Merced County Times Newspaper
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Livingston celebrates the all-mighty sweet potato


Livingston, the sweet potato capital of California, celebrated its eighth annual Sweet Potato Festival last weekend with crowds of fans of the vitamin-rich and sweet-tasting root vegetable.

Held at the Max Foster Sports Complex, the three-day event featured a carnival, live entertainment, music, a petting zoo, educational exhibit, train, car show, crafting events, vendors, and a craft beer tasting.

The festival honored the sweet potato harvest and the rising demand for sweet potatoes around the world. Some 300,000 tons of sweet potatoes are produced annually in the area. Livingston is also home to one of the most culturally diverse communities in the Central Valley. The festival entertainment showcased the strength and diversity of Livingston’s communities.

“Our diversity is our strength,” said Gurpal Samra, the mayor of Livingston. “If you look at our welcome sign, it’s written in four languages. We showcase our diversity through the festival by culturally celebrating and sharing how we have fun.”

The festival began on Friday with events that showcased the rich and colorful Punjabi culture. Live performances by Cre8ive Entertainment and the Vasda Punjabi Academy entertained audiences throughout the afternoon while culinary demonstrations featuring Indian spiced sweet potato patties and samosa stuffed sweet potatoes educated on the versatility of sweet potatoes.

Saturdays events included a pro wrestling show, sweet potato pie eating contest, and live entertainment featuring Cynthia Huddleston Bennett and the Juke Joint and Mike Hammer and the Nails. Attendees were treated to sweet potato churro, quesadillas, casserole, and toast at the culinary exhibit. Food vendors where required to sell at least one item featuring the key ingredient of the night: sweet potatoes.

The festival ended Sunday with a day of lucha libre and performances by Polvo Norteno and Los De Anxinar. Kids ran through the grass as they played in the festivals KidZone; sticking their heads in the sweet potato head cutouts, jumping inside the bounce house, playing life size chess and checkers on the lawn, and petting the friendly farm animals in the petting zoo.

Each year the festival draws bigger and bigger crowds with vendors coming in from all parts of the Central Valley.

“We are known for our festivals here,” Samra said. “I think we have more festivals than any other city.”

Looking into the future, Samra said he hopes residents will continue sharing and demonstrating that as a community, togetherness and diversity is their biggest strength.

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