By Bobbie Whitehead
A native to the Americas, sweet potatoes stand out as one of any number of vegetables the early explorers saw growing in American Indian gardens.
And as October progresses, area growers have begun digging fresh sweet potatoes they will have for sale at farmers markets and roadside stands.
In Suffolk, Howard Piland, owner of B&H Produce at the Suffolk City Market & Country Store said he will begin to dig some sweet potatoes that he’ll have at the market.
Growers like Clifton Slade, owner of Slade’s Poultry Farm in Surry County, has already begun digging some of his sweet potatoes, and customers interested in buying some can call Slade at his farm to schedule an appointment.
“I’ve been digging a few and will have more,” said Slade, who will also be selling his sweet potatoes, vegetables and freshly processed chickens and eggs at the Hampton Farmers Market, and on Oct. 18, Slade said he’ll be there for the Harvest Market. The Hampton Farmers Market operates in Carousel Park on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
In Windsor and Franklin, W.N. Howell will have sweet potatoes for sale at the Franklin Farmers Market on Armory Drive in the National Guard Armory parking lot, which is where the current market operates, said Matthew Harrison.
The Franklin market is open year round, so Harrison said he will be selling sweet potatoes there.
For those who may enjoy the yams during the holidays, keep in mind that sweet potatoes and yams are terms used interchangeably but are actually different root vegetables. Sweet potatoes are just that – orange on the inside and sweet to the taste. Yams, however, are lighter in color and dry when cooked, came from Africa, but are preferred by some consumers.
In Virginia, commercial growers planted less than a thousand acres of sweet potatoes this year and slightly less than what they planted in 2007, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service.
Interestingly, most sweet potatoes eaten in the United States come from one of four states – North Carolina, Mississippi, Louisiana and California with North Carolina leading the nation in sweet potato production, according to the Agriculture Marketing Resource Center.
Researchers say the sweet potato originated in South America. In 1543, explorers saw sweet potatoes growing as far north in what is now Louisiana in American Indian gardens, according the North Carolina Sweet Potato Commission. The Commission also reports that American Indians grew sweet potatoes in the Carolinas before “the European colonization.”
While once a main staple in American diets, sweet potatoes continue to be popular and are an excellent course of beta carotene, potassium, and Vitamins A and C, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.