Our spring semester at Yale is really short and it tends to fly by between work, hibernation, seeing friends, and waiting for the sun to come back out. The week before spring break is notoriously hectic: midterm papers, tests, and fatigue take over our minds and bodies. Productivity levels off until it drops once break comes.
In contrast, the transition from winter to spring for the little greens growing in the hoop houses up at the Yale Farm is much lighter and more carefree. All they have to worry about is breathing and growing. After some frightful frosts, the more welcoming conditions of late February helped the baby greens reach toward the sky.
And so with the lush greens sitting prettily in their beds, the farm managers decided that the end of the first week of March would be the perfect time to harvest them. I had just finished my last midterm paper and my body was aching to be outside. After lunch I trekked up to the farm, asked Grace, one of the student farm managers, what she needed me to do, grabbed a knife, and started harvesting the baby kale.
Whew! Harvesting is hard work! I'd forgotten what it felt like to work with the ground. It'd been several months since I helped harvest and wash beets at the farm and as much as I was unprepared for the hour I spent crouched along the beds of kale, diligently making sure I'd gotten as many leaves off the stems as I could, I was pleasantly conscious of all the volunteer efforts to get these salad mixes bagged and gifted or sold. After a period of being disconnected from the actual act of farming, I was happy to be reunited with the smells of nutrient-rich dirt, the freshness of the farm's produce, and the joyful sounds of community. I was also reminded that good, healthy, remarkable foods like salad greens are something I am lucky to have access to, and that it requires great efforts to grow and harvest them.
One of the girls working at the farm that afternoon was harvesting the baby spinach. The beds were so thick and leafy that after an hour, she had been able to harvest only about a third of a bed. I was lucky that the leafy parts of the baby kale grew slightly higher off the ground, which made it easier to cut them without worrying about lacerating the poor leaves in half.
After I finished collecting all the kale into a bucket, I walked it over to the crop house, where we were weighing, washing, and packaging the greens. I'd gathered upwards of three pounds of kale, which was really exciting. At the end of the day, the farm's total output of mizuna, kale, arugula, spinach, frisée, and other greens totaled about 35 pounds! Some of the bags of salad mix went to campus administrators, but most of them were sold to a local sushi restaurant, Miya's. I was, of course, overjoyed that volunteers received their own bags of greens as a thank-you.
I was so excited to taste the salad while it was crisp and fresh off the ground. I pulled out individual leaves to taste what each type was like on its own. A spinach-lover, I was completely shocked by how great the baby spinach tasted. It was crunchy, sweet, and hearty in a way I'd never experienced with the spinach in the dining hall, or really, anywhere else. And the kale—oh, I fell in love with cutting kale that day! And it wasn't just because I had been the one harvesting it. I would be more than happy to eat that kale for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Like the spinach, it was crunchy and slightly sweet at the end, but it had a great nuttiness to it that made it seem more like a snack than a green.
As I carried my bag of mixed salad down the hill back to my dorm, my mind was full of ideas for salad dressings. Which flavors would showcase these incredibly fresh flavors? Anything too thick might overwhelm the tender leaves. I decided to go with a simple mix of extra-virgin olive oil, lemon juice, honey, salt, and pepper. No fancy fruity flavors or vinegars—nature's own luscious fat, acid, sweetness, and spices would do just fine for my first salad using the day's harvest.