Madison Sweet Potato Project
So far approximately 260 volunteers have signed up and will harvest a possible 30,000 lbs of sweet potatoes.
It's not too late to sign up to grow sweet potatoes for the inaugural year of the Madison Sweet Potato Project.
A collaboration between Community Action Coalition for South Central Wisconsin (CAC), Slow Food Madison, Dane County Extension, Equinox Farm and the River Food Pantry, is helping volunteers grow an estimated 11,000 sweet potatoes this season.
Half of what volunteers grow they can keep; the other half will be distributed to fifty food pantries, meal sites and shelters around Dane County.
The idea began in Kansas City, where the project is in its sixth successful year.
"It resonated pretty quickly with people," says Madison Slow Food coordinator Philip Crawford. "I'm personally intrigued because local efforts can really make a difference. And here we're growing just one plant. The strength is its simplicity."
There are several reasons why sweet potatoes were chosen. If cured properly, they store well. They are also nutritious and easy to cook.
Volunteers have received gardening help if necessary, explains Chris Brockel of CAC: "To support novice sweet potato growers (most of us around Madison), Joe Muellenberg from Dane County Extension and John Binkley from Equinox Farms have presented a sweet potato culture and growing workshop at various sites around Dane County this spring."
Cold weather delayed delivery of the sweet potato slips by a couple of weeks, and the current arrival date is June 15. Sweet potatoes don't have seeds, but instead propagate through offshoots. These are called slips, typically a stem with a few leaves. The variety chosen is Beauregard, which works in colder climates.
So far approximately 260 volunteers have signed up and will harvest a possible 30,000 lbs of sweet potatoes. Even with the late start there will be time for the potatoes to mature.
This effort is part of a larger push by CAC to raise the amount of local food available for pantries in Dane County. Other programs include Plant-A-Row for the Hungry, food pantry gardens, direct farm contributions, field gleaning and farmer market collections.
"As a result of these efforts we have increased the procurement and distribution of fresh local produce from 150,000 pounds annually to over 400,000 pounds last year," says Chris Brockel.
This expansion was launched when Madison Community Foundation grants starting in 2010 helped increase food pantry capacities with shelves, freezers, bags and other supplies. Potential volunteers can apply online and learn more on Facebook.