Popcorn provides alternative for Virginia farmers
CHASE CITY—Uncertainty in the tobacco market has forced Virginia growers to look at alternative crops. Some are taking advantage of the ability to grow hemp commercially, while others are growing alternative crops.
Jim Jennings, who owns and operates Jennings Farm in Mecklenburg County with his son, Jay, is branching out with hemp and a lesser-known alternative crop—popcorn.
Jennings, who serves as president of the Mecklenburg County Farm Bureau, began growing popcorn three years ago, following a discussion with Scott Sink at Virginia Farm Bureau Federation’s annual meeting.
“Jim had researched that there was no commercially grown popcorn in Virginia,” explained Sink, who owns Hethwood Market in Blacksburg and is VFBF vice president. That led to a follow-up conversation.
Jennings asked Sink if he would like to have some Virginia-grown popcorn and that he was willing to try growing it. Sink sells popcorn at Virginia Tech home football games and also provides catering services through Hethwood Market. “It’s always been our goal to buy local and support local businesses,” Sink said. Virginia-grown popcorn is part of that philosophy.
“The corn we grow is what they call mushroom corn,” Jennings said. “It’s specifically bred to make kettle corn. It’s not the corn that they get in a movie theater. It’s more of a round ball, and it’s a little tougher because of the coating process. It’s better suited for that.”
Popcorn’s agricultural history is long, but its commercial history is relatively short, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It was first mentioned in farm papers and seed trade catalogs around 1880, but once the American public discovered it, popcorn’s popularity quickly grew.
Nearly all the world's popcorn production is in the U.S., with 25 states growing the crop.
In Virginia, seven farm operations are growing popcorn, according to the 2017 Census of Agriculture.
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