When most of us think about what makes Kansas cities and towns unique, spinach is usually far from our thoughts. Learning that Lenexa was once hailed as the Spinach Capital of the World may come as a bit of a surprise.
The first white settler of Lenexa was none other than Wild Bill Hickok. However, the town was named for a Shawnee woman alternatively called Na-Nex-Se or Len-Ag-See. She was the widow of Shawnee Chief Blackhoof, who in 1854 signed a treaty which ceded the land to the Federal government.
The Missouri River, Ft. Scott, and Gulf Railroad purchased a right-of-way through the area in 1869, and civil engineer and flight enthusiast Octave Chanute platted the town the same year.
The “Spinach Capital” designation came decades later, during the Great Depression. By that time, numerous German, Belgian, and Swiss families had settled in the area. Their way of life included growing produce, and they found their new home ideal—the soils were fertile and the rain was abundant. Lenexa produce was shipped out by trainloads, destined for the growing metropolitan areas of the East, particularly Chicago.
Foremost among the fruits and vegetables of Lenexa was spinach. The ideal growing conditions earned Lenexa spinach a reputation for superior quality. And thus the community became the Spinach Capital of the World.
Although there are few truck farmers in Lenexa nowadays, spinach still plays an important part in the local culture. Every September, spinach lovers meet to celebrate their favorite food in a festival that draws crowds from around the country—the Spinach Festival.
Crafts, music, and history exhibits play a prominent part at the festival, but the spinach takes center stage. Recipes and cooking demonstrations feature the leafy green in unique ways, from smoothies to muffins to cakes. And then there’s the world’s largest spinach salad. This masterpiece is made of 150 pounds of fresh spinach.
The Spinach Festival (now over 30 years old) is not the only food-related event hosted in Lenexa. The town is also home to the Chili Challenge, the Barbecue Battle, and the Food Truck Frenzy.