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Sweet potatoes star of show at York festival

| Saturday, Oct. 5, 2013, 3:54 p.m.

YORK — About eight years ago, just for the heck of it, Larry Frey decided to try growing sweet potatoes in his family's garden.

The 59-year-old Warrington resident said he was surprised by a plentiful harvest and felt he could do something more with the crop. In 2006, he ordered 100 plants from a university in North Carolina and sold the sweet potatoes he harvested at a roadside stand. The following year, he tried selling some at a produce auction in Lancaster County, but he said he wasn't able to make a profit.

So he decided to bring his product straight to the public. In 2008, he hosted his first Sweet Potato Fest in Dillsburg during which he sold freshly dug sweet potatoes and delicacies made with the vegetable.

His festival was a success. Over the last several years, he has expanded his small business. Now, he plants 2,000 sweet potato plants and harvests about 6,000 pounds of sweet potatoes each year. He hosts his festival in several locations throughout south-central Pennsylvania.

Don't expect to see a festival with a lot of fanfare. It's Frey, his family and his sweet potatoes.

“This is pretty low-budget,” Frey said.

The day of each festival, he said, he starts getting ready at 4 a.m., when he bakes 15 to 20 sweet potatoes and prepares 5 gallons of a cream-based sweet potato soup. His wife created the recipe. He finishes those items by 6 a.m., then he and his family — wife, Gwen; son, Brett; daughter, Lindsey Gilbert; and son-in-law, Jarrod Gilbert — load up a fryer, a small gas stove, tables, a tent and sweet potatoes, among other items, and head to their location.

Frey said he and his family do most of the planting and harvesting by hand, and they cut the sweet potatoes for french fries on site.

In recent years, sweet potatoes have become popular — likely because of their touted nutritional value and versatile flavor profile.

Frey said many people mistake sweet potatoes and yams. If it's grown in York County, it's a sweet potato. Yams, which are native to Africa and Asia, are grown in the sub-tropics. Sweet potatoes grow in 100 to 150 days. Yams require almost a year of frost-free weather and heat.

Allie Hardy, a registered dietitian, said sweet potatoes carry more nutritional value than white potatoes.

One medium sweet potato has 105 calories, 0 grams fat, 24 grams of carbohydrates, 4 grams of fiber and 2 grams of protein. Sweet potatoes have 438 percent of your daily value of vitamin A and 37 percent of your daily value of vitamin C.

Hardy said a medium russet potato has more calories, carbohydrates and protein than a sweet potato. However, it also has more iron, and nearly the same amount of calcium, vitamin C and fiber as a sweet potato.

Sweet potatoes rank lower than white potatoes on the glycemic index — a scale that measures how quickly blood sugar rises after eating a particular food.

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