If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
It’s a simple colloquialism we’ve likely all had spouted back to us at some point in our lives.
Most recently, I was on the receiving end of the phrase when I asked my dad to borrow a drill, only to be handed back a shining metal relic of the 1960s that looked like a cross between a blow dryer and a pistol. After inspecting the plug that looked like it wouldn’t even fit into a modern outlet to ensure I wouldn’t blow a fuse—or blow up my house—I asked him why he still had this thing. It’s 60 years old, after all.
“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” was his only response.
And it wasn’t broken; it was one of the best drills I’ve ever used. Not to mention, it looks cooler than any modern power tool I’ve yet to see.
The point is, some things are worth hanging on to.
Just because something has been around for a while doesn’t make it less relevant or useful than it was when it first came to be. In fact, when modern knowledge and experience are applied to these original creations, it can unlock unique perspectives that, in turn, lead to exciting developments.
In our industry, I found a shining example of this in the North Carolina (NC) Sweetpotato Commission and its successful, longstanding approach to promoting and supporting the state’s sweetpotato growers.
Since 1961, likely when my dad’s drill was also manufactured, the organization has been dedicated to using education, promotional activities, research, and honorable horticultural practices to increase sweetpotato consumption.
Overseeing the North Carolina Sweetpotato Commission is
Michelle Grainger, Executive Director, known for her TEDx Talk on the impact of agriculture and the farmer on national security, who sat down with me to provide key insights into the history and future of the organization.
Michelle Grainger, Executive Director, North Carolina Sweetpotato Commission:
The NC Sweetpotato Commission was founded with the motivation to make North Carolina a leader in sweetpotato production and for the commission to be recognized as a trusted resource for all things sweetpotatoes. The initial mission of our organization was to increase NC sweetpotato consumption, and today, the objective remains the same.
With collective efforts of both the industry and the commission, North Carolina has become the number-one sweetpotato-producing state in the United States, growing over 60 percent of all sweetpotatoes in the country. This is thanks to more than 400 family farms and the packers, processors, shippers, and agribusinesses that support them.
The commission and North Carolina producers also take credit for supporting the research which led to the development of the Covington sweetpotato variety, representing over 95 percent of all North Carolina sweetpotatoes grown today. It is regarded for its excellent quality, consistent shape, and disease resistance, in addition to its quintessential orange sweetpotato skin and flesh color complemented by its smooth, sweet taste.
MG: Over the last 61 years, we have not wavered too far from our original principles of education, promotional activities, research, and honorable horticultural practices.
Our members support our activities through acreage assessments that, in turn, support domestic and international marketing, amongst many other activities. These efforts include trade shows, social media, public relations, new recipe development, dispersal of nutritional information, cooking competitions, horticultural research, education tools, and more. Our audience is quite expansive, including dietitians, teachers, students, retailers, chefs, consumers, healthcare professionals, and media.
Through our efforts, we now market sweetpotatoes in more than 34 countries worldwide and have seen the average U.S. shopper’s consumption increase to more than seven pounds of sweetpotatoes each year, which is no small feat. But even more remarkable is the advances our research programs have led to in developing varieties, sustainability practices, disease and pest management, new products, and improved production and storage techniques.
In fact, the NC sweetpotato research program contributed to the commercialization of sweetpotato fries. The sweetpotato fry market has a value of more than $3 billion today and is expected to grow at a rate of 5–10 percent per year.
MG: Every month is sweetpotato month for us! But with February being National Sweetpotato Month, we want consumers to know that every day of the year is a good day to eat sweetpotatoes. Not just during the holidays, not just in February, and certainly not just as an ingredient in casseroles.
We are spending much of our efforts continuing to work with culinary professionals, including dietitians and online influencers, to spread the word about sweetpotatoes’ versatility and nutritional value by highlighting new recipes, videos, food hacks, and how-tos to get consumers cooking and eating! At retail, we are teaming up with retail dietitians to help us spread the message to their shoppers that sweetpotatoes are versatile, delicious, and healthy.
One way your readers can assist us in celebrating National Sweetpotato Month this year is to join us in signing the petition on our website to recognize the scientific spelling of sweetpotato—which is one word and not two! Many people think “sweet” is an adjective to describe “potatoes,” but rather, “sweetpotato” is a noun and the name of a completely different botanical vegetable than an Irish/white potato.
MG: Every retailer and foodservice company can benefit from working with us to better understand consumer product trends and leverage category opportunities to drive sales.
For example, we have a tool kit specifically curated by our registered dietitian of record for retail dietitians across the country. We put it together keeping in mind the retail chains that work to educate their customers and provide more value in their quick convenience sections and practices within the stores.
During National Sweetpotato Month, we will be working with various chains to further promote North Carolina sweetpotatoes through media segments, consumer contests, giveaways, and virtual classes, to name a few. This is a space we are working hard to expand, and we are excited about how we will continue to grow this program.
"With collective efforts of both the industry and the commission, North Carolina has become the number-one sweetpotato-producing state in the United States, growing over 60 percent of all sweetpotatoes in the country. This is thanks to more than 400 family farms and the packers, processors, shippers, and agribusinesses that support them."
Michelle Grainger, Executive Director, North Carolina Sweetpotato Commission
Just like my dad’s trusty drill, the North Carolina Sweetpotato Commission and its mission are still going strong. A power tool in its own right, the organization will continue to build on its foundation laid back in 1961, strengthening the reputation of the North Carolina sweetpotato growers using the core tenets that have held fast over six decades.
As we know by now, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.