The festival to celebrate Livingston’s most prominent tuber is set for the weekend.
The fifth annual Livingston Sweet Potato Festival is Saturday and Sunday at the Max Foster Sports Complex, 2600 Walnut Ave., Livingston.
Friday offers carnival games and rides from 5 to 11 p.m., but the festival is Saturday and Sunday with many more attractions between 3 and 11 p.m., according to Jacquie Benoit, the recreation superintendent. There are pie-eating contests, sweet potato education efforts, a petting zoo, magic tricks, clowns and other spectacles aimed at families.
This year, the organizers made an effort to focus on food. “This is probably the biggest variety we’ve had,” she said.
Paninis, pupusas, chocolate, tri-tip, ribs and chicken are just some of the offerings. Each food vendor will also offer a sweet potato dish of one kind or another, she said.
Saturday offers American-style pro wrestling and Merced-based band the Shakers, while Sunday takes on a Latin flavor with lucha libre wrestling and Latin music. Grupo Lider, Banda Troyana and Joel Sandoval are expected to perform Sunday.
Organizers secured a grant from First 5 of Merced County to provide the Kidzone this year, Benoit said. The mobile educational effort teaches young people about how and where the tubers grow.
City leaders have said they hope to make the annual sweet potato fest a destination event that would draw out-of-towners, comparable to Gilroy’s Garlic Festival or the Asparagus Festival in Stockton. Livingston’s celebration of a vegetable has not reached that high bar, but it’s improved, according to Councilman Gurpal Samra.
“It’s been growing bigger every year,” he said. “Just like anything else … it takes time.”
The festival had about 10,000 visitors last year, according to city staff.
Sweet potatoes are the fifth-largest commodity in Merced County, totaling $217 million, according to the most recent crop report. More than 90 percent of the state’s crop comes from the Livingston area, according to the California Sweetpotato Council.
The city has been working during the past year to rebrand itself to make sweet potatoes synonymous with Livingston. The City Council has moved to replace the old city seal with a new logo featuring the locally grown tuber and a new slogan, “Sweet Potato Capital.”