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Cabbage still in season in Virginia

cabbageCabbage was once a mainstay of Carroll County farmers. Local growers say 25 years ago 5 percent of the nation’s cabbage supply came from this mountainous region. Today, 78 percent of the nation’s cabbage is grown in five other states, but some Carroll County growers still make a profit harvesting it each year through the end of November.

“I think the soil and the climate here is perfect for cabbage production,” said Dale Akers, a Carroll County cabbage producer. “I try to grow a variety that has a good, sweet, mild flavor and will be clean on the inside, because that’s what the customer wants.”

High elevations, good soil and cool nights make Carroll County ideal for cabbage growing. The county’s cabbage is shipped to buyers throughout Southwest Virginia, as well as some grocery chains as far south as Florida. Growers like J.C. Banks of Snake Creek Farm have to follow rigorous food safety standards in addition to hiring migrant laborers to harvest their crop.

“There’s a whole lot that goes on before you ever see the cabbage in the store,” noted Akers. “From the greenhouses, through the process of planting, through the process of growing, through the harvest; food safety has become a major player in our market.” His farm is certified under the Global Food Safety Initiative, which assures wholesale buyers that his product is safe.

Wholesale prices for cabbage declined in recent decades because consumers prefer other vegetables. In 1960 cabbage was grown on 3,400 acres in Virginia, bringing more than $1 million in sales. In 2016 cabbage acreage had declined to 490 acres statewide. But grocery stores are now buying as much fresh produce as they can, including cabbage. And that’s helped keep the crop profitable for some Carroll County growers.

“Machinery in our terrain in the mountains does not work like it does in other flatter terrain,” Akers said. “So it’s hand-harvested one head at a time by knife, placed on the trailers and then boxed in the containers. We do benefit from this; we don’t have the mechanical damage from a machine harvester and we have two points of contact where people are actually grading the products” before they’re packed for shipping, he said.

         
 
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