MEET DENNIS THOMAS, OUR SWEET POTATO + PUMPKIN FARMER
We’re always excited when we find farmers who have the same core values and practices of sustainability in mind. That’s why we’re proud to partner with Dennis + Ham Farms- a family owned and operated business in Snow Hill, North Carolina. Thanks to them, we're able to upcycle their sweet potatoes and pumpkins and turn them into our soft baked treats I Yam What I Yam and Pumpkin Nut Party!
We sat down with Dennis to talk all things sustainability, what they're up to, and finally some clarity on sweet potatoes vs yams. Check it out below!
Tell us about how Ham Farms, and how sustainability is a core part of your business.
We grow sweet potatoes primarily for the fresh market. In other words, for grocery stores and produce suppliers. We grow them, harvest them, and cure them. During harvesting, a machine will sort out what a retail market size potato is— the ones you pick out in grocery stores that'll eventually be turned into some sweet potato dish.
In the old days, the “pick outs” — the odd-shaped or sized potatoes — would be thrown back into the fields. Now, we take the pick-outs (about 20-25% of the bunch) and sell them to processors who make french fries and things, or we bring them to Natural Blends and dehydrate them. So we are throwing away virtually nothing of the potato, even if it has a little deformity or something.
That's amazing! Natural Blends- could you tell us a bit more about that?
A few years ago, we started Natural Blends Vegetable Dehydration — a sister company that dehydrates and processes excess veggies into flours, dog foods, and other goods.
We realized a few years ago that we were throwing away a lot of potatoes — not because of farming errors or bad practices, but because sweet potatoes are a root crop and the size of the potatoes is always changing — sometimes you’ll have three large potatoes off one set, sometimes you’ll have five to seven smaller ones. Sometimes, you’ll even grow what’s called a jumbo — which is a very large potato, the size of a small football.
Some steakhouses really want those large potatoes — they market having "the biggest sweet potato" on their menus — but most grocery stores have a set minimum and maximum size of the potatoes they want. We realized we had this opportunity and started out strictly making one ingredient: dehydrated sweet potato pellets for pet food. Now, we have transformed that into probably 12 to 14 different SKUs—we’re doing powders, flours, grains, pet treats and we’ve branched out into beets, pumpkins and cauliflower.
Yes, we're so thankful for Natural Blends and all that you guys are doing there! And finally, yams vs sweet potatoes. What’s the difference?!
You’ve probably never in your lifetime seem a yam unless you’ve gone to a specialty market in New York or somewhere or you’ve gone to Africa or the Caribbean where they’re grown (jaw drop).
Yams have very little nutritional value — they’re actually more closely related to grass than sweet potatoes! Sweet potatoes, which are part of the morning glory family, come in a variety of colors: yellow flesh, white flesh, orange flesh and purple flesh potatoes. If you ever see “yams” sold at the grocery store, take a closer look at the packaging: it will also say sweet potato on there.
*Confession hour: I Yam What I Yam actually uses sweet potatoes, not yams.*
But seriously, we couldn't have named it I Sweet Potato What I Sweet Potato... that just sounds wrong.