Sweet potato festival kicks off Friday, runs through weekend

Organizers have a big goal for the Annual California Sweetpotato Festival – to put the Livingston tradition on the map alongside the Gilroy Garlic Festival.

“It’s going to be years before we can get anywhere close to that, but we want to set the bar high,” said Jason Tucker, vice president of the California Sweetpotato Council. “Every year, the festival is growing and getting bigger.”

Officials will be one step closer to reaching that goal with a little help from a major television cable network scheduled to attend the festival on Saturday. Tucker said organizers created a challenge this year – to create the largest sweet potato dish or casserole.

A Fresno County catering company, The Painted Table, rose to the challenge and will create a 10-foot-long sweet potato casserole.

“We’re going to start at 3 o’clock in the morning and cook it all day,” Tucker said. The gigantic dish will be unveiled at noon on Saturday as the television network films the event, he added.

The festival, now in its third year, will also boast tasty treats from 17 Merced County food vendors. Creative sweet potato offerings will range from ice cream, fries, cupcakes – even vodka.

California is the third largest state that grows sweet potatoes, Tucker said, and 95 percent of the state’s sweet potatoes come from the Livingston area. North Carolina and Mississippi beat California, but only because they have higher production by acreage.

Tucker said this year’s festival will also include a battle of the bands on Friday, an antique car show, petting zoo, carnival and live music entertainment. The festival is free to enter, but tickets are required for a special noon lunch on Saturday, which will include the unveiling of the 10-foot-long casserole.

The festival is budgeted at $38,000, according to Livingston City Manager Jose Ramirez. He expects the event’s revenues will pay for expenses, but the city last year had to contribute about $1,000 to help cover costs.

The festival runs from 6 p.m. to midnight Friday, 2 p.m. to midnight Saturday and noon to 10 p.m. Sunday at the Max Foster Sports Complex, 2600 Walnut Ave., Livingston. Saturday lunch tickets cost $10 in advance or $12 at the door. Tickets can be purchased at or at Livingston City Hall, 1416 C St.