San Luis Valley potato promotions started the 2009-10 season on a festive note, and built from there.

The Colorado Potato Administrative Committee launched its promotional season by sponsoring the annual Monte Vista Potato Festival on Sept. 13. The festival featured bus tours of fields and warehouses, train rides on the area’s scenic railroad, vendors, food booths, recipe contests and a variety of other events.

That was just to kick off the year, said Jim Ehrlich, the committee’s third-year executive director.

“The festival keeps getting bigger and bigger,” he said.

Ehrlich added that his organization was hoping to coordinate efforts with the Fresh Demand Working Group, which was launched as an independent entity by the industry.

Retail promotions will be central to marketing activity once again this year, Ehrlich said.

“We’re going to push the buy-local thing,” he said. “We’ve had a lot of advance advertising in Colorado and neighboring states. We’ll see how it has turned out.”

Other projects are in the works, including a cookbook comprised of recipes from a contest the committee sponsored in conjunction with Cincinnati-based retailer The Kroger Co., Ehrlich said.

“We have people from all over the country send us potato recipes,” he said.

The cookbook will be available in Kroger stores in Colorado and perhaps beyond, Ehrlich said.

“I think we got over 400 recipes submitted, and we’ll probably use over 200,” he said.

The cookbook will be an updated version of the committee’s last similar effort, 12 years ago, Ehrlich said.

“We were just trying to get a new cookbook where we emphasize healthy recipes,” he said. “We’re trying to come up with that type of approach.”

The committee also is working to promote spuds on Denver Broncos football broadcasts.

“It’s spot advertising, and we’re negotiating with them right now over the cost,” he said. “We’re doing the best we can with the budget we have.”

The committee’s marketing budget this year is about $250,000, Ehrlich said.

“It’s comparable to what it’s been in recent years. We really haven’t cut it back,” he said.

David Tonso, president and sales director for Monte Vista-based Canon Potato Co., said the Broncos’ ads are effective.

“We’ve done it in the past and it was very successful in the past,” Tonso said. “It’s with Broncos radio, and it works out really well. We ‘re always trying to make local people aware of the potatoes grown in the valley and around Greeley, trying to force that information upon them any way we can. It’s a lot of information and a lot of people.”

The Fresh Demand Working Group, formed about two years ago, is a helpful tool in promoting potatoes, Ehrlich said.

“We’re trying to use this Demand Working Group that the potato board has developed. That process has been ongoing. It’s got a lot of promise,” he said.

Meanwhile, the committee is continuing its work on building awareness of the product, Ehrlich said.

“We did go through a strategic planning process a year ago, and we shifted our focus to more an education focus,” he said. “We’re working with local educators on programs we can integrate into the school curriculum.”

The initiative emphasizes the importance of all agriculture, Ehrlich noted.

“It’s not just potatoes, although, obviously there will have a lot of potato education,” he said. “We feel like kids aren’t getting exposed to our side of the story, as for food being produced and why irrigation water is important.”

Teacher workshops are planned for next summer, with the emphasis on how to present material that would capture students’ interest, Ehrlich said.

“We’ll review it and talk to some other consultants about it and go from there,” he said.