North Carolina state vegetable: sweet potato

Written By Kellie Slappey

North Carolina is the largest producer of sweet potatoes in the United States.  In 2009, North Carolina harvested almost one million pounds of potatoes.

The sweet potato, often called a yam, is easy to grow in North Carolina, and it was a staple in the Native American diet.  The Creek, Cherokee, and Saura Indian tribes were three tribes that more than likely depended on the vegetable for its high nutritional value.  The sweet potato, we now know, is an excellent source of vitamins A and C and is low in fat.

North Carolina leads all other states in sweet potato production, producing 45% of the national supply; Mississippi is second with 20%. North Carolina has 46,000 acres of farmland devoted to growing sweet potatoes. Tar Heel producers are concentrated primarily along and east of the I-95 corridor, and Nash County farmers produce the most sweet potatoes in the Tar Heel State.

In 1993, fourth graders from Elvie Street School in Wilson, North Carolina, were inspired by local Representative, Gene Arnold, to become involved in government.  The students started a letter-writing campaign to the North Carolina General Assembly and requested that the sweet potato be named the state vegetable. The students were able to involve almost the entire community in their letter writing campaign. In 1995, the General Assembly passed a bill that declared the sweet potato the North Carolina state vegetable.