Thursday March 10, 2011 | 05:32 PM

Sen. Susan Collins had a message for Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack today during a Senate hearing, and the Maine Republican came armed with a prop.

Collins used the occasion of Vilsack's appearance before the Senate Appropriation Committee's agriculture subcommittee to criticize the Agricutlure Department for excluding the white potato, many of which are grown in Maine, when federal officials came out with a new list of vegetables and fruits it is encouraging participants in a federal nutrition program for women, children and infants to eat.

Collins, who also wants the white potato to get its due when it comes to the federal lunch program, held up a bag of Maine white potatoes in one hand and a head of iceberg lettuce in the other to make her point. A single medium white potato, she said, has more than twice the amount of vitamin C as an entire head of lettuce, and way more potassium, too, Collins said.

"It is a perfect combination of nutrition and can be cooked in countless healthy ways," Collins said of the white potato.  "It should be included in both the WIC program and school meals programs, and it should be done so in a manner that promotes their healthy cooking."

Here is a video link to the hearing, with Collins' pitch for the white potato to get better federal billing starting about 28 minutes into the start of the video.

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Kevin Miller is Washington bureau chief for the Portland Press Herald and MaineToday Media. He has worked as a journalist in Maine for 6 ½ years, covering the environment, politics and the State House. Before arriving in Maine, he wrote about politics, government and education for newspapers in Virginia and Maryland.
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