Merced has a bountiful crop of sweet potatoes

Merced Sun-StarNovember 9, 2010 

Sweet potatoes may bring to mind Thanksgiving or the deep South to most people, but in fact, Merced County is the No. 1 producer of the popular potatoes in the country.

At A.V. Thomas Produce in Atwater, the tubular vegetable reigns king. Workers in the giant packing shed clean, sort and pack potatoes for shipment all over the world.

Every kind of sweet potato -- from light-skinned potatoes almost indistinguishable from russet potatoes, to dark ruby reds -- is packed into boxes labeled Jumbo Garnets, California Sweets or Royal Flush Reds.

The company got its start in 1960, when Azores native Antonio Vieira Tomas started farming 10 acres of the potatoes. He built a tiny packing shed in downtown Livingston, and the produce company never looked back.

Although Tomas grew all kinds of vegetables, his nephew, Manuel E. Vieira, changed to only sweet potatoes when he bought the company from his uncle in 1977.

Atwater and Livingston boast ideal ground for growing sweet potatoes -- light and sandy.

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