PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — Although attendance at this year’s Eastern States Exposition was down overall, that didn’t stop more than 7 percent of those who attended from consuming more than 3 acres worth of potatoes.
More than a million fairgoers attended the “Big E” this year.
Don Flannery, executive director of the Maine Potato Board, said earlier this week that Maine potatoes were a “smashing success” at this year’s event in West Springfield, Mass. Founded in 1916, the Big E draws representatives from all six New England states to share ideas, improve agriculture and showcase the traditional and new products that make each state unique.
As always, Flannery said, Maine’s signature loaded baked potato was a hot commodity.
“Close to 8 percent of people who attended the fair bought a baked potato,” he said. “Attendance at the fair overall was down somewhat this year, and so our sales were down this year, but it wasn’t that bad.”
Maine has a building on the Avenue of States from which it sells its baked potatoes and other Maine products.
This year, according to Flannery, the Maine Potato Board sold 80,000 pounds — the equivalent of 3 acres — of Maine potatoes during the 17 days of the fair, which ran Sept. 12-28.
“That is more than 40 tons of potatoes,” he said.
Every dollar made in net income by selling Maine baked potatoes at the Big E goes directly back into the potato industry, supporting education, research and grower activities.
Flannery said he felt attendance was down at the Big E this year due to the economy and the high price of gasoline. Although record attendance was recorded during three days of the fair, three other days were “absolutely terrible,” he said, with wind and heavy rain soaking the grounds.
On the other days, however, the board was able to use its sales at the Big E as another lucrative marketing tool for growers.
“We have been there for more than 30 years now, and you can’t pay for the kind of exposure that you get at the Big E,” he said. “We now have grandparents who once bought potatoes at our booth bringing their grandchildren there to eat potatoes. We had people come up to us all the time during the fair and say that they love Maine potatoes and that they always look for them in the store.
“Overall, we were very pleased with this year’s event.”