Agri-Stats: Celery

History: 

  • Celery is a biennial plant, known botanically as Apium gravenolens L. It is thought to be native to Europe where the wild form is found in low, marshy areas. While celery was native to Europe and Asia, it was considered poisonous prior to the 15th century. Celery was first used for medicinal purposes, but wasn’t cultivated for food until 1623 in France. The wild form was improved beginning in the 17th century, and by 1726 was used in England to flavor soups.
  • Celery was consideredf to be a medicinal herb in the middle ages. (Anderson)
  • During Victorian Tiems, it was considered to be a balm for nerves.
  • The Pascal variety of celery, the variety we are most familiar with today, was first cultivated in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Dutch immigrants were largely responsible for developing the plant into what it is today. Lots of cool facts attached. For example, 1 oz of seed is enough to plant an acre of celery. There are 1,000,000 seeds in a pound of celery seeds. There is a lot of great information found on the Kalamazoo MI Genealogy and Local History web-site. 
  • Celery is not easy to grow. It is expensive. It requires intensive inputs. It requires a lot of hand labor. And it requires a very narrow set of soil/weather conditions found on the Central Coast of California and in only a few other places around the globe.
  • American Japanese farmers in the Salinas Valley were largely responsible for celery as we know it today.
  • 1925: It was first grown in 1925 in the Salinas Valley on the Tavernetti Ranch by a joint partnership between Tavernetti and Frank Hirozawa.
  • In 1925, another Japanese grower, Saburo “Sam” Kitamura, grew 10 acres of yellow (Golden Blanching) celery. He started growing celery again in 1932 (after taking a hiatus as a car salesman that was cut short by the depression). He “sold” the wholesale market to buy his green “Pascal” variety and by 1933, he only grew one acre of the yellow variety. He invented a crude, mechanical celery tranplanter built on a sled which was continuously improved upon.
  • The Ichikawa brothers grew celery beginning in the late 1920s and were successful enough that they formed the Salinas Celery Distributors around 1930.
  • Ralph Meyers initiated shipping celery by air to the East Coast in the 1930s, and this was perhaps the first use of air transport for vegetables.
  • Disease control is critical. No less than 6 diseases affect a celery crop. One disease is Western celery mosaic. The only method for containing this disease is a celery-free period in the month of January. No plants or residue may be above ground during the month of January in Monterey, San Benito or Santa Cruz Counties.

The Industry:

  • 2013 crop
    • 18 million cwt
    • Average price of $18.50 per cwt
    • total value $458 million

Note: crate weight = 60 lb per crate

Preparation: 

How do you get rid of celery “strings”? You snap the celery stalk just below the leaves and pull the snapped piec downward toward the roots. 

Quips: 

Where did the celery invest it money? In the stalk market.
Why did the gardener quit? Because his celery wasn’t high enough.