Growers’ Insights: Squashed Potential

Consumers might not be purchasing them, but squash provides ample opportunities for culinary applications.

Published in FSD Update

A sampling of the squash at The Great Pumpkin Patch.

Unfortunately, squash seems to enjoy more popularity as a sport than as a vegetable, farmers say. Squash, such as pumpkins, melons, gourds and zucchini, is a Cucurbitaceae, one of the four main plant families consumed by humans, says Mac Condill, a cucurbit seed developer and general manager of The Great Pumpkin Patch at The 200 Acres Farm, in Arthur, Ill., which grows 300 varieties of cucurbit from more than 30 countries.

“Historically, people have eaten more squash than tomatoes, but squash has fallen out of favor,” says Condill, whose family-run farm welcomed 50,000 visitors during seven weeks last year. “I don’t know why, but squash just isn’t as popular with people nowadays,” Condill says, a sentiment echoed by other squash farmers. 

Joel Wilson, the sole operator at Wilson’s Cedar Point Farm, in Nancy, Ky., grows zucchini and summer squash for Walmart. But on a local level, squash isn’t a good seller for him. Much like Condill, Wilson doesn’t know why people don’t want to purchase it. 

Culinary prowess

Despite consumers’ hesitation to purchase the vegetable, squash offers abundant culinary options. “Basically, however you prepare one variety, like acorn, you can prepare any other, like hubbard, buttercup or kabocha,” Condill says. “Almost anything you’d do with a potato will work with squash—you can bake it, mash it, fry, microwave, steam, roast, boil, purée, grill, make pancakes, dice and add to soups, or use squash in casseroles for a boost of nutrition and texture.” 

“Squash loves hot, dry weather—period,” Condill says. All varieties are planted after the spring frost-free date. “For us, that’s May 15,” Condill says. “Summer squash takes about six to eight weeks, so, in July, harvest begins. Winter squash is ready in September through November. Summer squash typically [turns] mushy within weeks, but winter squash stores well. It can be cut from the vine and cured [to finish ripening] in the field and then be stored for six months.”

Farmers in cooler, wet areas of the country raise squash with concentrated efforts. Julia McCarthy, of Brown Boar Farm, in East Wells, Vt., says that crops benefit from a red plastic “mulch” layer laid across the soil, with the squash growing up through holes in the plastic. “The plastic allows light to come through and warms the soil,” McCarthy says. “Squash don’t like wet feet, so it’s planted in soil built up about 4 inches, so roots stay drier.” 

McCarthy dusts kaolin clay on leaves, protecting them from splashing raindrops that could spread disease. She says squash must be sprayed about once a week, “with less toxic pesticides, such as Dipel,” in order to overcome the inevitable infestation of crop-destroying cucumber beetles and squash beetles that affect her popular delicata squash and sugar pumpkins. 

Glenn Cook, an owner-operator at Cider Hill Farm, in Amesbury, Mass., says, “Cucumber beetles show up every year about three weeks after planting.” He uses fabric row covering to physically keep pests—and birds seeking seeds—from tender, young squash. Cook also sprays with Pristine fungicide, which is highly effective against Botrytis (gray mold) and powdery mildew. “Our food is really fresh and really safe, as proven by the random tests performed on our produce by the FDA,” Cook adds. “We spray early but never after fruiting begins. For the best produce, I think the important message is to buy local, from farmers you know.” 

Price points

These growers report prices ranging from 33 cents to 70 cents a pound for edible squash and say that prices haven’t increased much in years. “Our prices have been steady, despite the fact that squash can be a very inconsistent crop, affected by rain, temperatures, diseases and pests,” Cook says.  

More From FoodService Director

Ideas and Innovation
coffee shop trailor graphic

A familiar face is coming to the roads of Rutgers University this fall: the Starbucks mermaid. The New Brunswick, N.J.-based school is testing a Starbucks truck throughout the upcoming semester, NJ.com reports . The company began testing trucks on college campuses in 2014, and now has mobile locations at Arizona State University, James Madison University in Virginia, East Carolina University in North Carolina and Sacramento State in California.

The trucks will serve the full lineup of Starbucks beverages that’s available at the outlet’s brick-and-mortar location at Rutgers,...

Industry News & Opinion

A study from Virginia Tech has found a connection between school meal participation and obesity in students. From data that predates the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act , the findings raise questions over whether nutrition standards go far enough.

The research evaluated data from 1998 to 2007, comparing first through eighth grade students who partook in free and reduced-price lunch and those who qualified but opted out. Wen You, associate professor in the Department of Agriculture and Applied Economics at Virginia Tech, says she expected to validate theories that increased breakfast...

Industry News & Opinion

Buffalo Public Schools is turning to local chefs and a little competition to help create new menu items, the Buffalo News reports .

In October, local chefs will compete against each other and a team of seven to 10 students led by chef Bobby Anderson, a former contestant on “Hell’s Kitchen,” to create lunch recipes that comply with USDA nutritional requirements and use seasonal produce sourced locally.

“This Chef Challenge is another way to engage our youth in a fun, friendly competition with local area chefs who can help create appealing recipes that will be incorporated...

Industry News & Opinion

After being sued by the Services Employees International Union over its decision to change vendors from Sodexo to Morrison, the foodservice arm at Mayo Clinic continues to face backlash from staff.

Foodservice employees at the Rochester, Minn., hospital last week handed over a petition 1,200 signatures deep asking that they remain with their current employer, Fox 9 reports .

While a Mayo Clinic spokesperson said that staff will be given similar positions and pay rates under Morrison, SEIU Healthcare Minnesota—the union representing much of the hospital’s foodservice staff—...

FSD Resources