DENVER – What’s the best Halloween treat? You might expect most kids to say candy bars, peanut butter cups or sour gummies, but for an increasing number of trick-or-treaters across the country, the answer is none other than America’s favorite vegetable, the potato.
That’s because Halloween enthusiasts across the U.S. have started a new tradition of handing out spuds (along with candy, of course) to delighted kids when they come knocking at Halloween.
“It honestly started as a joke,” explained Pat Foy, a self-employed contractor in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. “I thought, if I’m going to give something out to kids on Halloween, I don’t want to just give them something that makes them go nuts. I’m of Irish descent, so potatoes made sense. I gave away big baking potatoes, and before I knew it, it took on a life of its own. Who would’ve thought?”
That was 18 years ago, and today Foy is lovingly known around his hometown as the “Potato Man.” Every year, the trick-or-treaters of Lancaster flock to his house for a quick break from a sea of sugar to say hello and grab their very own potato. The tradition has gotten so popular that not even a pandemic could stop it. When COVID-19 hit, Foy, with the help of a friend, built a potato chute out of PVC pipe to deliver potatoes from a distance.
“They were like missiles coming down,” he said. “The kids loved it.”
But Foy’s not the only one handing out spuds on Halloween. Up in Anchorage, Alaska, Matt Schultz, a pastor at Anchorage First Presbyterian Church, has also become an internet sensation for giving away potatoes alongside his traditional bucket of candy. (His #choosepotato Facebook post last Halloween was shared 22,000 times.)
“The potato trick started with a giant basket of candy. I just put one potato in the middle as something unexpected that they could grab instead,” Schultz said. “I was shocked how many kids were just delighted by the idea – they would grab the potato and hold it over their head like a trophy. That first year I gave away at least 20 pounds of potatoes. Eventually, we ran out and had to stop.”
Schultz has given kids the choice between candy and a potato ever since. In the beginning, he said, only about 10% of the trick-or-treaters chose the potato. But now, as the years have gone by and Foy’s house has become a more popular Halloween destination, more often than not kids are leaving behind fistfuls of candy in favor of a potato.
So why has the simple act of handing out a potato on Halloween resonated so deeply with kids from coast to coast? John Toaspern, former marketing director of Potatoes USA BB #:162347, who has made similar waves in his own neighborhood handing out bags of potato chips, has a theory.
“Kids spend all night getting nothing but sweets,” he said. “I thought, by the time they get to my house, they’ll probably want something savory and more substantive than candy to balance it all out. I started handing out bags of potato chips alongside the candy, and they were a massive hit. Almost all the kids chose the chips instead!”
“All kids get essentially the same thing at every house,” added Schultz. “Something different makes them giggle. They think it’s funny to do a little twist on their expectations.”
Packing 3 grams of plant-based protein, a medium (5.3 ounce) skin-on potato has more vitamin C than a tomato (30% of daily value (DV)) and more potassium than a banana (15% DV). Potatoes are also fat-, cholesterol- and sodium-free, leaving parents over the moon when their children select such a healthy trick-or-treat surprise.
“We live next door to a dentist who always gives away toothbrushes,” Schultz said. “One year they found a bunch of those toothbrushes discarded on their front lawn. We’ve never found a potato left behind!”
Whatever the reason, Pat Foy, Matt Schultz, John Toaspern, and their potatoes have all become proud staples of their towns’ Halloween traditions.
“I used to joke with my wife that I always knew I was going to be famous,” Foy said. “I just had no idea it would be because of potatoes. Now, I’ll take my dogs out in the morning for a walk and kids will see me and yell ‘hey Potato Man!’ But hey, there are much worse things to be in life than being a hero to children!”
Be sure to visit PotatoGoodness.com to learn more about the many health benefits of potatoes and find some delicious Halloween or fall recipes.
If you participate in Trick-or-Tater, tag @PotatoGoodness on Facebook or Instagram for a chance to win Potato Goodness Swag!
About Potatoes USA
Potatoes USA was established in 1971 by a group of potato farmers to promote the benefits of eating potatoes. Today, as the largest vegetable commodity board and the marketing organization for the 2,000 potato farming families operating in the United States, we are proud to be recognized as an innovator in the produce industry. We provide culinary potato inspiration to key audiences, as well as useful tools, education, and support. Through effective market-driven strategies that focus on the greatest opportunities, Potatoes USA is proving that, no matter where the customer lives, U.S. potatoes offer a world of possibilities.