The Best Part of Winter Farming
Carol Ann Sayle
Farmers' markets shut down when snow threatens up north and eaters suffer from lack of fresh produce ... and salads.
Greens and salads are the magnets that bring folks to our farm stand bundled up against
At least that's what I read. Since we farm year-round, we're not able to travel that way to see the markets and the farms, and it'd be scary for us to try it in the winter, since, as Yanks say, we Texans don't know how to drive in snow. (This is probably true.) And besides there would apparently be nothing green to see.
Indeed, some Northern farmers have visited our farm on cold winter days to witness all that we can grow down here in Central Texas, even if we have to divide the crop list in half, separating the half that can stand the heat from the half that tolerates cold.
It does get cold here. We've had many ice storms over the years, and winters filled with deep freezes—one or two a week during December and January. Row covers come off when the sun shines and the temps warm up, but then in just a few days, back on they go before heavy frosts burn tender leaves. We are slaves to the weather reports! And anxious when that big blue "U" heads directly at us.
But the tender leaves are what make farming here in the winter bearable. While tomatoes and sweet corn are the draw in summer, greens and salads are the magnets that bring folks to our farm stand bundled up against the chill. It may seem weird to eat leafy salads when it's cold outside, but they contain a lot of pure water, as well as nutrients. Most folks don't drink enough water in the winter, so it's nice to have the salads to keep them hydrated.
Carol Ann Sayle
From October to May 1, we'll display up to seven bushel baskets filled with all sorts of salad (and braising) greens on the "Salad Station" table at our farm stand.
Popular basket salads are "baby" everything: arugula (which we grow year-round), spinach, chards, butterhead lettuces, and leaf lettuces. A brassica mixture changes through the season according to what we have growing. It starts in fall with the small leaves of kale, cabbage, and Brussels greens. Then, when broccoli puts on side shoots ("broccoli buds"), those and their accompanying baby leaves are added to the mix. Often small buds of golden cauliflower provide additional nutrition and color. This mix can be braised quickly for nutritious "fast food," or chopped a bit for a robust salad.
The chicories are my favorite. Like the other salad ingredients, radicchio, escarole, endive, and dandelions are harvested leaf by leaf, washed, and dried, and then we pile them high in the chicory basket. Our customers tong them up eagerly, but I usually manage to slip in and fill a bag before they are all gone.