(Oct. 4) Ocean Mist Farms, Castroville, Calif., is giving its bunched spinach a lift.

The grower-shipper has started using a spinach harvesting machine that keeps the vegetable from touching the ground, said Art Barrientos, vice president of harvesting.

He said the machine improves the food safety and quality of Ocean Mist’s 1,400-acre spinach program that grows 5% to 8% annually.

“We didn’t necessarily want to increase production,” Barrientos said. “It was meant for food safety and quality of product.”

The machine was designed and built over a four- or five-month period in conjunction with Salinas-based Valley Fabricator, a specialist in building harvesting equipment, Barrientos said.

The harvesting process also ensures fewer blemishes and debris on the spinach bunches, he said.

After being cut by a worker, the spinach is tied and placed on a conveyor belt where it travels through a washing chamber with jets aimed specifically at its roots, where most of the dirt can be found.

The company plans to build a second identical harvester over the winter to be ready by late March for the spring harvest.

The harvester is designed to harvest nine beds at a time. Once the second harvester is in effect, Ocean Mist plans to pack more than 4,000 cartons of bunched spinach daily, Barrientos said.