Celebrating the Green Stuff

It’s Spinach Festival weekend in Crystal City, my hometown, which boasts two statues of Popeye and still calls itself the Spinach Capital of the World.

Yet, as far as I know, no Spinach is being shipped out of Crystal City. In the good old days, there were two canneries and a number of “plataformas,” packing sheds that shipped fresh spinach to all parts of the country via railroad.

They were owned by prominent farming families. The Wagners. The Carrs. The Byrds. The tallest building for miles and miles around was a concrete vault where blocks of ice, made at the “hielería” next door, were stored for the high season. The ice was crushed and sprayed over the bushel baskets in the railroad cars.

My father worked at several of the plataformas, as did I (for very short periods of time).

My older sisters quit school when they were ternagers and went to work for the Del Monte plant. It was because of them that my family was able to have a decent house, the one I grew up in.

My oldest sister, María Luisa, helped organize he me co-workers into a union and they were all fired. They went to work at the other, smaller, cannery, until Del Monte hired three back.

After they got married and my mother was forced to work, it was at Del Monte that she worked. At first it was the night shift but as she accumulated “señorilla,” she was able to work days.

I think every one of my siblings worked there at one time or another. I did too. Hated it.

A lot of people also worked out in the fields, cutting spinach and packing it into bushel baskets. I never had to do that, thank God.

Spinach is a winter crop (this area is called the Winter Garden of Texas) so the spinach season is in full blast in December and January. Some years, it gets so cold that the ice kills the spinach and deprives a lot of people of work for weeks. The only time we were “on welfare” (which meant accepting government surplus food) was after such hard freezes.

That was during the good old days.

Today there are no plataformas. The railroad that used to take the fresh spinach away stopped running decades ago. And this year the Del Monte plant closed.

Whatever spinach is harvested in the county is shipped out of Uvalde or Carizzo Springs.

Still, the festival must go on. Former residents who now live in Wisconsin, North Dakota and other states, or in other Texas cities, have come back to enjoy the festivities and to see old friends and reminisce about the old days.

A cold front came in last night and a chilly wind is blowing in from the north. That won’t stop this celebration of a a green leafy vegetable that is good for you. Really.

About juanzqui7

Former Texas reporter, columnist and editorial writer.
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3 Responses to Celebrating the Green Stuff

  1. Jay says:

    Thanks for sharing your family’s history.
    I truly enjoy these pieces. And the lovely typo(?) or autocorrect (?) that turned your sisters into tanagers.

  2. Cavanaugh O’Leary says:

    I did not know thatbabout Crystal City, very interesting. Do they still grow spinach in the area? If so, it would seem that it has to get shipped out somehow. Maybe trucked to another location for packaging?

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