Popcorn among Virginia’s more unusual crops

newspaperHarvest activities are escalating, and along with the traditional corn, soybeans, peanuts and cotton, a few Virginia farmers are bringing in slightly more unusual crops.

Apricots are grown on 12 Virginia farms, figs are sold from 27, kiwis are raised on 32 and persimmons are grown on 29. And, according to the U.S. Census of Agriculture, popcorn is raised on four Virginia farms.

Only 4,500 pounds of the nation’s 861 million pounds of popcorn are raised in Virginia, but one grower says it’s not difficult to grow. William Hale of All-Farm Organics has produced organic popcorn for years and said that, other than fighting raccoons for his crop, his biggest challenge is preventing cross-pollination from nearby sweet corn or other corn crops. He keeps his popcorn patch sequestered from other cornfields with distance and a buffer zone of trees.

Popcorn and corn in general are descendants of American maize, which developed about 7,000 years ago. Popcorn originated in Central America, Hale said.

“What makes it unique is that it has a highly elastic, very strong seed coating, which, when it has the proper moisture inside the seed and heat is applied, will expand to a great pressure before it finally releases. That causes the popping.”

Hale raises about 5 acres of popcorn a year and sells it locally or by mail order. It’s one of several specialty crops he raises, but he said the popcorn is the one that puts a smile on people’s faces.

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