Elementary school students from Sacred Heart Catholic School recently toured the Institute for Advanced Learning and Research with their families to learn more about the purple sweet potato research being facilitated by Senior Scientist Kedong Da, PhD.  The tour was scheduled due to first grade student Graysen Crumpton’s interest in sweet potatoes as a result of growing them at her home this summer.

When asked what she learned at the Institute, Graysen Crumpton replied, “I learned that there are over one hundred varieties of sweet potatoes. I also learned that sweet potatoes are different colors on the inside and outside.”

In 2016, the Institute field tested eight varieties of sweet potatoes including four purple sweet potatoes.  Purple sweet potatoes have the potential to be a new cash crop for growers in Southern Virginia due to their uniqueness in the region and increased nutritional value.  As a result of the field tests, Dr. Da identified two varieties of purple sweet potatoes that produced higher yields without pesticides or fertilizers.  These two varieties will be field tested with more growers in 2017.

“I love that scientists work together to solve problems,” said third grade student Gavin Maxey.

The students’ tour was complete with safety glasses, a project briefing, and tours of Dr. Da’s lab and greenhouse.  The students also got their hands dirty as they harvested a purple sweet potato plant.

“The visit to the Institute was fun because I learned a lot,” said Liza Maxey, a first grade student.

The Institute welcomes any opportunity to share the status and results of over 30 active research projects throughout Southern Virginia and the Commonwealth in the areas of plant science, precision agriculture, polymers, and chemistry.  The Institute is open Monday through Friday, from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.  Tours can be scheduled by calling 434-766-6700.

“This past summer Graysen grew string beans and orange sweet potatoes. Now, she wants to add purple sweet potatoes, white pumpkin sweet potatoes, cucumbers, and ornamental grass next year. We have an inspired grower,” said Graysen’s mother Dana Mehalko.

Photo 1:  Guests from Sacred Heart Catholic School tour Dr. Da’s lab and he shows them a purple sweet potato plant.

Photo 2:  Dr. Da assists kindergarten student Koy McGee and first grade student Graysen Crumpton (left to right) in harvesting a purple sweet potato plant grown in the Institute’s greenhouse.

Photo 3:  Dr. Da shows Gavin Maxey, Liza Maxey, Koy McGee, and Graysen Crumpton (left to right) one of eight varieties of sweet potatoes the Institute field tested in 2016.

 Photo 4:  The Institute field tested eight varieties of sweet potatoes with regional growers in 2016.