How a sweet potato brought joy to a school community

South County

CHARLESTOWN, R.I. (WPRI) – Sweet potatoes are said to have many nutritional properties to strengthen the body, but what about the soul? A discovery of 6.5 pound sweet potato at Earthcare Farm in Charlestown is bringing a smile to many faces in the Meadowbrook Waldorf School community.

The private school in Richmond was devastated in a fire in July of 2018. For the following two school years, the more than 140 students and even more teachers and faculty had to work out of the former South Road School in South Kingstown as a new school was built. Each year, the private school hosts fundraisers, including their signature winter faire, complete with expensive auction items like tropical vacations. 

While 2020 meant the community could return to Meadowbrook and learning in its brand new building, it also meant a lack of fundraising opportunities, due to the pandemic. No holiday faire could be held, but the auction returned. 

And while it’s no tropical vacation, the abnormally large sweet potato was this year’s prized auction item.

Throughout the school year, Jayne Senecal hosts third graders at her farm, Earthcare Farm. Her focus is on compost, but she also grows a variety of herbs like garlic, and vegetables, like sweet potatoes. One rainy day in October, Senecal suggested to the students that instead of planting garlic, as was the plan, they’d instead dig up the root vegetables in a dry greenhouse. 

“It’s just like an Easter egg hunt getting to work them up and see what’s under there. You have no idea how big they’ll be or what’s under there and it was just amazing to uncover that 6.5 pound specimen,” Senecal laughed. She said a typical sweet potato weighs about a pound or less. “This was a fluke!”

A fluke, perhaps. Or, maybe it was a gift from the earth to this community. 

“It sparked a lot of wonder in the children that day,” Senecal remarked. The children were excited about their discovery, but hesitant on trying the vegetable. Senecal chopped up some of the smaller ones harvested and made the students sweet potato fries. That’s when the emails started coming from parents, asking for her recipe. With so much interest, Senecal thought it would be fun to enter the massive sweet potato into the fundraiser auction, hopeful to raise maybe 20 dollars.

Then, another mom who was running the auction, got involved. “She secretly took it aside and pooled a bunch of people. She started a GoFundMe to surprise the school with a really big bid in the last minute. And it ended up being over 100 people who contributed between 5 and 250 dollars, 260 dollars was actually the winner,” said Senecal. 

So far, more than $5,000 has been raised for the day-to-day operations of the new school. All because of the sweetest potato. 

“Everybody needed that right now. Just something silly.”

The winning bidder in the auction is the grandfather of a seventh grade boy seen in photos holding the massive sweet potato. He’s letting the boy decide the vegetable’s fate, but there’s about a month left of its shelf life, so he’ll have to act soon. 

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