Soup’s on!

Farmers Market hosts first-ever Soup Cook-off

TORRINGTON – What’s better than a steaming-hot bowl of soup on a cool, autumn day?

That was the question Farmers Market organizers from the Goshen County Extension Service and Goshen County Economic Development Corporation asked themselves
in September. 

And that was the impetus behind the first-ever Torrington Farmers Market Soup Cook-Off on Thursday under the covered pavilion at City Park here.

With six entrants participating, potato seemed to be the Soup of the Day in the competition. Dale Radford of Torrington was the run-away winner, taking first place with his take on the popular tuber.

The real battle was for second and third, said University of Wyoming Extension Educator Caleb Carter, with the crew of John Tanaka, Kelly Greenwald and Brian Lee from the SAREC in Lingle edging into second place with their potato and leek soup, made with produce grown on the research farm. Tracy Painter, co-owner of Painter Produce in Henry, Neb., came in a close third with her iteration of the comforting comestible. 

The voting and selection of winners was by “People’s Choice,” with the folks trying the soup dropping a ticket in a glass jar stationed by their
favorite entry.

“I think this is a really cool idea,” said Radford. “I wish it would have been a little more chilly, more like real ‘soup weather.’ But this is fun.”

The idea for the competition came about through a side discussion during a meeting between Carter, Tanaka and the crew from the GCEDC, Ashley Harpstreith and Lisa Miller. The Farmers Market had moved to its new digs at City Park in 2016 after several years at the Goshen County Extension Center. The group was looking for new ways to promote the weekly market and get more people from the community out and involved, Carter said.

With six soup chefs in attendance at the first contest, he was “pretty happy with it, for a first year. 

“Our biggest fear was we’d have 200 people turn up to eat soup and only three people to make soup,” Carter said. “I’m pretty excited.”

Turnout for the second year of the market, which runs through the end of October, has been good, he said. There were some concerns with the move when attendance dropped slightly last year. Carter said, even after two years, he still has people who are surprised when he tells them Torrington has a farmers market.

Carter said vendors have told him they’re getting more customers this year, for example, with sales picking up from last year. 

And the soup cook-off “ties in very well with the market,” Radford said. “Especially if the contestants have come to the market before, they’re able to get fresh produce, whip up a batch of soup and share it with everybody.”

There was also talk of making the soup cook-off an annual event at the local Farmer’s Market. And plans are already in the works, at least in some minds, for possible changes to next
year’s contest.

“When we originally came up with the idea, it was for people to buy things at the market from the vendors here and cook something up,” Tanaka from SAREC said. “Maybe next year, we’ll move in that direction, with at least portions of the soups will have to come from the market, from the vendors, to tie it all together.”

Proceeds from the contestant registrations and soup tasters purchasing special commemorative soup bowls will be going to the Goshen County School District Backpack Program, which provides food for students and their families who qualify for free or reduced-cost school lunch in the county. Carter said the soup cook-off raised $460 to help support that program.

“That just blows me away,” he said Friday. “I would have been happy with half that much.

“Everybody I talked to was very excited about the cook-off, had a lot of fun with it,” Carter said. “I think everybody was excited to support a
good cause.”

Attendance at the cook-off exceeded anyone’s expectations, he said. People were coming to the pavilion on the southeast corner of City Park all the way up to the end, wanting to sample the soups for themselves.

“Whenever you put on an event like this, you worry, ‘Will anybody show up?’” Carter said. “This was one of those things where everything worked out just the way we envisioned it.”


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