Fresh, organic spinach is by far the most popular item we sell, and for good reason. With a tender bite and mild flavor, spinach is super versatile, delicious fresh or cooked, and loaded with nutrients and antioxidants (no wonder Popeye was obsessed).

Scientifically, spinach belongs to the amaranth family and is related to beets and quinoa! Although spinach originated in Persia, it’s now produced mostly in the US and China—our farmers primarily grow spinach in the Salinas Valley, California, although in the winter, they also farm in the Yuma, Arizona, region.

Like most of our favorite foods today, we tend to just buy our organic spinach year-round in the grocery store. Packaged spinach has made eating healthy that much more convenient, but we sometimes forget all that goes into getting it from the fields to our favorite grocery store. In an effort to bring you that much closer to your favorite greens, we want to share the process behind harvesting our organic spinach.

Harvesting Organic Spinach, the Old-Fashioned Way Through Today

In the early days of Earthbound Farm, our organic spinach was hand-harvested using a knife—if you grow spinach at home, this is probably how you still do it! As Earthbound grew, however, we changed tools, trading out the knife for a scythe with a basket attached to the backside of the blade, which would catch the harvested leaves. Although this was more efficient, it still made for a fairly slow, labor-intensive process.

As demand for organic spinach has risen, we’ve changed methods yet again. About 20 years ago, we started using a big piece of farm equipment called a Baby Greens Harvester. It was invented by one of our farmers, based on equipment used in Europe. This harvester cuts baby greens with a large bandsaw that’s continuously sanitized. We plant our spinach (and other baby greens) on 80-inch, laser-leveled beds so that the Harvester can essentially mow the greens, cutting them free fairly close to the ground. As you can see from these photos, the harvester still requires a human crew to operate it, as well as people to walk ahead of the machine and identify any foreign material (such as weeds, sticks, or stones) or spots to avoid. If they notice an area we’d like to avoid, then the Harvester operator raises the blade and simply skips over the area in question.

Deciding When to Harvest

Prior to deciding to harvest, our harvest managers head into our fields to evaluate for quality and readiness. Organic spinach has a relatively short growing season, and from seed to harvest is ready in anywhere from 21 to 45 days, depending on the season and the weather. On occasion, say after a cold snap, we might have to harvest a little earlier than we’d like and end up with a few cotyledons in the spinach. Cotyledons are those blade-like “leaves” you sometimes find in your organic spinach. Most people think that they’re some kind of grass, but they are really the first leaf that the spinach seed sends out!

When it’s time to harvest in the summer months, when temperatures in the Salinas Valley can exceed 70-degrees in the afternoon, we start harvesting before sunrise—depending how much organic spinach we’re harvesting that day, we might begin as early as 2 a.m.! When it’s hot, we want to be done harvesting by 10 a.m., for the sake of our team and the quality of our spinach.

Once the Leaves Are Cut

Once the greens are cut, they’re carried up a belt that helps eliminate any foreign material, such as rocks or big clumps of dirt. The greens are moved to totes, which are then transferred to a flatbed that travels alongside the harvester. When the flatbed truck is full, the organic spinach is moved to a refrigerated trailer waiting in the field—this helps maintain quality control until the trailer can be moved to our larger, warehouse cooler.

The real quality evaluation, as well as the washing of our organic spinach, takes place in our larger facility, which is cooled to 34°F. Once we feel confident that we’ve harvested only the highest quality, fresh organic spinach, then we triple-wash it, dry it, package it and send it to grocery stores nationwide.

Read more: Why we chose the plastic packaging we did.

Once the Spinach Gets to You

Our tender young spinach leaves are great raw, and plenty of people enjoy them naked on a daily basis. Organic spinach is so versatile though, not to mention nutritious, that as an ingredient, it features heavily in breakfast, lunch, and dinner recipes. Some of our favorites include this recipe for Palak Paneer, which really lets our organic spinach shine (no need for takeout), or this Power Berry smoothie, filled with our frozen berries and fresh greens. Craving comfort food? Add spinach to your Alfredo and up the delicious (and health) factor!

No matter how you choose to eat it, now you know all the work that goes in to getting our organic spinach from seed to store! The next time you reach for a clamshell, say a little thank you to all our spinach harvesters.