Sweet potatoes are in high demand by consumers nationwide – and not just around the holidays any more. Extremely nutritious, with high levels of protein, calcium, fiber, iron, vitamins A, C, E and B6, fat-free, cholesterol-free and low in sodium, this potato makes the perfect side dish. In fact, sweet potatoes top the list as the most nutritious vegetable grown in the world.
With this orange-fleshed spud making a comeback on the dinner table through its addition to health-conscious recipes and as a smart food choice among diabetics, Alabama’s sweet potato farmers are increasing production and dedicating more field space than ever before.
Fourth-generation farmer Clark Haynes, of Haynes & Sons Farms in Cullman, is one of the largest and best sweet potato growers in the state. He dedicates approximately 300 acres to the crop in order to meet the surge in demand. Although some new varieties might be grown in the near future, the farm has been producing Beauregard and Covington sweet potatoes for several years now.
“The shape and color has a lot to do with what we grow, since the market dictates what [consumers] want … it has to have a good flesh color and outside color,” Haynes says. Once the sweet potatoes are harvested, the farm sells wholesale primarily to large grocery store chains or produce houses. A lot of produce is sold to Wal-Mart, working with three different distribution centers, as well as markets in Atlanta on a year-round basis.
Around Thanksgiving and Christmas the crop makes it as far north as Chicago to help keep shelves stocked in northern states. For locals craving fresh, homegrown sweet potatoes from the farm, Hanes also supports Cullman County’s farmers markets.
“Alabama has done a lot of promoting how good the sweet potato is for you,” he says. Haynes has noticed a recent trend towards sweet potato French fries and chips. “Sonic, Burger King and Hardees are doing promotions with sweet potato fries that are catching on pretty fast.”
If this nutritional movement continues, as it likely will, Haynes and other sweet potato farmers in Alabama should benefit greatly from the demand sweeping the country.