Valley-grown sweet potatoes meet rising demand

FRESNO, Calif.

Jason Tucker is vice-president of the California Sweet Potato Council. He explained, "They require a lot of heat and water and a nice sandy soil."

A harvester digs up the sweet potatoes and quickly moves them on a belt so they can be sorted. 90-percent of the state's sweet potato crop is grown in Merced County.

Tucker said sweet potato production in the state has doubled over the past decade. One reason for the popularity - the introduction of sweet potato fries. Many establishments now offer fries made from yams. Tucker said, "You now have some major chains looking into on a national scale running the sweet potato fry as an alternative."

The fact first lady Michelle Obama grew them in her White House garden also helped people learn more about the sweet potato's health benefits. "The sweet potato has more beta carotene than broccoli. Its high in vitamin a and c. It's high in fiber."

From the field the sweet potatoes are washed, dried and packed.

AV Thomas Produce ships over 100-million pounds of product each year for stores like Costco and Safeway. Packs of smaller potatoes have grown in popularity and so have microwavable individually wrapped sweet potatoes.

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