Jurassic Park is JUST like farming.
As a little girl, I had a very favorite spot for my archaeological digs. Underneath an oak tree on the side of the house, not too far away from the parsley bushes, I would unwrap my tools. Watercolor brushes, travel-size shampoo bottles filled with water, and a stick, carefully selected from all the others for its fine point and solid grip.
I would pick a spot and begin to dig. Tentatively at first, loathe to disrupt a stegosaurous spine or the skull of a T. Rex. If nothing showed itself right away, I would jab away a bit more aggressively, until a ping or a clank notified me of my newest discovery of flawless Sumerian pottery. Then I would proceed carefully, slowly revealing my treasures bit by bit.
Digging sweet potatoes is exactly like this, just swap the stick for a shovel.
The same effervescent excitement fizzles in your stomach as you first break into the ground, hopeful of the gems you'll find. You know where to dig roughly, but those little wankers can surprise you and end up nearly 5 feet away in the aisle. Unlike digging irish potatoes, sweet potatoes are much larger and prone to stretching farther from the spot they were planted. The wet crunch of accidentally driving a spade or fork into those perfect little sunset-colored beauties never fails to make my heart sink.
And while we don't use watercolor brushes to gently scrape away at the sweet potatoes, a certain level of finesse is required. My mother was the lucky one to discover a giant tater holding court just under the surface, but it was quite enormous and held fast in the ground by our gumbo clay soil, so it took lots of coaxing to get it out without splitting its gorgeous shape.
Occasionally, one will happen upon the breed of sweet potato I've come to call “Monster Organs.”
They look just like that, monster organs. All sweet potatoes have a bit of the biological about them, often looking like something that might be needed in a surgical transplant, but some...well, some look like they belong in a magic brew, dropped into a bubbling cauldron by someone warty and bad-smelling.
At the last farm I worked on in North Carolina, we dug one of these eerily biomorphic sweet potatoes. It was the spitting image of a human heart, only four times the size, and came fully equipped with root tendrils as valves and ventricles. The farmer insisted no one eat it. It would have been perfectly fine nutritionally and flavor-wise, but he felt that it had a otherworldly vibe that should be given straight back to the earth.
So we buried it in the woods.
Luckily, Moon Dog Farms' first sweet potato harvest didn't yield any over-sized heart potatoes, although we did get several giants. They'll be tasty baked into pies, roasted, and sliced into fries. And I'll look forward to another thrilling brush with archaeology next year, and who knows?
Maybe we'll find monster organs and evidence of ancient civilizations.