Our latest adventure has taken us almost all the way across the state, and much of the fun in so long a drive is that we get to see so many places on the way. So, our first stop was in Vardaman, surely one of the most delicious stops in the state. We'd visited in 2010, because we just had to see “The Sweet Potato Capital of the World.” (See Vardaman article from 2010)
We went to Sweet Potato Sweets that first trip, a delightful little bakery/store on Highway 8 (AKA 117 E. Sweet Potato Avenue). Three women married to sweet potato farmers opened it in 1996 to use/market this versatile veggie. What a good idea that was! Two of the wives still own the store and their husbands provide the sweet potatoes. You just can't shop more "local" than that. It serves/makes sweet potato everything...and by everything, we mean everything. There are sweet potato pies, pound cakes, layer cakes, bread, muffins, cookies of all types, fudge, candy, cheese straws, sausage balls, jam, butter, marmalade, quiche – the list goes on and on. These women know their sweet potatoes. We graciously tasted several of these items for you (bonbons, yum yums, bread, jam, and fudge), just so we could give an honest assessment. So far we haven't stumbled upon anything we wouldn't jump for joy at having again. You are welcome...really...we were happy to do it.
It occurred to us after we left Vardaman the last time that we had overlooked one of the main reasons we visit these Mississippi towns: actually seeing the town. This is somewhat embarrassing, given that “town” is located pretty much next door to Sweet Potato Sweets. Seriously, from the store, you pull right onto the highway and take the first or second street on your right and – Voila! There it is.
Like so many small Mississippi towns, there are a lot of empty storefronts in Vardaman, something that saddens us more with every town we visit. However, we are happy to report that "Vardamanians" appear to be on top of this. We were impressed with the good things about downtown Vardaman. And one of those good things was that they not only have murals – like so many cool Mississippi towns – but that they have the only sweet potato murals we have ever seen. Given that murals generally celebrate something special or unique about a town, that's not surprising, but we love how they pictured what is important to them. And sweet potatoes are really really important to Vardaman, so much so that we are giving serious consideration to checking out their Sweet Potato Festival in November.
The street running through the strip of downtown stores and businesses is actually a boulevard – medians planted with lines of identical trees bisect the road, and that's always an attractive look. At the highway end of town is a small park-like area that obviously serves some social function – there's a small stage area, benches, tables, etc. But here's the part we love the most: the majority of the nice things we saw were paid for by individuals for the benefit of all. While it would be wonderful if city leaders could simply wave a wand for such things, this seems like a fine alternative.
We particularly loved the street lamps that had "Donated by..." plaques on them, but benches and other things did as well.
The buildings that have been renovated have been done really well! We were particularly taken by Front Porch. We have no idea what it is/was. A venue for receptions, maybe? It is completely empty, but beautiful inside and, obviously, beautiful outside.
And, another beautiful mystery storefront!
Then there's the tee shirt store. We can't tell you how disappointed we were that it was closed (for vacation) as it looked like a fun place to browse. Marian especially loved the farm implements and things stacked on the walkway out front - a taste of old Mississippi if ever there was one, and a testament to the honesty of local citizens. We both grew up knowing these old-timey implements with varying degrees of intimacy, but Marian seems to remember them far more fondly than I do, so it gives her great joy!
We left Vardaman with happy hearts at what a town of only about 1,000 people can accomplish. And we want to note that, although we didn't have time to scour Calhoun City again, as we drove through we noticed that they have the same sort of street lights and that they, too, appear to be provided by locals. Good for them, too!