When researchers at the Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center in Uvalde completed recent yield and quality trials on hydroponically produced Asian leafy greens, they didn’t toss the surplus — they donated it to the Uvalde County Nutrition Center.
Ten different varieties of red and green bok choy and other Asian leafy greens were grown hydroponically inside a greenhouse at the Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center in Uvalde. (Texas A&M AgriLife Communications photo by Paul Schattenberg)
“Sharing our produce with the Uvalde County Nutrition Center has become a tradition with us,” said Dr. Daniel Leskovar, AgriLife center director. “We’ve been growing leafy greens hydroponically here at the center for research purposes over the past three years and didn’t want to waste perfectly good produce once we had obtained the data we needed. So, we contacted the nutrition center to see if they could use our surplus produce.”
Leskovar said the AgriLife center also provides other surplus produce, including tomatoes, peppers, onions and watermelons, to the Uvalde Food Pantry, which serves about 400 families countywide each day, as well as some residents of adjacent counties.
Uvalde County Judge William Mitchell and Tiffany Gonzalez, interim director of the nutrition center, were on hand to receive the most recent contribution of leafy greens, which this time had a distinctly Asian flair. The crops included different green and red varieties of bok choy, along with Chinese cabbage and baby mustard.
“We have about 150 seniors in Uvalde and another 150 seniors in Sabinal who we provide with a nutritious daily meal,” Gonzalez said. “We use the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s MyPlate nutritional guidelines for providing a meal that includes the needed vitamins and nutrients. These Asian leafy greens will help provide badly needed nutrition for seniors in Uvalde County.”
Uvalde AgriLife center director Dr. Daniel Leskovar shows bok choy that has been grown hydroponically. (Texas A&M AgriLife Communications photo by Paul Schattenberg)
Leskovar said previous produce contributions to the nutrition center had included domestically grown leafy greens such as spinach, kale, romaine, butterhead, loose leaf lettuce, cabbage and chard.
The surplus Asian vegetables were made available due to a recent research initiative funded by a Texas AgriLife Research Seed Grant, he explained. He said center personnel are studying the productivity and quality of Asian vegetables with cohorts in El Paso and Overton to help determine their viability as a specialty crop for Texas.
“This study complements previous research efforts at our center funded by a past Texas Department of Agriculture Specialty Crop Block Grant and being conducted in collaboration with the Uvalde County Underground Water Conservation District,” he said.
Leskovar noted field trials conducted in the ‘90s have shown Asian vegetables produce well in the southwestern region of Texas, particularly in the Winter Garden area.
“They are very high in nutritional content, and also have the potential for a long growing season in this region due to weather and soil conditions,” he said. “We feel they could be great specialty crops to diversify the offerings by Texas producers, especially to their urban consumers.”
Leskovar said he is encouraged by the productivity and quality shown by the 10 varieties of Asian vegetables grown hydroponically in the one of the center’s greenhouses.
“From a young seedling to harvest only took between 21-28 days, and growing them hydroponically in a protected environment significantly reduced chemical inputs while providing a highly nutritious, quality product in a relatively short time,” he said.
County employee Armando Caballero (left) and Uvalde County Judge William Mitchell (right) load Asian leafy greens for delivery to the Uvalde County Nutrition Center. (Texas A&M AgriLife Communications photo by Paul Schattenberg)