October brings the return of sweet potatoes to all Souplantation and Sweet Tomatoes restaurants as part of a month-long menu that features a wide range of traditional autumn favorites. “As our guests have become more aware of the nutritional value of sweet potatoes and have asked us to serve them more often, we’re happy to now offer sweet potatoes every evening during October at all our restaurants across the country,” said Susan Hoffman, Vice President of Fresh Sourcing and Menu Innovation.
Increased demand for sweet potatoes has tracked information about the health benefits of the root vegetable, driving per capita consumption nearly 80% between 2000 and 2015, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Sweet potatoes are low in sodium, saturated fat and cholesterol, while a good source of dietary fiber, vitamin B6 and Potassium and very high in Vitamin A, Vitamin C and Manganese. For complete nutritional information, click here.
Supplying the sweet potatoes on the West Coast is California Sweet Potato Growers, the first California sweet potato cooperative founded in 1963. And on the East Coast, the supplier is Wayne E. Bailey Produce, Company, Inc., which began operations in 1935.
One of the long-term members of the California Sweet Potato Growers is the Alvernaz family, a fourth-generation family farm, based in Livingston, CA. “My grandfather (Joe) was a pioneer in the sweet potato business,” says Matthew Alvernaz, who now manages the farming operation with his father, Ben, and Uncle Jim. “Many sweet potato stories lead back to Joe, and his impact is still apparent today, including having named the variety of sweet potato (Diane).
Joe, widely known as “Sweet Potato Joe,” started his sweet potato operation after serving in World War II as an aviator. Returning to his boyhood home near Livingston, he learned to grow sweet potatoes from his father, who had immigrated to the United States from the Azores Islands, off the coast of Portugal. The Alvernaz family began growing sweet potatoes the way they did in the “Old Country”. Over 70 years later, sweet potatoes have been the mainstay for the family, and their farm has evolved into one of California’s prominent family owned and operated sweet potato operations, shipping more than 300,000 cartons per year
Humidity and temperature control preserves sweet potato freshness year round, says Sarah Alvernaz, Matthew’s wife and General Manager of the packing shed, California Sweet Potato Growers. “We store the sweet potatoes in wooden bins between 55-60 degrees, with 80% humidity to keep them garden fresh,” she said. “Once we receive an order from a customer, we begin the packing process to keep supply the freshest possible.”
On the East Coast, Garden Fresh sources it sweet potatoes from Wayne E. Bailey Produce. This fourth-generation family enterprise started in 1935 near Chadbourn, NC. Wayne’s son, Elroy, took over the operations in 1970 upon his father’s death, and now, George Wooten, Elroy’s stepson, runs the business with his two sons, George III and Adam.
What started out as an 80-acre farming operation has grown into a total of 4,600 acres in production during this growing season. About half of that acreage is managed by Wooten and his sons and the remainder is farmed by contractors. With what the family produces itself and through its contractors, along with some supply from other area farmers, Wayne E. Bailey anticipates shipping about 4 million 40-lb. cartons of sweet potatoes from the 2016 crop.