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Grand Forks Potato Flakes

8/4/2004:

This has nothing to do with North Dakota, but it’s hard to overlook. On this date in 1997, the world’s oldest person died in Arles, France. Jeanne Calment was 122 years and 164 days old, the oldest person who ever lived on the earth – who can be verified, that is. In her younger years, Jeanne met famous artist Vincent van Gogh, who she said was “dirty, badly dressed and disagreeable.” Hmmm.

Something that DID happen in North Dakota on this date involved a starchy root vegetable; the first potato flake plant in the country was completed in Grand Forks on August 4th, 1958. These days – actually since 1990 – RDO Foods has been producing approximately 60 million pounds of high quality potato flakes in its Grand Forks factory per year.

Otherwise known as instant potatoes, potato flakes are also a key ingredient in snack foods... and fish bait. The flaked also act as binding agents for other potato-related foods such as hash-browns, patties, and those nestled wonders-in-a-can, Pringle Potato Chips.

Every year, the town of Clark, South Dakota, celebrates Potato Day, during which a main event is mashed potato wrestling. In March 2002, McCain Foods USA closed its French fry plant in Clark, but it left behind a five-year supply of flakes for the annual Potato Day event.

It takes about 500 pounds of flakes mixed with water to make a foot-deep pile of mashed mush for the wrestlers. So festival organizers were a bit unnerved when 2,000 pounds of the dried flakes turned up missing last year. Without the wrestling, the celebration wouldn’t be the same!

Five hundred pounds had been available for use the previous year, but nobody knew what happened to the other 1500 pounds. Speculation was that the bags must have disappeared during the community cleanup of the abandoned processing plant.

The saga of the missing flakes went out onto the Associated Press news wire, stating, “A potato processor in Grand Forks, N.D., eventually provided 500 pounds for Potato Day on Saturday and 500 pounds for next year.

“That left organizers looking only for a cement mixer to mix the 500 pounds of flakes with 300 gallons of water,” they said.

Greg Furness, the chairman of Potato Day, told reporters why potato wrestling was so special. “When it’s finished,” he said, “it is slimy, it is slippery and it is thick.”

In other lovable potato news, the Potato Bowl USA Committee is planning its 15th annual Potato Bowl in Grand Forks, September 6-11. The week of activities will include the world’s largest French fry feed – last year 7-8,000 people chowed down on 4,410 pounds of spuds to set a new record. There’ll also be a potato-picking contest. The week will culminate on September 11th with the Jaycees Potato Bowl Parade; a Potato Bowl tailgate party at 11 a.m. in the Alerus Center parking lot; a baked potato bar hosted by the Northern Plains Potato Grower Association’s Auxilary; and at 1:00 pm, the Potato Bowl Football game between UND and Central Washington at the Alerus Center.

There’s no mention of mashed potatoes being spread in the end zone… they need to talk to the folks in South Dakota about the slimy, slippery, thick part. Hmmm.

Dakota Datebook written by Merry Helm