farm Bureau member Reuben James, who also is the current President of the North Carolina Potato Association, explains why this popular vegetable grows so well in this part of the state.
“It does require some good land to grow potatoes,” James says. “In this part of Eastern North Carolina, it’s the best place for growing potatoes.”
The association is a half dozen growers who raise hundreds of acres of the crop—75 percent of which, James says, ends up going to potato chip manufacturers. Round white potatoes, red potatoes and yellow flesh potatoes are the most popular grown in this part of North Carolina.
“We’re always hoping for some good demand,” James says. “There seems to be a window of time as one area transitions to another area when our crop is needed.”
Many years ago, Elizabeth City celebrated this starchy, delicious crop by holding a festival when it was time for growers to take their crop to wholesale buyers. After going on hiatus for several years, the festival was brought back nine years ago by downtown leaders. The North Carolina Potato Festival now is a mainstay on the third Saturday of May in the Albermarle Region.
“Years ago, when I was young, there were parades and contests like what they have now. It was a big event, and they’ve done a good job reviving it,” James says. “We certainly appreciate the ones who work on the festival. They do a good job.”
Last year for the first time, the event was extended beyond Saturday. Chairman Tim Williams says events on Friday night, including live bands and exhibitors, give organizers the chance to thank festival sponsors and the more than 150 volunteers who coordinate the activities.
“Of course on the day of the festival, we’re so busy we don’t have time to spend with those folks. It gives us an opportunity to show our gratitude for their support,” Williams says.
Williams and the rest of the volunteer organizers are so busy because the North Carolina Potato Festival has events running from 10 a.m. until well past sundown.
A different musical act takes the festival stage every hour, with the evening headliner giving attendees the chance to dance in the street.
Other events include the Little Miss Tater Tot Contest and potato sack races at Mariners’ Wharf. On the Pasquotank River is the Albemarle Hopeline Lucky Duck Derby, along with search and rescue demonstrations by the U.S. Coast Guard.
And, of course, there is the National Potato Peeling Contest, as well as a cooking showdown that challenges participants to make “anything but french fries.”
“We just drive it as a family event. It’s an all-day thing for the whole family,” Williams says. “Everyone loves good food at a festival, and we have it.”
Along with typical food vendors that specialize in festival cuisine, another North Carolina Potato Association member, George Wood Farms, gives away 1,500 pounds of french fries.
Williams says the North Carolina Potato Festival gives Elizabeth City a chance to shine as summertime approaches.
“Elizabeth City acts as a hub for this area, which includes a lot of rural farmland. The potatoes are one of our big crops every year,” Williams says. “The festival touches on our farming heritage around here.”