The Eastern Panhandle region of West Virginia is the fastest growing area in the state and is adjacent to large, diverse populations like Washington, D.C. and Baltimore. To meet the emerging demand for fresh produce from regional wholesale markets like hospitals, school districts and other institutional buyers, Lewis Jett of West Virginia University conducted a Northeast SARE Partnership Grant project to evaluate the feasibility of year-round leafy green production.
During the two-year project, 90 varieties of bibb, romaine and crisphead lettuces and 20 varieties of spinach were evaluated for marketable yield, quality, color and stress tolerance. To provide better control over growing conditions (especially given the challenges of field production in an erratic climate observed in the Mid-Atlantic region during spring through fall), all trials were conducted in unheated high tunnels located at the university research center as well as on two collaborating farms.
As a result of the trials, Lewis and the team identified cultivars that work best for year-round production of lettuce and fall-spring production of spinach. Fact sheets were created that include best management practices for Mid-Atlantic production of lettuce and spinach, including cultivar selection, row cover management, economics and pest management.
The project also established connections with institutional markets, namely a local Veterans’ Administration Hospital and WV's Hardy County School District. By working closely with institutional buyers, the team learned that sequential lettuce plantings (every 3 to 4 weeks) are key to meeting the ongoing needs of these markets. Lewis and the team plan to use lessons learned from the project to improve the efficiency of leafy green production and expand this model to additional growers and institutional buyers throughout West Virginia.
Want more information? See the related SARE grant ONE16-264, Developing farm-to-institution grower capacity for leafy green vegetables in the Eastern Panhandle Region of West Virginia