Farm to Table: A Year in the Life of A NC Sweetpotato
Ever wonder the story behind the steamy pocket of caramelized, fluffy sweetpotato
on your plate? Today, consumers are becoming increasingly interested in learning the history, people and journey of their food from farm to table.
In North Carolina, the life of a sweetpotato can be broken down to 13 simple steps:
- Sweetpotatoes are native to NC and grow mostly in the coastal plain regions. NC grows more this low calorie vegetable than any other state.
- Sweetpotatoes are not started from seed but are grown from cuttings called sprouts or slips. Some farmers start sprouts in a greenhouse.
- Other farmers grow sprouts by “bedding seed potatoes in March. The whole potato is put on top of the grown than covered with a thin layer of soil and plastic.
- Sprouts will be cut and transplanted from the greenhouse or beddings field to a different field in May and June.
- Sprouts are planted in sows using a machine. The sweetpotatoes we eat will grow in this field. It takes 90-120 days without frost, known as “frost free days,” to grow a sweetpotato.
- Sweetpotatoes grow under the ground and are the root of the plant.
- Sweetpotatoes are ready to dig 3-4 months after sprouts are planted. Starting in August, rows are plowed and sweetpotatoes are flipped on top of the ground.
- Sweetpotatoes are graded, or sorted, according to their size by the worker in the field or by machine before being packed. The largest sweetpotatoes are called “jumbos” and the smallest are “canners.”
- Sweetpotatoes have a thin skin which can be easily hurt. Those washed and sold right after digging are called “greens.”
- Most sweetpotatoes cured. Curing changes some starches in the sweetpotato into sugar, making the vegetable sweeter and the skin tougher. It takes 4-7 days of 80-85°F temp and 85-90°F humidity to cure sweetpotatoes.
- After being cured, sweetpotato can be stored for up to one year before being sold. They are stored in their boxes at room temperature between 35-60°F and 85°F relative humidity.
- Sweetpotatoes are washed, sorted by size and packed before going to market.
- NC farmers sell sweetpotatoes all over the world. You can find the state vegetable in many sections of the grocery store all year long. Some are sold through NC Farm to School program and end up in your school cafeteria.