BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — Ahead of Alabama’s 200th birthday, Kristin Smith wanted to do something special.
For Smith, a homeschool teacher in Madison County, there was no better way to celebrate the bicentennial than with food. However, Smith didn’t want her class of 11 students to make just any food: she wanted the state’s food.
Blackberries, the Alabama state fruit, could be used for blackberry cobbler while Lane cake, the state dessert, could top the meal off right.
But what about the Alabama state vegetable?
“I said ‘There must be something missing,'” Smith said. “I couldn’t find it anywhere.”
This caused Smith’s class to look at what good vegetables in the state could fill that role.
Different vegetables made the discussion rounds. What about okra? What about collard greens?
It wouldn’t be too long before Smith and her class came across sweet potatoes. While the vegetable is already an essential part of Southern cuisine, its role in Alabama is somewhat overlooked. In 2015, Alabama led much of the country in sweet potato production, bringing in over $9 million per year, according to the Alabama Farmers Federation.
“If we were going to do this, it was going to be the sweet potato,” she said.
After several weeks of writing their different representatives and senators, the class finally got the attention of Sen. Arthur Orr who, with the assistance of Sen. Tom Butler, recently wrote and introduced a bill in the Alabama Senate to make the sweet potato the state vegetable.
“The sandy loam soil of the state allows sweet potatoes to grow quickly and freely, enabling Alabama to produce some of the largest and tastiest sweet potatoes in the country,” the bill stated.
Others have taken note of the sweet potato in Alabama. Food Network rated the sweet potato fluff at Pruett’s Bar-B-Que in Gadsden’s as one of the state’s “Most Amazing Eats” while Southern Living magazine listed it as a Southern holiday tradition.
Casey Smith, president of the Alabama Sweet Potato Association and no relation to Kristin Smith, thinks the sweet potato can’t get enough attention.
“Anything to promote it and agriculture in the state, we’re all for it,” Smith said.
Smith said that among the many good qualities that make it a “superfood,” it is one of the healthier vegetables out that has vitamins and antioxidants that can help prevent or even slow down cancer growth, although there is still more research needed on the subject. In an article published in 2007 in the Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers found that eating vitamin A-rich vegetables, like sweet potato leaves, could potentially protect people from lung cancer.
“We’ve met several people who have come out to our farm and have been undergoing cancer treatment where their doctor advises them to start eating sweet potatoes in their diet,” Casey Smith said.
Kristin Smith said that in addition to teaching her students about different vegetables, she was proud that she was able to get her students involved in the political process.
“What I want them to realize is if you have an idea, even if you’re a dozen homeschoolers, you can make a change,” she said.
If passed, Alabama would be the third state to have the sweet potato as its official vegetable, behind Louisiana and North Carolina.
The bill is now in the Senate committee on Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry.
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