Virginia-grown spinach soon will be sprouting

Published 8:21 am Friday, April 15, 2022

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As warm spring weather arrives in Virginia, so too does locally grown spinach.

A hardy cold crop, Virginia spinach is planted in mid-to-late winter and harvested in April and May alongside other leafy greens.

“Spinach is attractive because it’s a cool-season crop, and growers are often looking for those early spring crops that they can grow and harvest pretty quickly,” said Chris Mullins, a Virginia Cooperative Extension horticulture specialist.

Mullins also noted spinach is popular among consumers for its nutrient density, and is a rich source of vitamins A, C and K, fiber, folic acid, iron and potassium.

According to data from the 2017 Census of Agriculture, 181 Virginia farms grew spinach on 33 acres. Each number is a drastic uptick from statistics gathered for the 2012 Census of Agriculture, which reported 34 farms were growing 11 acres.

Additional statistics from 2017 revealed 97% of farmers raised the crop in small volumes, and 82% grew spinach for fresh-market sales. It’s grown in 51 Virginia counties, with Augusta, Culpeper and Floyd leading the way.

“Spinach is well-suited for production on small farms, given the tremendous opportunities for direct-market sales,” said Tony Banks, senior assistant director of agriculture, development and innovation for Virginia Farm Bureau Federation. “It grows well in Virginia in both spring and fall, and counties with a strong presence in vegetable production, or those in close proximity to direct-marketing outlets, are seeing their markets expand.”

Cliff Slade, who raises herbs, sweet potatoes and a wide variety of greens at Slade Farms in Surry County, has grown spinach for over 20 years. While the crop isn’t a huge business driver for his operation, he noted it allows him to diversify sales at his farm stand and at farmers markets.

Slade said he enjoys growing spinach because of its ability to withstand late frosts — a hallmark of Virginia’s unpredictable spring climate — and its resistance to pests. And, in addition to being relatively easy to grow, he said the crop is a solid seller among buyers.

“The main thing customers love is that it’s tender and doesn’t take long to prepare,” Slade said. “If you get a pot of boiling water, in a few minutes you’re eating spinach. There aren’t many other leafy green crops you can do that with.”