The sweet potato is one step away from becoming Alabama’s official state vegetable

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Alabama-sourced sweet potatoes at Whole Foods. Photo via Pat Byington for Bham Now

Holy potatoes! Did you hear the news? In a 94-4 vote, the Alabama State Senate passed the bill to declare the sweet potato as the official state vegetable. It now awaits Governor Kay Ivey’s signature. Learn about the student-led bill that led to this sweet and super tasty root vegetable gaining a new title. 

How it came to be

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The group who helped give the sweet potato the title of Alabama’s official state vegetable. Photo via Kristin Smith

During the 2019-2020 school year, Kristin Smith, a teacher with The Learning Exchange, volunteered to lead a group of 10 homeschool students in Cullman County through a course on Alabama History. For a class project, the group decided to do something special for Alabama’s Bicentennial in December 2019. Their plan—to host a program and luncheon for their class, families and local homeschool community.

While planning the luncheon, they decided to pick items “official” to the state of Alabama. Some examples of the official items they chose included:

  • Pecan pie because pecans are Alabama’s official nut.
  • Roasted turkey because turkeys are Alabama’s official wild game bird.

You get the idea.

Sweet Potatoes
How do you like your sweet potatoes? Photo via Louis Hansel/Unsplash

After filling the menu with most of the five food groups, the class discovered something. Alabama had never declared an official state vegetable.

Find the full list of official state symbols and honors here.

So, the class decided to take on a new assignment, to petition for a state vegetable.

After a lot of research and possible ideas, one vegetable stood out among other crops in Alabama—the sweet potato.

The story caught fire nationally when the teens and State Senator Tom Butler were interviewed in 2019 by NPR’s All Things Considered host Mary Louise Kelly.

Unfortunately, COVID-19 through some curve balls and the idea was uprooted. But the petition didn’t stop completely. Kristin’s new crop of 2020-2021 students worked to get the petition going again, and, as of April 13, the stage vegetable bill was passed by the Alabama State Senate.

All we have to wait on now is the governor’s signature and the orange spud is officially Alabama’s state vegetable.

“Right now it’s about a sweet potato, but, someday, these kids are going to make great changes about huge issues and they’ll remember exactly how it’s all done.  They’ll never forget this experience.”

Kristin Smith, teacher, The Learning Exchange

What do the students think about their petition being passed in the Alabama Senate?

“I learned that even as a high schooler, I have a voice in my government and that there are those in authority who will listen and take action.”

Kyra Smith

“I enjoyed following this bill from the idea phase all the way through to its passage. I know now how to address any issue I see or complaint I have.”

Matthew Ray

“I learned through my involvement in this project that every voice, even the smallest and youngest has a voice in our government.”

Lawren Wright

Cool things to know about Alabama and sweet potatoes

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The sweet potato is one step away from becoming Alabama's official state vegetable 1
  • Sweet potatoes bring about $9M into Alabama’s economy.
  • Alabama consistently ranks high among other states in sweet potato production, including 5th nationally in 2001 in total sweet potato acreage.

Where to find locally-sourced sweet potatoes

What do you think? Was the sweet potato the right choice for Alabama’s official state vegetable? Tag us @bamabuzz to let us know! 

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Patience Itson
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