Packaged salad mixes at the grocery store. What happens to produce on the way to the supermarket matters. Americans are consuming four times as much fresh spinach now as they were four decades ago, and the change was propelled by technology.
The invention: A special bag that makes pre-washed, ready-to-eat spinach last longer. The bags and other post-harvest innovations have boosted sales of specialty crops such as spinach, which are grown on 4% of all cropland but account for one-third of total crop value.
For example, USDA researchers developed a coating called NatureSeal that prevents sliced apples from browning, catapulting sales at McDonald’s, Trader Joe’s and elsewhere. USDA’s critics say big-league commodities like soybeans, along with livestock, gobble up most of the agency’s research funds.
But specialty crop research is growing. Specialty crop block grants made up 5% of the total AMS budget in 2017, compared to 6% in 2018 and 7% in 2019. Many discoveries have also emerged from the private sector. Experts credit Jim Lugg, for example, as the inventor of the modern salad mix. Lugg started his career working at the University of California-Berkley. In 1963, lettuce company Bruce Church Inc. hired Lugg to solve soil […]