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08/02/2023 11:50 AM

Part of ‘Team POCO’

Shown here in PoCo gear with her daughter, Penelope, 10, Mary-Elissa Giovanni and her PoCo co-coordinators are prepared to bring an exciting festival to North Branford Friday Aug. 4 through Sunday Aug. 6. Photo Courtesy Mary-Elissa Giovani

The 2023 North Branford Potato and Corn (PoCo) Festival is back for three days of fun, community, and entertainment from Friday, Aug. 4, through Sunday, Aug. 6, and Mary-Elissa Giovanni can’t wait for everyone to enjoy the incredible offerings that have been put together by “Team PoCo.”

“We really are Team PoCo—that’s what we call ourselves,” says Mary-Elissa, who is once again pitching in to deliver all things PoCo as part of the PoCo Coordinator Team, together with co-coordinators Steve Torino, Elisa Pannone, and Rose Angeloni.

Set to take place at Augur Farm, 290 Forest Road, Mary-Elissa says PoCo’s spectacular three-day program is filled with festival favorites but also notes, “...we’ve got a lot of new things.”

Now in its 21st year, new for 2023 is the PoCo Beer Garden, an all-new beer and wine garden featuring locally crafted beer and wines; HTX Helicopter Tours, taking off from the field for area flights and sights on Saturday, Aug. 5, and Sunday, Aug. 6; the Big Dog Axe Throwing experience; Sickline Carving exposition (some of the unique chainsaw art is set to remain in town for future public enjoyment), and Wee Wee Wee Racing Pigs.

“When we have any animal entertainment, I do a little research as far as how are they are trained and treated,” says Mary-Elissa. “And what’s really nice about Wee Wee Wee Racing Pigs is these pigs are not trained at all—they’re just cute little piggies that are food motivated. If they run the race, they run the race, and if they don’t, they’re still really cute! Their show also includes a parakeet encounter, and they bring some goat friends.”

Just some of the festival favorites which help to draw thousands to this big event, always held the first weekend in August, are the carnival rides and amusements provided by Fiesta Shows, daily kids events and contests (think potato sack race and pie eating); a quality live music main stage entertainment line-up; dozens of food vendors, craft and business vendors; and Saturday’s spectacular Atlas Pyrotechnics fireworks show. Sunday includes Floyd’s 5K and a classic car show.

A lot of the major moments at PoCo arrive thanks to its sponsors. This year’s Fireworks Show sponsor is Premier Kia of Branford (also sponsoring Middlesex County Tractor Pullers). Entertainment sponsor is Torino Services. Beer Tent sponsor is Sanitrol. Potato and Corn Booth and shuttle buses’ sponsor is Sampson Electric.

And there are many more, says Mary-Elissa, who thanks them all.

“We have so many sponsors who give us so much support. We couldn’t do it without them.”

To put on PoCo, the co-coordinators work year-round to plan and prepare. For the second year, Mary-Elissa holds a part-time, seasonal role with North Branford Parks and Recreation to be available for daily PoCo coordinating duties and administrative work. But, like her community-minded PoCo co-coordinators, she spends many more volunteer hours on this event.

“We’re all over-achievers,” Mary-Elissa says, laughing. “So even when we’re not technically working, there’s kind of a tab open in all our brains. I don’t think there’s a day that goes by where any of us aren’t thinking about ways to do new things or what did we learn from the year before that we can improve.”

Mary-Elissa says co-coordinators Pannone and Angeloni combine to bring years of experience to the event.

“They work so hard to bring to the community something everyone enjoys,” says Mary-Elissa. “It’s amazing how, over the years, everyone involved has been able to grow it.”

Mary-Elissa describes herself and Torino as the team’s “high-energy people—our brains just don’t stop brainstorming!”

“He’s a nice partner to have because creatively, we work well together. Steve’s really creative with the logistics, and I call him our Special Events Entertainment Coordinator because he brings in things like the helicopter, the pig races, the tractor pulls.”

Mary-Elissa adds PoCo has many long-term committee leadership volunteers to thank, saying, “...they work alongside us all year to make sure every aspect of our festival happens.”

From those folks to the local sponsors to the hundreds who volunteer to help during the festival, PoCo is grounded in community, she adds.

“That, to me, is the community aspect of PoCo. There’s nothing at the festival that wasn’t put together by one of your fellow community members, or sponsored by a local organization, or taken care of by our volunteers—whether it’s just for that weekend, or as a committee chair, or as volunteers who help all year long.”

The coordinator team also thanks the staff and leadership at North Branford Parks and Recreation for their help and support, as well as staff and leadership of Public Works, Fire Department, Police Department, Senior Center, Social Services, and Town Hall.

Among the areas Mary-Elissa helps to pull together for PoCo, she especially enjoys helping to develop PoCo’s Kids Entertainment. She also assists PoCo’s Entertainment committee with coordinating appearances such as the festival’s live bands.

“Those guys are great—they’ve been doing it for years,” she says. “I just work with them to help support their goals.”

Speaking of goals, among the numerous vendors on the festival grounds will be a noticeable increase in the number of local non-profit groups and organizations represented this year, Mary-Elissa notes.

“We reached out to as many as we could in the community because it’s a great way for us to help them bring awareness to people about what their organization or non-profit is and what they are doing in our community.”

As a mom of two kids in North Branford Public Schools, Mary-Elissa is glad to note that two Parent-Teacher Organizations (PTO) will be set up at PoCo to share information, North Branford Intermediate School and Totoket-Valley Elementary School (TVES).

Mary-Elissa is also PTO president of TVES. The Giavannis have two children, daughter Penelope, 10, and son A.J., 16.

Due to ongoing construction of the new police facility on Forest Road, the entrance to reach the 2023 PoCo grounds will be from Wall Field. Mary-Elissa says PoCo will have some things set up in the same spaces and some in new locations, such as the stage, all to bring in three days full of fun and entertainment that promises to be better than ever.

“My kids would call it a glow-up,” says Mary-Elissa. “There’s a lot more to explore. We have double the food vendors than we had last year and double the craft and business vendors, and some really amazing new offerings.”

During PoCo 2023, the co-coordinators will be at the event, working among the volunteers to help make each day the best for this’ fest.

“If you see someone in a shirt with Team PoCo on the back, and you have a question or need some information, just ask us! We’re happy to help,” says Mary-Elissa.

For more PoCo 2023 information, hours of operation, updates and more, visit