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SPINACH CULTURE

SPINACH CULTURE. Spinach is a relative newcomer to Texas crops. Its beginning in Texas was a result of its recognized value as a cheap source of vitamins and minerals for the human diet. Spinach is a cool-season crop planted in early spring or late fall, and is ready for harvesting six to eight weeks after planting. It is often possible to get two or three harvests_from a single planting. Spinach production has been primarily concentrated in the Winter Garden area of South Texas. Abundant labor during the winter months is essential to the production and processing of the spinach crop. Although most of the fresh cut spinach is done by hand, all of the spinach for canning and freezing is harvested by mechanical harvesters. A good portion of the spinach grown for processing has moved to the High Plains in recent years. By the 1990s 2,000 acres were planted in Parmer, Lubbock, and Gaines counties. This fits in well with the migratory labor of South Texas, which works in the vegetable fields in the winter and in the cotton and sugar fields during the summer months.

The area surrounding Austin produced a majority of the commercial spinach in the state from 1910 to 1920. During the winter of 1917–18 four acres near Crystal City in Zavala County produced three cars of spinach for shipment. The experiment was so successful that 100 acres were planted in 1918–19. Acreage increased each year; in 1926–27 about 5,000 acres were planted. The ten year average of spinach planted in the United States from 1936 to 1946 was 70,000 acres, 40,000 of which were in Texas. Texas was producing 80 percent of the nation's spinach by 1948, when the fresh market crop sold for $4,140,000. The 1949 crop was estimated at 3,300,000 bushels from 30,000,000 acres. During the 1950s spinach became an important item in the state's processing industries. A considerable portion of the crop was canned or frozen. One of the largest spinach canneries in the world located at Crystal City in 1951, and there is a freezing plant processing spinach currently in Uvalde. At least 90 percent of the state's annual crop during this time period was shipped out of state. The fresh green crop became popular in the northern states and Canada as a salad vegetable before refrigerated rail made available high quality lettuce.

Texas was the leading spinach-producing state during the 1950s. In 1954 more than 16,000 acres yielded 2,062,000 bushels valued at $3,608,000. In 1959 155 Texas farmers reported growing spinach. The value of Texas's spinach crop ranged from $3,000,000 to $5,000,000 annually during the 1950s. The leading spinach-growing counties in Texas in the 1950s were Zavala, Maverick, Uvalde, and San Patricio. By 1966 the value and car-lot shipments had dropped slightly. In 1968, when crop acreage was reduced due to Hurricane Beulah, the value of the spinach crop was $2,665,000 from 4,500 acres; this compared with $2,304,000 from 6,000 acres in 1967. In 1970 5,800 acres of spinach were harvested with a value of $2,065,000. By the 1980s the varieties of spinach being grown in the state included Early Hybrid 7, Dixie Savoy, and Bloomsdale. In 1982 and 1983 Texas ranked first among states in harvested acreage of spinach. In 1984 4,300 acres were harvested with a value of $14,519,000. By the late 1980s the spinach production in the state continued to be concentrated in the Winter Garden area of South Texas. Crystal City in Zavala County, known as the "Spinach Capital," erected a statue of the cartoon character Popeye in 1937.

E. Mortensen

Citation

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

E. Mortensen, "SPINACH CULTURE," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/afs01), accessed April 25, 2014. Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.