When most of the earth is barren and brown, Snow’s Bend Farm in Coker, Ala., is an oasis of green, fresh produce, from spinach and rainbow chard to mustard and collard greens.
Fields of leafy, green vegetables of all shades cover the farm nestled along the Black Warrior River and eventually will grace the table of “greens” lovers throughout the South. The entire crop is harvested by hand.
“We plant an acre of greens in the spring and an acre in the fall,” said farm owner David Snow. “Most of our cooking greens are sold in bunches.”
Many consumers rely on canned or frozen fruits and vegetables during winter’s chill. However, Snow said shoppers are warming-up to the idea of fresh greens when cool, crisp air moves in.
“Greens are gaining popularity,” he said. “I think people are becoming more aware of their diet and how it relates to health. I think greens are about the most nutritious thing you can eat. When the weather gets cold and greens start getting real sweet, that’s something people can look forward to the same way they look forward to big, juicy tomatoes in the summer.”
Ten years ago, Snow and his wife, Margaret Ann Toohey, began farming full-time on land that’s been in Snow’s family since the 1860s. They sell to restaurants and at farmers markets, but most sales are through a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program.
Snow said he’d like to see more year-round farmers markets in Alabama. He said its difficult to sell greens at existing markets because they often close after tomato season.
Alabama Farmers Market Authority Director Don Wambles said it’s a goal he’s working toward.
“We only have two farmers markets that stay open 12 months — the Mentone Farmers Market and the Tuscaloosa River Market,” Wambles said. “We have enough farmers producing greens to sustain markets for a while. Shoppers like options, though, so we’re educating farmers about ways to grow other things, even in winter months, using materials like hoop houses.”
Wambles said cold months are the perfect time to enjoy a serving of greens, referred to as a “mess” by most Southerners, whether its turnips, collards or kale.
“Putting a dash of sugar in greens makes them even better — that’s my grandmamma’s old trick,” Wambles said.
Greens often grace Southern plates for New Year’s Day celebrations. Call it folklore, superstition or tradition — Southerners believe greens eaten on the first day of the new year bring good luck.
The variety and versatility of greens grown at Snow’s Bend, though, means the vegetables can please palates from fall through spring.
“We grow something called broccoli rabe,” Snow said. “Before it flowers, it can be treated just like a turnip green. It has a milder flavor and is not quite as bitter. It’s real easy and quick to cook. On the other side of the spectrum, we have mustard greens that are spicy and almost taste like wasabi.”
An unusual collard variety found at Snow’s Bend isn’t the typical green.
“We grow an old-timey purple collard,” Snow said. “The plant has purple stems, and it produces a pink pot liquor when cooked.”
Collard greens are one of the oldest vegetables known, dating to prehistoric times. They’re known for producing a foul-stench when cooked due to sulfur-containing chemicals called glucosinolates. However, those stinky chemicals also make greens healthy and may help fight cancer, according to the National Cancer Institute. In addition, greens are packed with vitamins C, E and K; folate; beta-carotene; and minerals.
With such a long, healthy history, Snow is confident greens will continue to be a popular item in kitchens and restaurants.
“The key to getting people to eat vegetables is to get good vegetables in their hands,” he said. “Then it’s not something they don’t want to eat; it’s something they look forward to eating.”
For more information on Snow’s Bend Farm, visit SnowsBendFarm.com.