Do you know where your spinach comes from?

A recent trip south of the border found your valiant writer near Crystal City, Texas – the self-proclaimed Spinach Capital of the World.

A recent trip south of the border found your valiant writer near Crystal City, Texas – the self-proclaimed Spinach Capital of the World. As expected a large figure of Popeye the sailor man was on prominent display to boost the town’s claim to fame. Some of you with long memories will recall that Popeye was a long ago cartoon figure whose super powers were triggered whenever he ate a can of spinach. Curiously, he sometimes consumed it straight through his pipe. One laments how much simpler those past times were for cartoon super heroes. Nowadays your average super hero has to achieve his powers through mutant genetic engineering or being struck by a laser beam. Just eating spinach seems so much simpler to acquiring a super power and its nutritious, too. Incredibly, upon further research, I found there is another town claiming to be the Spinach Capital of the World that being Alma, Arkansas which also has a prominent figure of Popeye making that proclamation. How can this be – two spinach capitals of the world? We should be so lucky – well, there is more to the story.

It seems both spinach capitals have large spinach canning plants in their towns. And depending on the year one or the other may produce more cans of spinach. So, in a way they are both right but in actuality both are wrong as most spinach in the world is grown in China and California. The spinach grown in the two capitals is all canned so they are actually the canned spinach capitals of the world. That caused me to wonder does anyone nowadays actually buy canned spinach – a trip to local large grocery chain found a measly half a dozen cans on sale – not exactly a big seller. Perhaps Americans are more favourable towards eating canned spinach than Canadians as both US spinach capitals claim millions of cans are processed and sold each year. It does appear to be an industry in decline as it is with most canned vegetables in favour of fresh and frozen production and consumption. In fact, fresh spinach marketing is skyrocketing due to consumer fascination with the health benefits of spinach salad – most of it in pre-packaged and ready to eat bags.

California is the centre of spinach growing for the fresh market on an industrial scale. It’s grown elsewhere like New Jersey and Michigan, but only on a seasonal basis. As with most vegetable production, California is king of the hill with over 75 per cent of US production. Canadian spinach production is miniscule with only some localized seasonal production and a commercial greenhouse in Ontario supplying small niche markets. In fact, Canada imports a whopping 47 million pounds of fresh spinach each year from California – that’s 1.4 pounds of spinach for each Canadian. Imports of canned spinach is hard to determine, but I expect it ranks with imports of canned kale. Some canned spinach is imported from China, which has health concerns.

Harvesting of spinach is curiously both highly mechanized and labour intensive depending on the way it is marketed. Intricate spinach-specific harvesting equipment has been created that cut and process spinach by the ton per minute, almost all of it for the ready to eat bag market. On the other hand, fresh unbagged spinach is gathered by hand into bunches – that’s hard stoop labour – yet the price difference between the two methods is not all that different – go figure. After harvest, spinach usually regrows and yields between seven to 12 tons per acre per year, that’s a lot of spinach. Spinach is sensitive to sunshine and can bolt if it gets too much – however plant scientists have developed plants that are less prone to bolting and can grow almost year-around in places like California. That type of production efficiency makes it difficult for other spinach growing areas to compete. Besides, California is near cheap labour to harvest the fresh bunched sector of the market.

There is a worrisome side to spinach production; the fresh product has been implicated in some breakouts of E.coli food poisoning and even botulism. Part of that seems to have to do with the nature of the plant – large flat leaves growing close to the ground that are more prone to pick up the bacteria. Also, it’s been alleged that pathogens may have been brought in through hand harvesting. It would seem that vigorous washing of all spinach is a wise food safety step. Now you know a bit about the fascinating world of spinach production.

Just Posted

Erskine and area residents help couple who lost their home and belongings to a fire

Erskine Post Office accepting donations until end of January

MP Sorenson: New Year, New Beginning?

Economic outlook not so bright in coming months

Stettler Library has lots programs for public

Memberships are free for county and town residents

MLA: You don’t vote for the tail

Bureaucracy overtakes elected representatives

WATCH: World-renowned illusionist, magician, escapist performs in Stettler

Matt Johnson performs two sold-out shows at Stettler Performing Arts Centre

Edmonton Police advise delays expected for Tuesday pro pipeline convoy

A pro-pipeline truck convoy is expected Tuesday morning on the Anthony Henday in Edmonton

Jason Kenney disputes expense allegations while MP

Questions over his residential expense claims from his time as a cabinet minister in Ottawa

Anti-pipeline group wants NEB to consider impact of emissions, climate change

Stand.earth filed NEB motion asking to apply same standard to the project as it did with Energy East pipeline

Teen in confrontation with Native American: I didn’t provoke

Nick Sandmann of Covington Catholic High School said he was trying to defuse the situation

Kamala Harris opens U.S. presidential bid in challenge to Trump

The 54-year old portrayed herself as a fighter for justice, decency and equality in a video distributed by her campaign

Woman offers luxury Alberta home for just $25 and a flair for the written word

Alla Wagner ran into health problems, which forced her to list the 5,000-square-foot estate at market value

46% of Canadians $200 or less away from financial insolvency: poll

45% cent of those surveyed say they will need to go further into debt to pay their living and family expenses

Most Read