The Georgia Sweet Potato Improvement Association was formally organized in 1960 as the official body to promote and act for the Georgia sweet potato growers. The following officers and directors were elected to guide the new organization: President Harry Lutz, Vice-President J. W. Aultman, Treasurer Eugene Adams, Secretary S. A. Harmon.
The first board of directors was Eugene Adams, Norman Park; Harry Lutz, Leesburg; J. W. Aultman, Macon; Claude Martin, Gainesville; W. C. Cornwall, Americus; J. T. Mayfield, Cairo; J. R. Kelly, Statesboro; Gibbs Patrick, Omega; J. E. Leger, Ocilla; and A. A. Childs, Chula.
Some of the first major acts of the board was to initiate plans for a Georgia Sweet Potato Festival and one of the first problems was a place to have it. Members of the association from Irwin County volunteered to host the first festival in Ocilla.
Many Irwin County citizens enthusiastically worked with the association officials to launch the first festival. Among them were J. E. Leger, County Agent Ed Brannen, Home Demonstration Agent Mrs. Nadine Winn, the late Dr. R. E. Rutherford, A. A. Childs, County School Superintendent K. N. Phillips and Principal Charlie Gibson.
Ginger Gail LandThe efforts of these and many others staged the first festival in Ocilla on November 21, 1961. The major address was by Agriculture Commissioner Phil Campbell. Ginger Gail Land was selected the first Sweet Potato Princess. One of the most popular parts of the festival was the cooking competition and display of dishes from favorite sweet potato recipes. The winning recipes were published and widely distributed.
Dr. Si Harmon, former Horticulturist with the Coastal Plains Experiment Station in Tifton, Georgia, in charge of Sweet Potato Research, has been a strong supporter of every sweet potato festival. Dr. Si’s development of new varieties and promotion of sweet potatoes has added to the success of this event. Everyone loves his sweet potato chips.
So successful was the festival and so gracious and efficient was Irwin County as a host that Ocilla was selected as the permanent home of the Georgia Sweet Potato Festival. In the beginning the Ocilla-Irwin County Chamber of Commerce became the responsible sponsor to assist the Georgia Sweet Potato Improvement Association and the Georgia Sweet Potato Commodity Commission.
The Annual Sweet Potato Festival is presently held on the last Saturday in October of each year. Many individuals and firms have worked to make these festivals successful. The fame of the festival has spread and demand for the recipes of the delicious sweet potato dishes has increased over the years.