The Potato Strikes Back!
Third Decade (1995-2005)
By Paula Houlihan, Auxiliary President
In the mid 1990’s, the Wisconsin Potato Growers Auxiliary (WPGA) began its third decade witnessing the rise and popularity of fast food and on-the-go eating.
French fry sales rocketed while frozen and processed markets really took off. Although this translated into a boost in potato sales, French fries and potato chips were now what first came to mind when people thought of potatoes.
While these can be part of a healthy diet when eaten in moderation, the advent of supersizing fast food meals began to cause problems.
Potatoes were once again considered by many as fattening and unhealthy. Public concern that the increasing consumption of fast food would raise obesity and diabetes in adults and children was greater than earlier decades had ever seen.
Another challenge the potato industry faced at this time, was the peak of the Atkins Diet, which had swept across the nation promoting a low-carb approach to weight loss.
The Atkins Diet further fostered the belief that potatoes were a big “no-no” if you wanted to stay slim and trim.
Once more, WPGA faced a misinformed public, requiring further need to educate and promote Wisconsin potatoes as a nutritious part of a healthy diet. The Auxiliary was ready for the challenge.
To this end, WPGA focused its efforts on engaging with the public face-to-face at community and statewide events.
WPGA volunteers served and shared baked potatoes and other nutritional potato dishes at Wisconsin Badger State Winter Games, Wisconsin School Food Service Convention, annual National Wellness Conference, UWSP Spud Bowl, Upper Midwest Restaurant Show, Wisconsin Restaurant Show and Wisconsin State Fair.
These events gave people the opportunity to reconsider the potato and realize it is a wholesome and tasty vegetable. They also provided the Auxiliary members with the chance to share recipes and nutritional facts.
Following the lead of their predecessors in the two decades before them, these women embraced the power of marketing and advertising.
Potato dishes were advertised each year in Family Features, which reached millions of readers across the nation.
The group also utilized television appearances and news releases as tools used to educate the public.
Promotional items jumped to the forefront as well as WPGA ordered 750,000 placemats containing nutritional information and promoting potato consumption and distributed them to casinos and restaurants throughout the state.
They also created posters and brochures with nutritional facts and recipes and handed them out at events, even developing a special brochure developed especially for the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) Program in conjunction with other state organizations.
The women of this organization visited local grocery stores handing out samples of potato dishes and answering questions about cooking, nutrition and the industry.
WPGA encouraged the inclusion of potatoes as part of a healthy diet by developing a new cookbook entitled Wisconsin Potato Sensations, which was filled with 117 delicious recipes.
Penelope Potato, the Auxiliary’s popular mascot, a role portrayed largely by Antigo native, Lori Gunderson, was busy visiting schools and attending community events, bringing her fun-filled and educational presentation to children and adults alike.
Remembering our Outstanding Members
The Auxiliary acknowledges the outstanding members of our third decade.
These women were awarded “Auxiliary Member of the Year:”
1996 – Linda Bacon
1997 – Sharon Wysocki
These women were awarded “Farm Woman of the Year:”
1998 – Irene Gagas
1999/2000 – Carol Yeska
2001 – Lynn Isherwood
2002 – Bonnie Shafel
2003 – Shirley Sowinski
2004 – Carole Gagas
2005 – Kathy Bartsch
These visionary women and the other WPGA members of the third decade dedicated themselves to bringing Wisconsin potatoes back into public favor.
Overall, the WPGA helped put potatoes back on the dinner plate, a tradition we proudly continue today!