Jessica Coulthard, Larry Bathe, Major Carol Duperre, Divisional Program Secretary for the Southern New England Division, Lauren Fair, Greater Hartford Area Services Director of Social Services
HARTFORD - No, your eyes are not playing tricks on you. That is indeed a giant potato on a flatbed truck parked outside of The Salvation Army’s Right Place School Readiness Center in Hartford. The massive lifelike potato is part of Idaho Potato’s Famous Idaho Potato Tour. The truck travels around the country visiting schools in order to educate children about the nutritional value of potatoes.
Despite its lifelike appearance, the potato is in fact not real. It was constructed in Weiser, Idaho and took a year to build. The potato itself is 28 feet long, 12 feet wide and 11.5 feet tall. It weighs a staggering 12,130 pounds, which is equal to 32,346 medium sized Idaho potatoes. If it were a baked potato, it would take two years and nine months to bake! The potato itself sits atop a 72 foot long flatbed truck.
Accompanying the giant potato were Larry Bathe and Jessica Coulthard, who educated the children about the nutritional value that potatoes have to offer. They also danced and played games like Hot Potato with the children.
“The idea originated as a celebration of the anniversary of the Idaho Potato Commission. It’s been a tremendous connection with the public. It gives us a chance to speak our message which is potatoes can be healthy if we just eat them in healthy ways,” said Bathe.
Nutrition is an important part of The Right Place as well. Their Farm-to-Preschool program introduces fresh, seasonal and locally grown produce into the classroom. The school also has a garden, which offers hands-on opportunities for the children to grow fruits and vegetables, helping the children at The Right Place to know where their food comes from.
“I think it’s incredibly important for young kids to have nutritional diets. We have a diabetes epidemic in this country and that’s because we’ve been allowing anything to be considered food. We simply need to stop thinking in those terms. It’s so easy to have low footprint, rewarding diets. There’s no reason we can’t do it,” Bathe said.
Of course, the most popular member of their Tater Team was the Idaho Potato mascot Spuddy Buddy! Despite the fact that it was probably hot enough outside to actually bake a potato, the mascot costume was worn by Kaylee Wells, who was the recipient of more than a few hugs from the children. There’s no doubt about it, the children at The Right Place and Spuddy Buddy will be best spuds for life!
Nancy Pelletier, a retired school teacher who now volunteers as a substitute teacher at The Right Place, came up with the idea to invite the Famous Idaho Potato Tour to the school. She just so happened to be driving one day when a truck with a giant potato pulled up next to her.
“One of my favorite books is The Enormous Potato, about a farmer who plants a potato that grows to be so enormous that even with his whole family pulling, they can’t get it out. The kids really enjoy that book,” said Pelletier. Figuring this would be a perfect opportunity, Pelletier contacted the folks at the Big Idaho Potato Tour and filled out an application.
Pelletier feels that experiences such as these are an important part of a child’s life, “I think it’s especially important for kids who may not come from an enriched environment to bring them to an experience, or bring an experience to them as often as possible.”
One thing’s for sure, this is one experience the children of The Right Place at Sigourney Street in Hartford and Nelson Street in Hartford will remember for quite some time.