Community college debuts Great Potato Challenge
By MATTHEW WEAVER
PASCO, Wash. -- Pacific Northwest high school students got their first glimpse Nov. 9 at the global agricultural market and potential job opportunities.
The Great Potato Challenge involved roughly 138 high school students from five schools in Washington and Oregon.
Lisa Toomey, special projects director for Columbia Basin College in Pasco, Wash., said the community college wants to introduce students to agricultural careers.
"We want to introduce students to the global nature of agriculture," she said. "We're trying to grow our own next generation of agriculture professionals."
Working in teams, the students had to name their companies -- names included the Tasty Lacies, Grate 'N Tasty Potatoes and the Spud Studs -- and develop a marketing campaign for a baked shoestring potato product in the Chinese marketplace. Each team was composed of members from different schools.
After several hours, the student groups delivered their presentations to judges, who were members of the agricultural industry. The judges then awarded students "investor dollars."
The group with the most money and positive feedback, the Tasty Lacies, received certificates and iTunes gift cards.
Washington State Potato Commission Director of Trade Matt Harris said the event showed students the wide range of ag careers available.
"It's not just growing the product, but growing, selling and marketing products to companies that are billion-dollar companies," he said.
Potato commissioner Ellie Charvet, of Pasco, was one of the people working with the students to develop their presentation. He hoped it would create more export opportunities and ideas.
"We need to get these kids interested in agriculture, and this is one way to do it," he said.
Jeff Gordon, of Gordon Brothers Family Vineyards in Pasco, served as a judge. He felt the presentations demonstrated the students' innovation.
"Some of these students didn't know a lot about potatoes, but they learned to put a presentation together," Gordon said. "For the most part, they had a step-by-step marketing plan. I thought they did a very good job."
Alaena Sharp, a freshman taking a horticulture course at Kennewick High School in Kennewick, Wash., said the event helped her learn about the college's agriculture program.
"We're learning about transporting the goods, getting to know the other countries and keeping up with them," she said. "Our target group is the children of China and younger generations."
Carlos Deleon, a Kennewick freshman, said he is interested in agricultural science.
"There's many ways to introduce products to other countries, but it seems like you need a lot of skill to be doing that," he said. "You need to be focused and put great effort into doing it."
Toomey hopes to hold a similar event next year, with more students and using other commodities.
The following high schools participated in the Great Potato Challenge:
* Kamiakin High School in Kennewick, Wash.
* Kennewick High School.
* New Horizons High School in Pasco, Wash.
* Connell High School in Connell, Wash.
* Elgin High School in Elgin, Ore.
Columbia Basin College: www.columbiabasin.edu
Washington Potato Commission: www.potatoes.com