Combines, pickups and other farm equipment lined the parking lot at the Hermiston Conference Center this week to remind participants and drivers-by about the 37th annual Farm Fair and Trade Show.
Inside the center, however, the topic of conversation and instruction Wednesday centered around one of the area's largest crops - the potato.
"Potatoes remain America's favorite vegetable," said Marry Conners, a U.S. Potato Board representative. "Research has shown that consumers are trying to eat more fresh potatoes, but life in America is very fast-paced, and we need to find ways to get that meal on the table in 30 minutes."
Broken into two sessions, the potato production seminar spanned a full day Wednesday and covered topics from specific diseases to new spud varieties.
In her presentation at the Hermiston Farm Fair, Conners said of every 10 rows of potatoes harvested, 1 1/2 will be exported.
"U.S. frozen potatoes have been used in many unique ways in foreign markets - from donuts to Asian noodles to, most recently, Japanese beer," she said. "It's a huge market."
While the foreign potato market continues to expand, potatoes remain a staple in the United States, and Wednesday, even the Farm Fair kitchens demonstrated the power of potatoes as workers from ConAgra Foods and Hermiston Foods kept french fries, potato poppers and soup rolling out to hungry participants.
Early estimates predict about 250 people attended the first day of the Hermiston Farm Fair.
Northwest potatoes have been getting international attention this fall. Chris Voigt, executive director of the Washington Potato Commission, garnered international media attention for his 60-day, all-potato diet to promote the nutritional value of spuds. He was in New York City this morning for an appearance on the Today Show on NBC.
A longer version of this story will appear in the Dec. 4 edition of the Hermiston Herald.