N.C. Sweetpotato Commission celebrates 60 years
The North Carolina Sweetpotato Commission Inc. is a nonprofit corporation made up of more than 400 sweetpotato growers along with the packers, processors and business associates that support them.
“The sole purpose of the commission is to increase sweetpotato consumption through education, promotional activities, research and honorable horticultural practices among its producers,” said Michelle Grainger, executive director of the commission.
Thanks to the six sweetpotato farmers that chartered the commission in 1961, the commission has supported its growers and maintained North Carolina as the No. 1 sweetpotato producing state in the United States since 1971.
Harvest typically occurs between August through the end of October and right now, North Carolina growers are working in greenhouses getting ready for planting season.
“The commission works diligently to ensure that each element of our mission is consistently attended to,” Grainger said. “For example, our education and research efforts each have two distinct audiences, the consumer and the producer. We work to ensure that our producers have access to the most current research findings as well as provide opportunities for them to actively participate in ongoing research.”
The commission also works with its growers, packers, and shippers to provide them educational opportunities to further their own operations from farm and field management to food-safety practices and so much more.
“For the consumer, an element of our promotion activities includes seeking grant funding to support educational outreach targeted for consumers,” Grainger said. “These efforts have included creating a K-12 STEM curriculum that is free to all and its lesson plans are mapped to National Board Education standards, to creating videos targeted to specific communities of consumers such as school foodservice professionals and registered dietitians and nutritionists.”
Still, the commission’s primary mission is to increase consumer consumption so this is the area where it focuses the most.
“We are constantly stretching ourselves to reach consumers in new and unique ways and our 60th anniversary year-long celebration will be no different,” Grainger said. “Just this past year, we ran ads on both iHeart Streaming and Podcasts and tried out Gas Station TV (GSTV)! We published in both print and digital formats a Retail Dietitian’s Toolkit which is meant to be just that — a toolbox for dietitians where they can find resources available across a 12-month period to share and use within their own channels.”
The commission is currently working on a multitude of marketing activities to help retailers increase sales of sweetpotatoes.
“We have been working to expand our retail dietitian program, led by your registered dietitian of record, Sarah Schlichter, MPH, RDN,” Grainger said. “Stores can help us spread the word that sweetpotatoes are a year-round superfood. They are not just a popular vegetable during the holidays.”
As part of its 60th anniversary, the North Carolina Sweet Commission wants people to know that this is a special time for the superfood.
“There has perhaps been no time in our recent history where there was so much emphasis placed on health and good nutrition while also home kitchen experimentation has exploded globally,” Grainger said. “Our favorite tater has a story to tell and we are going to do our best to ensure that consumers consider it for any meal of the day year-round and not just as a beloved side dish during the holidays.”