Developing farm-to-institution grower capacity for leafy green vegetables in the Eastern Panhandle Region of West Virginia
In fall, 2016, we initiated the evaluation of leafy greens for the SARE farm-to-institution partnership grant. The WVU Kearneysville Research Farm high tunnel structure was rebuilt from winter snow damage during the summer by Dr. Jett and the Farm Crew at the Station. By mid-September the structure was ready to plant with lettuce and spinach cultivars. We began the evaluation of lettuces for fall production followed by a sequential planting of late fall lettuce for deep winter (mid-January) evaluation. The two farmer collaborators (David Elliott and Elwood Williams) planted 25 cultivars of lettuce and 12 varieties of spinach. Dr. Jett initiated discussions with the VA Medical Center in Martinsburg, WV. Procurement processing was performed with each of the collaborators. Postharvest handling and food safety protocols were established.
Beginning in mid-November, lettuce was harvested and transported to the VA facility. Yield and quality of each cultivar was evaluated. In addition, planting arrangement for head lettuce is being evaluated. In mid-October and December, two field days were conducted at the WVU Kearneysville Farm. Attendance was approximately 30 (14 growers of bibbs; 16 growers of romaine) which included the two cooperating growers. Dr. Jett and the collaborators discussed the goals of the project with attendees. Each variety was discussed along with attributes or weaknesses. High tunnel four season leafy green production was discussed and demonstrations on how lettuce is harvested and washed for market. The potential advantages of selling to institutions such as hospitals was discussed.
The objective of this project are: 1) identify superior cultivars (varieties) of head lettuce and spinach for the fall/winter season; 2) Evaluate sequential planting of lettuce and spinach within the high tunnel during the fall/winter season; 3) establish a relationship with the culinary and nutrition staff at he VA Hospital; 4) train 2 cooperating growers on winter leafy green production and postharvest handling for institution markets.
After 6 months, the results of this partnership project have been showcased to new and existing growers in the Eastern Panhandle region of West Virginia. Attendees at field day events had the opportunity to see successful winter leafy green production A partnership with the VA Hospital has been established. Feedback from culinary staff and patients at the hospital reveal very positive opinions about the quality of the leafy greens. In addition to yield and quality, we are receiving feedback on the taste and texture of the lettuces in order to select the most suitable varieties for season and production system.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
The two cooperating growers on this partnership project are acquiring skills related to winter vegetable production. In addition, a new market outlet has been identified for this group. In 2017, we will do a farm-to-school delivery.
Staff and patients at the VA Medical Center have expressed only positive feedback on the quality and flavor of the winter leafy greens. Data of yield, quality and input costs are being compiled. Sequential planting of lettuce will continue throughout 2017 and will include low tunnel lettuce and spinach production.
504 Clement St
Moorefield, WV 26836
Office Phone: 304-257-7236
Hedgesville, WV 25427
Office Phone: 304-754-6592