On August 28, 1995, I began collecting material for the books, "The Joy of Cooking With Sweet Potatoes." Ironically, I began this project on Mr. Harold H. Hoecker's (I call him "Dad") birthday, he was the founder and Executive Secretary of the Sweet Potato Council of the United States, Inc. He'd been a strong proponent of the Council since it's inception in 1961. After retiring from the University of Maryland as a Marketing Professor, he set out to serve the sweet potato industry. All the members of the Sweet Potato Councils and Commissions of the 12 commercial sweet potato growing states (AL, AR, CA, GA, LA, MS, NC, NJ, SC, TN, TX, VA) he lovingly called "his children." But, after 40 years of dedicated service, he retired.

In 1991, the Center for Science In The Public Interest (CSPI), Washington, DC, a consumer advocacy group, rated the sweet potato as the #1 vegetable in nutrition. Children of all ages need large doses of Vitamin A for healthy eyes, teeth, bones and immunity to disease — such as cancer. Cancer is the #1 cause of death by disease in children. Other children in our world suffer in relentless poverty and misery. They are the helpless victims of malnutrition, disease, war and ignorance whose lives are an endless struggle to survive. A startling fact — an innocent child dies of malnutrition every 2.3 seconds. The International Potato Center (CIP) in Lima, Peru, where 70 scientists from 25 countries research and produce a broad range of potato varieties, view the sweet potato as the answer to the world’s hunger and malnutrition problem.

According to Educational Concerns for Hunger Organization (ECHO), a Christian based organization who fights world hunger through ideas, information and seeds -- sweet potatoes are the world's 7th most important food crop after wheat, rice, corn, potato, barley and cassava. It is grown in more developing countries than any other root crop. There are many advantages to growing sweet potatoes. For example, it's one of the most forgiving crops you'll ever find. During extreme periods of drought, sweet potatoes have been known to survive and can grow in poor tropical soils where fertilizer is not available. They are basically maintenance free from the time they are planted to harvest, except for occasional weeding. In areas where the leaves are also eaten, sweet potatoes produce more nutrients per acre than any other crop under the same growing conditions.

According to the Society of St. Andrew, a non-profit Christian-based hunger relief ministry, one in five children go hungry part of every month. This tradgedy has a direct impact on school performance and mental outlook. Since 1983, the Society of St. Andrew has distributed more than 200 million pounds of potatoes through "The Potato Project." This is made possible by community and church volunteers of any demonination through the Society of St. Andrew, who regularly gleans produce from the fields. Gleaning, a process of gathering food left behind by reapers, has been a custom since the time of Moses.

Continuing with the health benefits of sweet potatoes, folate in sweet potatoes helps reduce homocysteine levels, a chemical capable of destroying the circulatory system and causing heart attacks. Heart disease is the #1 cause of death in humans and claims nearly one million American lives annually. Every 25 seconds someone has a heart attack and every 45 seconds someone dies from one.

After learning of the sweet potatoes high Beta-Carotene content and reputation as a cancer preventative, I decided that a percentage of the proceeds would be donated to a children's cancer foundation. I talked to a couple at church who lost a child to cancer 20 years ago. After considerable research, I chose Candlelighters Childhood Cancer Foundation (CCCF) to dedicate the book to. Every year between 8,000 and 10,000 children are newly diagnosed with cancer. Every year about 1,700 die of the dreaded disease. The Foundation gives personal support to both parents and children with cancer and children are an important focus of this project. A candle looses nothing by lighting another candle -- Ben Franklin.

After learning about Candlelighters, I began a personal campaign to learn more about the subject of childhood cancer. I learned that although the news is devastating, most families rise to the occasion. What I mean is, that it seems it is then that they're spiritual beam shines brighter than ever. They become avid supporters for other families in the same situation, often rendering personal assistance to each other in many ways. What is even more amazing, is those individuals who loose their own children to cancer often go right on helping others in the same situation, cheering for them when they're at a high and consoling them when they're at a low. These people are truly our "earth's angels."

Needless to say this project has been an incredible journey. I've had the pleasure of dealing with many wonderful people and organizations from around the world who have kindly submitted recipes and other interesting material. Although the book consists of information primarily from the Sweet Potato Councils and Commissions of the 12 commercial sweet potato growing states, it also includes recipes and information from around the world (every country possible), presenting a global view of the subject.

Well, it's taken me a while to do the necessary research, desk top publishing and graphics design, but the project is finally nearing the proofreading and editing stage. I hope to have this book completed sometime in the near future (before I die). That would be WONDERFUL! In the meantime, join the Spud Club and I will add to to the list to notify you when the book is published. Until then ...

Sweet Potato Blessings,

Pamela S. Weston
The Joy of Cooking With Sweet Potatoes