The annual event, which takes its name from the sweet potatoes grown in surrounding fields, draws state and national attention and is billed as one of the nicer small festivals in the country.
“It’s all about sweet potatoes and Vardaman,” said Kim Kendall, owner of Timberville, a clothing store in downtown Vardaman. “As you can see the streets are packed and the store is packed. We love it.”
Maxine Blue, co-chairman of the Sweet Potato Festival with her husband Jim, said the weather was perfect and they had a wide variety of booths at this year’s festival.
“I think this was the largest one we have had in several years as far as people on the streets,” said Blue. “I know the crowd was larger than last year.”
Kendall said her store uses the Sweet Potato Festival to get a jump on the holiday buying season.
“If we have good sales at the Sweet Potato Festival we usually have a good fall,” said Kendall. “It’s right after Halloween and we promote people going ahead and getting started on their Christmas shopping.”
And Saturday’s crowds looked to be in a buying mood.
“Things went very well and there were no major problems,” said Blue. “People were buying from the booths, the food is always good, we had top-notch entertainment and we sold boxes and boxes of sweet potatoes.”
Vardaman has a population of about 2,600. Blue estimated the crowd at between 12,000 and 14,000, but admitted she could have missed somebody.
“People come back home to Vardaman every year to be part of this,” said Blue. “We start working on this in August and we couldn’t do it without the volunteers. This truly is a community event and that is part of the reason it is so successful.”
Blue said the event is also a giant fundraiser for local churches, organizations and schools.
“The fire department always lets someone cook the barbecue chicken and this year it was the booster club from the school,” said Blue. “The Sweet Potato Festival does a lot to help a lot of people in this community.”
Car tags could be seen from as far away as Harrison and DeSoto counties on the cars parked bumper to bumper on U.S. Highway 8. Tags from Georgia, Tennessee, Texas and North Carolina were also spotted.
The Sweet Potato Festival continues this week with beauty pageants for different age groups. The event wraps up Saturday with the Sweet Potato Festival Banquet at Vardaman Gym.
For information about the Vardaman Sweet Potato Festival, call 662-682-7559.