Professor Scarecrow SweetPotatoes

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Vocabulary Quiz


North Carolina is the number one producer of sweet potatoes in the United States. Today more than 40% of the natinal supply of sweet potatoes comes from North Carolina. There are several different types of sweet potatoes found in North Carolina. They are the Beauregard, Carolina Rose, Carolina Ruby, Cordner, Hernandez, Jewel and NC Porto Rico 198. The growers of any of these types within the state find some of their best support in their group, the NC SweetPotato Commission.
Processing Sweetpotatoes
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The sweet potato is a native crop in North Carolina grown in the Coastal Plains. American Indians were growing sweet potatoes when Columbus discovered America in 1492. Sweet potatoes have been around since prehistoric times. Some scientists believe that dinosaurs might have eaten these delicious vegetables.

The sweet potato is the official vegetable of North Carolina. This is because in 1993, Mrs. Celia Batchelor's fourth grade civics class at Elvie Street School in Wilson, NC was visited by Representative Gene Arnold from Wilson County. His visit inspired her students to become involved in their state government.

These fourth grade students, along with their parents and teachers, began a letter writing campaign to the State Legislature requesting that the sweet potato be named as the state vegetable. The entire community became involved in the campaign!

After two years of letter writing and a lot of hard work, the bill passed in the General Assembly's summer session of 1995. At last the sensational sweet potato was declared as the Official Vegetable of the State of North Carolina!

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Sweet potatoes are used in many different dishes. They can be eaten raw, steamed, boiled, microwaved and fried. A fairly new way of eating sweet potatoes is due to increased technology which changed the way people could prepare them. Sweet potatoes can be found in chips, frozen and microwave products on grocery store shelves. Before technology all sweet potatoes were eaten fresh (baked, candied, etc.)

The sweet potato industry has changed especially in the area of storage and curing. Storage systems have improved availability so that sweet potatoes are available all year. New varieties have increased the production per acre and curing systems have improved overall quality. The fresh crop grading capabilities are becoming more specific now too. There is an effort to get sweet potatoes more involved in the foodservice or restuarant business such as in fries, chips and salads.

Though there has been advancements in the industry, the number of sweet potatoes eaten has decreased over the years. This is because sweet potatoes are considered a regional food of the South and as the population grows more quickly in other areas, the number of sweet potatoes eaten across the country decreases.

Sweet potatoes are grown mostly in the Coastal Plain region of North Carolina. Johnston, Nash and Wilson counties produce the most sweet potatoes. Sampson, Colombus, Wayne, Harnett, Cumberland, Edgecombe and Duplin counties also produce sweetpotatoes. Johnston county is the number one producer of sweet potatoes. Sweet potatoes do best in these counties because the sweet potato is a root crop and it is more suited to the sandy soil and temperate climate of this area.

From May through late October, sweet potatoes do their growing. They need a temperate climate where they have full sunshine and regular moderate rainfalls. They prefer 70-90 degree in the daytime and 55-65 degree nights. The sandy loams of the coast suit the sweet potato well, but it needs to be well drained. This allows excess water to drain away from the plant because sweet potatoes can be damaged by too much water.

Seed potatoes (selected from the previous year's crop) are planted in March. By April, sprouts are of sufficient size to take cuttings, which are transplanted directly into the field. Planting takes place throughout April, May and June.

Once planted, it takes about four weeks before sprouts will appear. It takes about 120 days between transplanting cuttings before the sweet potatoes are ready to be harvested. The first sweet potatoes are ready to be harvested in late August and the process continues until early November.

Some sweet potatoes are washed and graded for sale as soon as they are dug. This is called the "green crop." Others are cured and stored in large bins until they are needed for market. "Cured" is the process of allowing the skin on the potatoes to tighten, the starches to turn to sugars, and the abrasions to heal. "Cured" potatoes are sweeter than "green stock" and are more resistant to skinning. When sweet potatoes are cured they are kept at a constant temperature of about 85 degrees and at a relative humidity of 85 to 95 percent for 5 to 7 days. Once the curing process is over, sweet potatoes are placed in storage at 55-65 degrees until needed for market.

Automatic harvesters, called diggers, are used to harvest the crop, however, they cause excessive skinning and a majority of the potatoes are plowed and then harvested by hand. Diggers received their name because they go underground and bring the sweet potatoes to the surface. Once sweet potatoes are gathered and loaded onto trucks they are taken to the storage sheds. Before mechanical transplanters, sweet potatoes were "pegged" into the ground by hand.

Pesticides are used when growing sweetpotatoes to keep out unwanted items. Multi-purpose fumigants that attack nematodes and other pests. Herbicides are used only if tillage is not good enough to control the weeds.

Once sweet potatoes are harvested, they go to a packing house. Here they must be graded. Most packing houses grade their product according to buyer specifications and use in-house quality control measures. State officials of the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services inspect on a random basis for food protection, but other state officials are used upon the request of the packing house to certify certain quality or grade. These inspections are most often required by the buyer. The guidelines to grade are set by the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture. These samples are graded on similar type, reasonable firmness, shape, color and if it's free from damage and disease. These samples are then used to determine the grade for the whole crop.

Most North Carolina sweet potatoes are sold fresh, although frozen and dehydrated product is available. Fresh product is packaged in 40 lb. cardboard boxes. It is done this way for two reasons. One, it is cost effective and two, it's an industry standard meaning all sweet potato growers pack the same way especially to retail outlets. Though this is the standard sweetpotatoes can be bagged or individually pressure wrapped.

Sweet Potatoes in the Field
Sweet Potatoes in the Field
Harvesting the Sweet Potatoes
Harvesting the Sweet Potatoes
Bagging Machine
Bagging Machine
New Pressure Wrap Packaging
New Pressure Wrap Packaging

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Once the sweet potatoes are packaged, they are ready to be sold and shipped. Most sweet potatoes go from the farm to be cured. Then it goes into storage before being graded and packed. Once packed, they are sold to a store warehouse and then they are shipped from here to individual stores. Sweet potatoes are mostly sold domestically (within the United States) throughout the Eastern U.S. They are also exported internationally to Canada and Great Britain.

When the sweet potatoes leave the farm to go to the warehouses they are shipped on a truck in an enclosed trailer. This is so that the sweet potatoes are not exposed to the environment. Before moving automobiles, horses and wagons were used. Upon the invention of the railroads during the Industrial Revolution, trains were used. As technology developed, trucks became the most common method of transportation.

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When shopping for sweet potatoes, select firm, well-shaped potatoes with smooth skin. Avoid those with soft spots, bruises or any signs of decay. Also remember what you are buying them for. If you plan to cook them and not serve them raw, you'll need to remember that three medium potatoes equal one pound. One pound of sweet potatoes equal 1 1/4 cups pureed.

You can also check the labels on sweet potatoes. Sweet potatoes in bags or in their large boxes must carry a label stating its net weight, distribution point and grade statement. All labels may look a bit different, but they must all contain this information.

Once you get your sweet potatoes home, make sure not to refrigerate them unless they are cooked. Cold temperatures can cause them to become bitter. Instead, store them in a cool, dry place and use them within a week or two. When cutting a sweet potato always use a stainless steel knife and place them into cold water to prevent darkening.

Sweet potatoes are a vegetable. The recommended daily allowance of vegetables is two to four servings daily. Sweet potatoes are low in sodium, cholesterol free, fat free, high in fiber, contain minerals and vitamins A, C and E. Sweet potatoes are also more nutritious if cooked with the skin on. They are also rich in beta-carotene (a special kind of vitamin A). This vitamin helps your body wage war against free-radicals. Free-radicals try to damage your cells, but beta-carotene coats your cells and help your immune system fight back.

Sweet potatoes are good for your health! With all the ways to eat them the choices are endless. Make sure to pick some up next time you go shopping. And remember Goodness Grows In North Carolina!!!

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1. tillage: when land has been prepared for crops by plowing, harrowing and fertilizing
2. warehouses: a place where goods and merchandise are stored; a storehouse

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