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Farmers Markets: 3 Signs of a Good Sweet Potato

Farmers Markets: 3 Signs of a Good Sweet Potato

While North Carolina State Farmers Markets are year-round, many smaller towns and municipalities have seasonal markets that are just starting to open again. Depending on the size of the market you visit, you might have a handful of vendors offering the same type of produce and you'll need to choose from them all. Even if market vendors sell exclusive items, you still need to choose items that offer the best value. Knowing what to look for (and in our suggestions below, what to touch and ask for) can help you bring home the best available North Carolina-grown produce.

Since our family has been growing sweet potatoes in North Carolina since the 1980s, and we have firsthand experience transitioning our land to certified organic methods, we have a few tips below to help you choose the best sweet potato when shopping at a farmers market:

Farmers Markets: 3 Signs of a Good Sweet Potato
  1. Wrinkle-free. Sweet potato skin should feature little-to-no wrinkles. While the skin isn't as smooth as an apple's, it should be even and not damaged by rot. Wrinkled skin is a sign of a potato that was either not store properly or is past its prime.
  2. Firm. A few times when sweet potatoes should be soft are when they are prepared to be that way, such as in sweet potato pies or mashed as a side dish. If a sweet potato is soft to the touch at a farmers market, it is not one that you should select to take home. A soft potato is a sign of rot.
  3. Certified organic and organic practices. Acquiring organic certification from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is a thorough, lengthy, and expensive process. Some farmers may be in the process of transitioning land and currently grow sweet potatoes with organic practices, but because they have not received official certification they cannot market themselves that way. One of the great things about buying from farmers markets is that you can ask the vendor about their farming methods. You might find one uses more sustainable practices than another, and that can help you choose which items have the most value to you.

If a farmer is in the transition process, be patient. The USDA requires that land cannot be exposed to certain chemical pesticides for three years prior to certification, plus the farmer must pass an annual inspection. Here on the farm, we just passed our annual inspection last month. We are launching a dedicated organic packing line in our Boyette Brothers Produce sweet potato pack house, and that requires a separate routine inspection process.

When you bring your sweet potatoes home, nearly every consumer reflexively stores them in the refrigerator. Storing sweet potatoes in the fridge is not a good idea. While sweet potatoes are best stored in a cool dark place and a fridge suits those needs, potatoes also need ventilation. Air flow is not possible in a fridge, which is closed majority of the time. Unfavorable taste changes and hardened centers occur when sweet potatoes are stored in the fridge.

Farmers Markets: 3 Signs of a Good Sweet Potato

Basements or root cellars are ideal for storage, but not everyone has those available. Instead, get in the habit of storing sweet potatoes in a bin with a clean dry towel draped on top, or in a burlap bag in a cabinet.

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