It’s one of the most popular food booths at the Kern County Fair every year, selling some 12,000 baked potatoes annually.
Customers love to slather on butter and green onions and salt and pepper, and if you order “The Works,” bacon and cheese.
But the Boy Scouts Southern Sierra Council gets something out of it, too.
“It might be the biggest fundraiser we have,” said Mike Hale, area director for the Boy Scouts Southern California.
Food vendors associated with nonprofit organizations like the Scouts rely on the business they do at the fair to provide a financial boost that may need to last all year.
“Tonight, I’m in the back, baking. So far we’ve baked 300 potatoes,” said Blake Nettleton, a district associate with the Council who became an Eagle Scout at 17.
This is Nettleton’s first year managing the booth. He had to be “Serve-Safe” certified by the Kern County Department of Public Health before he could run the show, but working with the Scouts is a family tradition.
His late grandfather, Warren Nettleton, volunteered with the Council for some 45 years.
“It helps us to provide revenue to fund our programs,” Nettleton said. “Everything stays local.”
In fact, the Boy Scout booth is run on mostly volunteer labor, by people like Randal Mapstead and Debbie Spohn, who some refer to as the “Potato Queen.”
The question came up. After 28 years volunteering at the booth, does she still eat potatoes?
“Only after Thanksgiving,” she said.
Walk south down the fair’s Food Row and the savory smell of pastrami may draw you to Pastrami King, Congregation B’nai Jacob’s bread and butter, where fundraising is concerned.
“This keeps us going. It’s our largest fundraiser,” said Rachel Pufahl, who has volunteered at the booth for close to 30 years.
“Which is a neat trick, seeing as I’m only 21,” she said, grinning.
The fair draws thousands. And fair-goers get hungry. So a vendor with a good product can do well — well enough to fund, or at least help fund, a nonprofit.
Teen Challenge, another nonprofit, also owes a lot to the Kern County Fair for an infusion of program-sustaining dollars every year.
“It helps keep the lights burning, the warm water running,” said Danny Bond, a student adviser with the organization.
Student volunteers worked the booth as part of their drug and alcohol recovery program, a yearlong commitment supported in part by the food sales.
“It’s not a rehabilitation center,” Bond said of Teen Challenge. “It’s a Christian school. It’s about getting your life structured and learning about the love of Jesus Christ.”
Back inside the Boy Scout’s baked potato booth, trays of foil-wrapped potatoes were stacking up as Nettleton stocked the ovens.
Young volunteers learned how to work with cash, and simultaneously learned the art of food service and pleasing the public.
“I’m here because I like working with kids. I like helping them,” said Mapstead, a retired teacher.
And as the lines lengthened and steaming baked potatoes and savory pastrami sandwiches were traded for greenbacks, lots of people were being helped along the way.