Sweet! Golden marks 40th potato festival


There are many events throughout the year in Wood County. They reflect the unique nature of the communities and the folks who give them life. Some of the events are purpose-driven and some celebrate anniversaries of heritage. Then, there is the Golden Sweet Potato Festival.

To understand what it is that makes the Sweet Potato Festival special, one must go back to an afternoon in the fall of 1982, to a newly-opened business – the Golden Garage. 

The proprietor, Mike Humphries, was hosting a neighborhood barbecue for friends, neighbors and customers. It was a way to get to know the people whose cars and trucks he serviced, and to say thank you. 

It was there, in the shop off County Road 2922, that the idea of beginning a community festival first took shape. What began as a way to get to know one’s neighbors obviously filled a need in the closely-knit community of Golden.    

The idea gained momentum quickly. With the support of the local sweet potato growers, benefactors and the involvement of a host of residents, the vision began to come into focus. The following October, the inaugural Golden Sweet Potato Festival was realized. It was a huge success. 

That initial festival featured a fiddling contest, an auction of 20 boxes of Golden sweet potatoes and the locally-famous stew of the late Sam White. The makeshift stage consisted of two flatbed trucks backed up to one another. A local funeral home provided the canopy. 

Just how far the festival has come would likely surprise those who had their hand in the initial rendition. What started out as a way to raise maintenance funds for the Golden Community Center now gives monetary support to students, local families-in-need and groups from around the county. 

The range of events has burgeoned the festival from one day to three days. Over the years those events have ranged from baking to livestock showing and from fiddling to horseshoes. Some, like the dog costume show, have gone by the wayside, while the livestock show grew to such a degree that it had to be separated from the festival and is now done as a stand-alone event.   

Perhaps one of the most meaningful events was the Special Kids Farm and Ranch Day. The day provided agricultural education and fun-filled activities for special needs children from Wood and surrounding counties. For 20 years, the spring Farm and Ranch Day gave special needs kids a day that they would likely never forget. In 2017, over 250 children participated.   

Unfortunately, the pandemic necessarily ended the run of the spring Farm and Ranch Day. It is hoped that enough volunteers will step forward to recommission that special day.

There have been a few memorable events over the past 40 years. One year, a few cattle wandered away from the livestock show and had to be corralled back from the crowd. On another occasion, an exceptionally competitive pie-eating contest almost escalated into fisticuffs.

The present festival board of directors (Kamie Bishop, Teri Curts, Elizabeth Goforth, Sancy Green, Debbie Nivison, Chelsea Oliver, Tony Pegues, Mike Roberts) have yet again improved on the line-up for this year’s celebration. 

Highlights of the 2022 festival (Thursday, Oct. 20-Saturday, Oct. 22) include Thursday’s pageant, Friday’s mutton-busting and gospel music and a whole range of activities on Saturday. A 5K run to benefit the Alba-Golden High School cross country program opens Saturday’s events at 7:30 a.m. 

Possibly the largest parade in Wood County kicks off at 10 a.m. A variety of musical acts will be performing throughout the day, including a concert by Jason Boland and the Stragglers to conclude the events at 7 p.m., with the Bobby Irwin Band as the opening act. Miss Texas will be assisting in the crowning of the festival queen just before the auction commences at 1 p.m. 

Most folks are aware of the added attention brought to the festival by the feature done by Oprah Winfrey in 2004. No doubt, the exposure aided in the advancement of the annual event. Perhaps more significant, however, was the festival five years ago, when Golden received 10” of nearly-continuous rain. The auction, that year, exceeded the take from the previous year. 

Therein lies part of the secret behind the festival. It is tied to a rural way of life, where the weather may be inconsistent, but what is really important – family and community – are constant. The Golden Sweet Potato Festival is a celebration of just that: family and community.

While the number of local commercial sweet potato growers has shrunk from a high of 31 to a single producer, much of the goodness associated with tilling the land is present in Golden. Come out and see.