Okay, so I know I’ve asked you to excuse the singing and the dancing, the flowering weeds on the farm, and the unfamiliar (tasty) salad green on your plate, but even I sometimes have trouble excusing the holy greens. Kale, mizuna, mustard, the bok choy and tatsoi are so beautiful they could be chosen for flower arrangements and wedding bouquets, just not if they’re peppered with bug bites. Fortunately, I’m growing greens for your belly, not your viewing pleasure.
Here are some reasons not to pass up that bruised apple or the kale with a few holes.
My greens are not perfect, because I’ve decided not to spray them. We’ve all become accustomed to picture-perfect fruit and veggies from the super market, but that’s just not realistic, and it’s definitely not sustainable. Our garden pests like to eat the same things you do. Ask yourself what kept the cabbage worm, the flea beetles, or the harlequin bugs away from that kale at the grocery store. Better, yet- ask your farmer how they manage pests on their farm. Know that sharing a bit of the harvest with the insects doesn’t hurt your enjoyment and it may even enhance the experience.
Some plants release chemical compounds that can make a plant more flavorful after being attacked by pests. Specifically, plants in the Brassicaceae family release compounds that harm or deter pests (and suppress soil fungi and viruses). Those compounds smell and taste slightly bitter or spicy and add flavor and health benefits.
Again, there’s always a threshold. Pests can damage crops to the point where the quality of the harvest is diminished, and that’s why even farmers who focus on sustainability sometimes use pesticides to protect their food. If the pest population is so out of control it’s negatively impacting the health of the plant, we may react by following an integrated pest management strategy that causes the least harm. We often grow especially vulnerable plants under row cover to protect from the crop, which can eliminate a need to spray at all.
If no one buys produce with slight abnormalities, what happens to it? At the Harvest Table, we’re fortunate enough to have chefs, cooks, and customers that understand the nature of sustainable dining. They will take our slightly bruised eggplant and our gnarly carrots, and meld them into a masterpiece. Not all farmers are lucky enough to have all of their produce guaranteed to a restaurant. Many farmers take the seconds and thirds for themselves, and store for winter. Some farmers feed them to the pigs, the chickens, or the compost. A few farmers throw it in the trash.
We’ve seen a lot of coverage on and b-grade produce (Ugly Fruit) in the news lately (Food Waste). Keep that in mind the next time you’re shopping at the market and you think about passing by the deformed beet or the mustard that's a little holy. Excuse the aesthetics and ask about texture, flavor, and pest management strategies, because that's what determines the quality of a product.