This section is from the book "The Potato: A Compilation of Information from Every Available Source", by Eugene H. Grubb, W. S. Guilford. Also available from Amazon: The Potato: A Compilation Of Information From Every Available Source.
The interest in exhibits of agricultural products increases yearly. Never before in the history of this country have the most representative and influential people so keenly realized the importance of farming, and this is manifested in the apparent demand for shows at which are displayed the products of the soil.
To see the results of the most advanced work in farming helps the producer, the dealer, and the consumer. The producer is spurred to do his best, and the rivalry between growers makes the product better each year; the dealer is educated as to better sorts, and methods of marketing are improved, and the consumer learns to know and appreciate the best, thereby increasing consumption.
The Old World is far in advance of America in some features of agricultural exhibitions. There, shows are held for agricultural exhibits alone, without the disgusting so-called "attractions" and fake shows that characterize so many American fairs. A change is coming rapidly in this country, brought about largely by the representatives of the agricultural press. These broad-minded, hardworking gentlemen have had and continue to have in a greater degree than ever before a most wholesome and uplifting influence for higher ideals in American agriculture.
The selection and exhibition of potatoes is a fine art in England, the potato being one of the principal features in their agricultural shows. Recent shows in this country, notably the Chicago Land Shows in 1909 and 1910 and 1911, and the New York Land Show of 1911, have had most creditable exhibits, and there are plans now under way for displays better and more elaborate than any yet made. During the next decade visitors to American agricultural fairs will see remarkable advances in the modern potato.
Exhibitions of the past have been a factor in increasing the demand for high-class potatoes, and in the future will be an even greater factor in making demand and increasing per capita consumption. These displays show discerning people that there are potatoes and potatoes, the same as other food products, and they teach themselves to distinguish between the good, bad, and indifferent.
The work of preparing potatoes for exhibit should begin with the selection of strong, true-to-type seed, and include everything that is correct in cultural methods. A deep, mellow, well-aired seed bed is especially important. This permits the tubers to grow naturally and evenly.
At digging time the potatoes are either carefully dug with a fork, or selected as they are turned out by the digger. The ground should be perfectly dry and every precaution taken to prevent bruising and peeling. This is particularly important when the tubers are not entirely ripe.
As they are gathered they should be allowed to remain in the sun only long enough to dry and harden the skin - probably two or three hours. As soon as thoroughly dry, the potatoes may be carefully brushed with a soft brush - to remove all dirt and dust - then wrapped in soft paper and carefully packed in slatted crates. If potatoes are left in the sun too long they turn green.
Carbondale Peachblow potatoes on exhibition.
An attractive English exhibit of potatoes that won Grand Prix and Gold Medal at the Franco-British Exhibition. The illustration shows the centre of a potato exhibit made by Sutton and Sons, Reading, England. The exhibit consisted of 384 baskets and weighed two tons. Photograph used by permission of Sutton & Sons.
Exhibition potatoes must be kept in a cool, dry place and should be examined frequently to make sure that all conditions are right. The kind of potato that wins in the shows is one that is of the greatest commercial value - a smooth even tuber weighing ten to sixteen ounces, with clear, disease-free skin, shallow eyes, and the lustre and bloom that make an attractive appearance. It must be true to the type of the variety, and each potato as nearly like the others as possible.
The big overgrown potato is no longer a factor at a show except as a monstrosity.
At the show, the ideas of the exhibitor as regards attractive display make the individuality of the exhibit. The one important thing to keep in mind is that pretty decorations should be made secondary to displaying the quality and uniformity of the potatoes. Bushel market baskets may be used to advantage in display, and plates are sometimes used.
A large quantity of potatoes, displayed in a pile or against a wall, impresses the observer with the idea of plenty, and that they must come from a big, rich country or farm that is well adapted to the production of the crop. Such a display is especially striking when in the same show there are exhibits consisting of only two or three specimens of a variety.
At the English and Scotch shows very fine displays are made by the big seed houses. They show big banks of even tubers that are as attractive as oranges or apples. Retail dealers in Great Britain put up potatoes for sale in very much more attractive shape than our dealers, thereby increasing their sales and the consumption of the crop.
Fruit and flower shows have been important factors in increasing the interest in and demand for these, and there are great possibilities both for the grower and exhibitor, and the industry in general in the well-planned exhibitions of potatoes.