Ten-year-old Colin Leggett says there’s one ingredient he would never, ever eat the orange tuber without: brown sugar. And no, he’s not just talking a spoonful or two of the sweet stuff. He says that he’d pour an entire cup over the split potato, still steaming after having been just pulled from the hot oven.
“I’d maybe add a little butter,” he says, “but brown sugar is my secret ingredient.”
As the oldest son of Brent and Sue Leggett, the husband-and-wife team behind the first-generation Leggett Farming Partnership in Nash County, North Carolina, Colin’s been more than just a life-long sweet potato enthusiast—he says he’s been a sweet potato farmer for just as long, “since he was one or two.” While his family grows cucumbers, soybeans, peanuts, tobacco, and cotton, sweet potatoes are his personal favorite. He not only likes to eat them, but also help them go from a tiny slip (a sprout that’s grown from stored sweet potatoes) to a leafier sprout to the brown-sugar-topped creation on his dinner plate.
So during harvesting season from May until mid-July, Colin ventures out on the land, where he’ll do everything from drive around on the family’s John Deere tractor to chat with some of the field workers. He mentions one friend in particular, Julio, though he says he likes to “talk about whatever” with anyone he may run into while walking around the farm. When it comes to taking on any chores that his dad may ask him to do, like check out the sprouts or carry around gear, Colin says he likes it all—so much that he’ll often spend all day on the farm. During a long day of work, to keep his stomach from rumbling, he’ll snack on his farm’s peanuts, pop a sucker in his mouth, or chew on gum; when it’s a scorching hot summer day, his mom says he’ll be sipping on water to keep himself cool and hydrated, but Colin chimes in with a different preferred thirst-quencher.
“I drink Gatorade,” he says definitively—it’s perfect for replenishing electrolytes when you’re outside all day, breaking a sweat. But like any young boy, he says he’s happiest when he’s not working too hard and getting too sweaty, as that gives him more time to ride around on his four wheeler.
And through his 10 years of experience, Colin’s become somewhat of a sweet potato guru. While his family also grows the popular Beauregard variety, their number-one type is Covington, which is ideal for slow-roasting, pureeing, and mashing. There’s no one way to pick up one in the field and know that it’s the perfect one, Colin says, but the best ones have smooth, light red-brown skin, are about as long as your hand (so around six to eight inches long), and are about three or four fingers wide.
But ultimately, there’s really only one way to know if the sweet potato is a winner: by eating it, whether it’s simply roasted and sugar-topped or mixed into his mom’s pillowy biscuits that he loves.
While Colin says he knows he wants to be a farmer when he grows up because he’s loved it his entire life and finds the prospect of growing and making money off of “sweet potatoes and watermelons” to be an exciting one, he has a few thoughts for other kids who may be interested in farming but might not know too much about it—the main thing being that growing something you can eat and sell is not only rewarding, but fun. In a more practical vein, he also brings up the importance of safety; when you’re working around large machinery and sharp tools, you can never be too careful.
“Don’t get in the way,” Colin says. “If you know what you’re doing, you’ll be safe and have fun.”
And, when asked about fun sweet potato facts, Colin has a few of those, too. “Dogs love them,” he says, bringing up his chocolate labrador retriever named Tip, even though Tip isn’t getting Colin’s specialty baked sweet potato with the cup of brown sugar. He also notes that North Carolina grows the most sweet potatoes “in the whole world,” though his mother jumps in to say that she’s pretty sure it’s just in the United States. Colin doesn’t seem too phased by the correction, though; regardless, he says “that’s a fact that city people wouldn’t know.”