LENOIR COUNTY - Stevia is a growing trend in the U.S. letting us satisfy our sweet tooth without the calories. A team at Creswell Research Farm in Kinston, with the support North Carolina State University and Sweet Green Fields, is hoping the plant could have a home here in Eastern North Carolina.
"We didn't have an idea at all about how well it would do, but we're pleased that it seems to grow well and yielded pretty well. It's a possibility it may work," said Phillip Winslow, Research Superintendent.
The half acre test bed is a chance to see if the four-foot high plant can grow in our climate. The FDA ruled in 2009 that stevia is "Generally Recognized as Safe" when used as a sugar substitute. What we taste is extracted from the leaf and can be up to 15 times sweeter than table sugar. If the research crop is a success, farmers here will be able to grow it and cash in.
"The hope is they can start growing this crop, make it economically feasible to do it and not have any up front equipment cost," said researcher, Chris Jernigan.
"Basically, you would plant it one time and you could get two to three years worth of returns on it," said Evan Taylor, Organic Research Specialist.
Now, the goal is to see if stevia can survive with all the challenges Eastern North Carolina has to offer.
TORI TIDBIT: Stevia is used in beverages like Vitamin Water and SoBe Life Water.