File // Staff

Nine-year-old Mary Grace Wingard said collard greens should be South Carolina’s state vegetable because “they are very tasty and have lots of nutrients.”

COLUMBIA -- Collard greens are a step away from being South Carolina's official vegetable, thanks to a 9-year-old who missed field day at her school Thursday to lobby legislators.

The South Carolina House voted 86-14 to elevate the status of the green, leafy vegetable, a Southern staple often considered "soul food" and flavored with fatback.

The House decided to allow an automatic third reading today that will send the measure to the governor's desk.

After the vote, representatives recognized Lexington third-grader Mary Grace Wingard with applause.

"It was really exciting for me," she said afterward, beaming.

The measure started with Mary Grace's letter to Sen. Jake Knotts, saying she was inspired by a class field trip to the Statehouse in March, when she took Gov. Nikki Haley's often-used "get excited" phrase to heart.

Knotts, R-West Columbia, introduced her proposal April 14, and it quickly moved ahead.

"The governor told us to get excited and get involved in government, so I decided I would," Mary Grace said.

She thought of collards, she said, because "I really, really like them. They are very tasty and have lots of nutrients."

She summed up her research in a second letter to legislators, showing, for instance, that the U.S. Department of Agriculture ranks South Carolina second nationwide in collard production.

"The third-graders at my school (Rocky Creek Elementary) have studied South Carolina history this year, which includes how laws are made. They are watching to see how my bill moves through the Statehouse," she wrote.

She included her phone number at the end for questions and noted, "I get home from school about 3:00."