Local Experience Writer Lara King gives readers an inside look at a familiar favorite in Northeast Michigan. Alpena’s neighbor to the Northwest, Posen, has been celebrating the local potato harvest in Northeast Michigan for 67 years. Generations of families have grown up learning how to dance the polka, sharing family recipes for potato latkes, and celebrating the potato harvest with the annual Posen Potato Festival. Lara spoke to some local residents and shares the story of the Festival below. Enjoy!
South Dakota has Sturgis, Wisconsin has Oshkosh and Northeast Michigan has Posen. All three small towns experience a growth in population due to an annual event: Motorcycle Rally, AirVenture Show, and a Potato Festival, respectively.
The rural town of Posen, Michigan had an estimated population of 224 in 2016. During the weekend of the Posen Potato Festival, however, the population surges to several thousand! The first settlers in the small village were immigrants from Poland. Once they began their new lives in Posen, they were lonely for their relatives in their homeland. To persuade them to make the journey to Posen, they wrote about the abundance of land in letters but neglected to mention that the land was full of rocks. Fortunately, one crop that would grow on this type of land was potatoes, which quickly became a cash crop for the area.
My grandfather, Thomas Hoppe, who will turn 80 years old this September, remembers that the school closed for two weeks near the end of the potato growing season because the children were needed to help their families harvest the potatoes. The festival started as a celebration of the end of the harvest season. Mr. Kenneth Wozniak, from Stanley Wozniak Insurance in Posen, is much younger than my grandfather and recalls having one week off. According to Mr. Wozniak, picking the potatoes was ‘not a lot of fun’! Today, only the upperclassmen at Posen High School gets the day before and after the festival to help prepare for and clean.
Although the population and potato farms have decreased in numbers over the years, the celebrations have grown. Initially, there was only a parade and a party to celebrate. Now, the festival features live polka music, carnival rides, arts & crafts, spud run 5K, and various potato-themed contests. The Potato Festival Queen has been a staple of the festival since its first year. The first queen was Blanche Wozniak, who was selected by selling a large number of tickets. Today, the queen earns her title (‘Miss Posen’) in a pageant and is featured in the Grand Parade.
The festival was originally held in October and over the years it was moved to September. It is a running joke that the weather has always cooperated with the festival. So far, it has never rained on the parade!
If you and your family are looking for a lovely drive and a traditional festival, head on over to the 69th Annual Posen Potato Festival, which will be held from September 10th to the 12th. Check out the website for additional information. www.posenpotatofestival.com