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Forty Years and Flourishing

Potato Sack Race
Potato Sack Race
An old-fashioned potato sack race puts smiles on the faces of fourth-graders participating in the Kids Dig Wisconsin Potatoes program.

Fourth Decade (2005-2015)

by Paula Houlihan, Auxiliary President

The potato grows on! As the Wisconsin Potato Growers Auxiliary (WPGA) entered its fourth decade, potatoes were back on the dinner plate, but those dinner plates were shrinking and found on the family dining room table less often than past generations had seen.

With the rise of single parent families, lower number of children per family and a larger portion of the population entering retirement, the family unit was getting smaller. This created a need for smaller packaging. People were not buying twenty-pound bags of potatoes anymore.

Kathy Bartsch
Kathy Bartsch prepares baked potatoes for the 2009 WPGA State Fair booth.

After-school programs and extracurricular activities for kids kept parents on the run. Soccer moms came on the scene.

‘On-the-go’ and convenience became THE new normal. The traditional sit down meal for most families was becoming a thing of the past and ‘grab-and-go’ became the mantra of the 21st century.

In this new age of information, consumers became more aware of food safety and environmental issues. E.coli scares in fresh produce and meat industries generated a public demand for food traceability.

The ‘Farm-to-table’ or ‘Field to fork’ movement grew during this decade with people wanting to know all about the stages of food production: harvesting, storage, processing, packaging, sales and consumption. An emphasis on producing food locally mushroomed and remains a hot topic.

Gayle & Lynda Bacon
Gayle and Linda Bacon of G &L Bacon Farms, Inc., Hancock, conducted a workshop on Wisconsin agriculture in Weslaco, Texas.

Global warming became a household term and millions embraced the responsibility to reduce their individual carbon footprint.

Along with the ever-increasing focus on environmental issues, water quality and its use in all industries, including agriculture, became another public focus.

The recession caused purse strings to tighten nationwide. Dining out decreased, however, due to the demand for low-cost convenient food, the fast food market held its own. Value and cost were on the public mind.
During these changing times, the potato industry faced new challenges and the Auxiliary was there to support our growers in facing these issues throughout this tumultuous decade.

WPS Show Potato Booth
Cliff and Carole Gagas coordinated the Wisconsin Potatoes booth on behalf of WPGA at the WPS Farm Show held March 29-31, 2011 in Oshkosh. (L-R) Carole Gagas, Cliff Gagas, Marilyn Wierzba, Denise Firkus, Lonnie Firkus, Dorothy Pavelski and Dave Pavelski. The Pavelskis are Carole Gagas’ parents.

Believing that education is the key to encouraging the sale and consumption of Wisconsin potatoes, we continued our focus on our educational program, Kids Dig Wisconsin Potatoes.

Teaching children about potato nutrition and the economic value it offers to the dinner menu helps them grow into adults who value potatoes as part of their daily diets.

We also focused our advertising efforts on promoting quick, low-calorie, low-cost potato meals.

In an added effort to meet the increasing demand for easy, healthy and low cost meals for the shrinking family unit, WPGA created new cookbooks and creative ways to include potatoes in one-dish meals and meals for two.

Auxiliary Booth at Industry Show
Lynn Isherwood and Deb Bacon staff the booth at the 2008 WPVGA Trade Show.

WPGA conducted cooking demonstrations and distributed brochures throughout the state, boasting easy, fast and healthy ways to cook potatoes.

To support the Wisconsin potato industry on environmental issues, we combined efforts with Wisconsin Potato & Vegetable Growers Association (WPVGA), WPVGA Associate Division and Wisconsin Seed Potato Improvement Association (WSPIA) through the Promotions Committee, to develop and create the Spudmobile, a mobile education unit.

FMSC Event
WPGA accepted responsibility for organizing and coordinating the 2008 Feed My Starving Children mobile packing event. Shown here are WPGA members (L-R), Ali Carter and Paula Houlihan.

A striking ‘billboard’ for the industry, the Spudmobile travels across the state, educating the public about Wisconsin potatoes, farming practices and our industry.

WPGA also teaches children and adults alike about the new technologies agriculture uses to protect and wisely use the environmental resources of which our family farms are proud stewards.

We accomplish this through presentations with the Spudmobile visits to schools, organizations and events throughout the state.

We also introduce the public to our member growers’ family farms and their agricultural practices, who grow the food that finds its way to the dinner plate.

In addition, our most recent project, Feed My Starving Children Mobile Packing, has distributed over half-a-million potato-based meals to starving children around the globe. This annual event demonstrates our desire to feed the world and share the caring heart of the Wisconsin potato industry.

2013 Tradeshow
Pictured at the 2013 WPVGA Trade Show Auxiliary booth (L-R): Jacquie Wille, Ali Carter, Jim Bacon and Paula Houlihan. All three women served on the 2013 Auxiliary board of directors.


The Auxiliary acknowledges the outstanding members of our forth decade. These women were awarded Farm Woman of the Year:

2006 Charlotte (Nicky) Wirz
2007 Joan (Tippie) Williams
2008 Diane Wysocki
2009 Sara Stelter
2010 Caroline Wild
2011 Brenda Bula

As the saying goes, “We’ve come a long way baby!” Cheers to our flourishing forty years promoting and supporting the Wisconsin potato industry and to the visionary women who made it all happen.

We look forward to another forty years! Whatever the future holds, may the delicious and nutritious potato grow on!

WPVGA Members with Governor Walker
Nick Somers and Governor Walker chat with Paula Houlihan and Dianne Somers in the August 2014 WPVGA Farm Tech Days booth held in Stevens Point.
2011 State Fair
2011 was another successful year for the WPGA at the Wisconsin State Fair thanks to this hard-working volunteer group.
2007 State Fair
This 2007 State Fair Volunteer included, front row (L-R): Brenda Bula (State Fair Coordinator), Rita Fox, Cathy Kaminski, Terri Jorgenson and Jill Sheakly. Back row (L-R) John Kaminski, Linda Bacon (Group Leader), Judy Beggs, Chris Maiorano, Judy Merola, Sue Boldig and Tina Bacon.
Kathy Bartsch at Kids' Harvest Party
WPGA board member Kathy Bartsch (left) explains the ins and outs of potato growing to a group of elementary school children at the Kids Dig Wisconsin Potatoes Harvest Party May 2012 at St. Thomas More Elementary School in Appleton.
Carole Gagas
Carole Gagas puts the finishing touch, cheddar cheese, on baked potatoes at the 2010 State Fair WPGA food booth.



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