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food for The grower

Greenery in the greenhouse at Landisdale Farm

Th e W h o l e Fo od

Winter Greens n, lo ca l gr ee ns W it h se as on ex te ns io ro un d ar e avai la bl e al l ye ar story and photos by

em ily te el

W

hen the truly cold winter weather arrives, it can throw a dedicated locavore into a panic. Sure, there are apples, root vegetables and potatoes to sustain us, but we crave fresh green crunch. Fortunately, to keep bringing fresh, green produce to market even when temperatures dip, several area growers have invested in structures like greenhouses, where plants on tables benefit from active heating, and hoophouses, their less permanent cousins, where plants in the ground are protected by frames covered in clear plastic. These structures can’t mimic August’s growing conditions, but they can provide a hospitable microclimate for hardy greens like kale, collards and Swiss chard to keep arriving at farmers markets all winter long. An alumna of Fair Food, Philabundance and Greener Partners, emily teel is a food freelancer profoundly dedicated to sustainable, delicious food in Philadelphia. See more of her work at emilyteel.com .

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What to look for In the summer months, greens soak up sunshine outside and can grow to Jurassic proportions. Greenhouse-grown greens, on the other hand, grow more slowly and tend to be smaller and more fragile, wilting easily. Don’t be put off by this; these plants simply haven’t had to grow as strong because they’ve been protected from the elements.

Nutrition 101 Dark, leafy greens like kale, chard, collards, mustard and turnip greens are some of the healthiest things you can eat. They’re rich in calcium, antioxidants, folate, potassium, beta-carotene and great-for-you vitamins E, C and K, so eat your cancer-fighting, skin-improving, bone-strengthening, digestive system-supporting greens.

Dan Landis grows some of the loveliest greens you’ll see all winter in his greenhouses at Landisdale Farm in Jonestown, Pennsylvania. He sells chard, kale, collards and dandelion greens regularly at the Clark Park Farmers Market. The 20 to 30-foot-long greenhouses accumulate warmth from the sun and are equipped with backup propane or wood-burning heaters but, according to Landis, “we only have to use heat if it really snows or something, so the house doesn’t collapse... It can be 30 degrees out, and on a sunny day it’ll be 70, 85 degrees in there... like Florida.” Nonetheless, growing greens inside is very different than out in the fields. Though the houses capture warmth, they don’t change the fact that it’s winter. “January can be really challenging because the daylight hours are the shortest... We’ll harvest the largest leaves, but [they] just grow very slowly.” The difference in temperature and light “makes the plant slow down,” which means that he has to start the greenhouse plants early, let them get established and pace the harvest. Landis waits to begin picking in the greenhouse until the greens in the field are totally spent. As the cold sets in, “lettuce will go first. Kale and collards will pull through a freeze, [but] if it gets down to 22 degrees they may take on a weird color.” Only then will he shift to the greenhouse-grown greens. “Our kale and collards in the greenhouse are like our savings account... We have to try and make it last as long as we can... If you start picking them [early], you’ll be in trouble in January.” Some growers are installing LED lights to mimic sunlight and increase production, but Landis doubts he’ll go down that road. “I’m fine if the stuff doesn’t grow as fast... it gives us a little bit of a break, too.” But, however slowly, hardy greens do thrive in the houses. Since they’re growing out of season from their insect pests, they tend to look even nicer than field-grown ones. The plants might wilt a little more quickly because they are unaccustomed to changes in temperatures, but as Landis says with a shrug, “We don’t get complaints.” After all, locally-grown winter greens are still enough of a treat that they will likely be eaten up long before any wilting can take place.

for The cook

Despite kale’s current popularity, when it comes to greens, people typically select the familiar and will resort to either sautéing them with garlic, or slowcooking them with pork. While there’s nothing wrong with either, Rich Landau and Kate Jacoby, the chef-owners of acclaimed vegan restaurant Vedge offer a few other suggestions. “Greens are a dense food,” says Jacoby. “They can handle smoke, spice or strong acid.” And while spinach will wilt down to nothing in a hot pan, according to Landau, the “heavier, meatier greens,” that do well for winter growing benefit from two-stage cooking. Landau says the most important thing is that, “for the heavier greens, you’ve got to blanch them first.” To blanch, Landau recommends removing tough center ribs before giving greens a dunk in boiling water until their color goes

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