Toward Local Greens in Winter
That's an old salad - nearly a month old, actually. It's holding up fairly well, don't you think? In central Kentucky, July and August are the months most challenging for growers of fresh salad greens. We don't care, though. Ripe tomatoes change everything. We slurp through three months of the reds, pinks, Green Zebras, purples, cherry-style, pear-style, teardrop shape, stripes, yellows, and even the occasional fresh and crunchy chilled green bean salad, and -- at least for me -- any thought of lettuce leaves our heads.
Even well into fall, I get along with slaws and (a recent favorite) black kale salads made with Kenny's Farmhouse Asiago, and pickly things. A story in today's Lexington Herald-Leader promises that freshly slivered collards make a wonderful salad, too. I look forward to trying this idea, which has never occurred to me. If the story's author -- Ellen Kanner, the "Edgy Veggie" -- is correct, I should get added points in my "cool" column for eating a veggie the White House has given an image makeover.
The problem with leafy greens for a central Kentuckian starts in December, and lasts until at least late March, unless one has a greenhouse or cold frame, and one doesn't. I have been tugging at the notepads of Bluegrass farmers for a few years, hoping someone will build some unheated hoop houses and begin selling fresh, locally grown greens in the winter.
I first read about this approach a few years ago in Fields of Plenty, Michael Ableman's marvelous road trip account of visits to farms and people who are"trying to answer the complex questions of sustenance philosophically and, most importantly, in practice." I had no idea for another year or so that two Kentucky growers, Alison and Paul Wiediger, had developed a successful business and become authors and national leaders, teaching others to build and use hoop houses, also known as "high tunnels."
Now, after admiring the Wiedigers' Au Naturel Farm in Smiths Grove from 133 miles away, I'm excited that Alison Wiediger is coming to visit. She will be at our house at 5:00 PM during the July 20 Cornbread Supper. Read details here - and plan to join us.
While we are considering seasonal plants, I offer one below, just for fun. The berry-covered seed stalks are the "spadix" of Arum italicum (I think). Years ago my parents shared arum "starts" from their garden. Arum loves the shade of our backyard hackberry tree. Arum may be a natural rebel, determined to do things its own way. This strange plant puts up its new green leaves as fall begins, stays green all winter, and produces a Jack-in-the-pulpit-like bloom in spring. Just when all the world leafs out around it, arum's leaves die away, and the spectacular spadix (what's the plural of that, anyway?) appears. By late July, each spadix is covered with fiery orange-red berries. As other plants begin losing leaves in preparation for winter, arum does the opposite. Shoots appear from the ground, and new leaves unfold, just in time for frost and snow. If only it were edible! No high tunnels would be needed. But all parts of arum are reported to be toxic. It's just for show, the whole contrarian arum life cycle, and it's a fine show for sure, carried out in shade along with the usual ferns and hostas.