All About Lettuce!

babyheadsWhenever I think about Blue Moon’s baby lettuce heads I think about Alex Levine, Whole Earth Center’s beloved deli manager. Last year when I delivered the seasons’ first baby lettuce harvest, Alex pulled a glistening head from the box, tore off a leaf, and began feasting—right there in the walk-in cooler. It was the first, fresh greenery he’d had since the previous autumn, and judging by the ecstatic look of satiety that filled his eyes, it was much needed. Like Alex, I’ll often eat lettuce straight from the head—greedily, luxuriating in the texture, the taste, the privilege of eating local lettuce so early in the season. And after a winter like this year’s, it’s just what the doctor ordered.

Lettuce is so ubiquitous we rarely stop to think about its origins. It was the Egyptians who first cultivated the plant, turning it from an oil-producing weed into a crop grown exclusively for its leaves. They used lettuce to honor their reproduction god, Min, whose stamina was purportedly benefited by copious consumption of the crop. These early lettuce strains resembled a large version of romaine, and later spread to the Greeks, and then the Romans, and finally to Europe. It was the barbaric Christopher Columbus who brought lettuce, along with pestilence and disease, to the Americas.

Originally, lettuce had to be sold close to where it was grown, thanks in part to its short life span and delicate nature. But with the advent of new packing, storage and shipping technologies in the early 1900s, lettuce began to proliferate. The later development of ‘vacuum cooling’, which allowed for the crop to be cooled and packed in the field, only added to its popularity.

Blue Moon Acres Baby Head Lettuce - SaladAt Blue Moon, we grow five varieties of baby lettuce heads. Red “Little Gem”, Green “Sucrine”,  Green “Oakleaf,” Green “Sweet Crisp”,  and red “Incised”. The first harvest of these beauties is always a special occasion—they are the very first crop of the season, and, as such, mark the arrival of spring. And whether you choose to enjoy them in a salad, on a wrap or sandwich, or, like Alex and I, straight from the head, they’re delicious.

By |March 27th, 2015|News|Comments Off on All About Lettuce!

Spring Mix, from Seed to Plate

Let me first state that Spring Mix is just that- a mix of different lettuces and greens, not a certain type of seed or name of a plant. Some of us (*ahem. Myself*) not familiar with farming and growing things may not have known this.

Now that we’ve got that cleared up…
I hope you’ve had the opportunity to try our spring mix. If you haven’t, I hope you do soon. It is really fantastic. And I’m not just saying that because I have it for lunch every day during the season—our chefs and retail customers love it too. It is super-fresh, really tasty, and looks wonderful.

There’s a lot that goes into the delicious salad mix we produce, from sourcing to seeding and washing and storage.

Full beds of lettuces that go into our Spring Mix

Full beds of lettuces that go into our Spring Mix

We source only organic seed, which means, among other things, that it is completely GMO-free. We grow the spring mix—also called baby leaf lettuce, or just baby leaf—on raised beds.

To prepare and loosen up the soil, we till it. Once the soil is nice and pliable, we run the bed shaper over it and build our raised beds, which we seed directly into. We incorporate amendments approved for organic use to bring the soil fertility into balance. We also incorporate compost to help feed the biology in the soil. When the soil and the beds have been prepared, we are ready for seeding.

All of our baby leaf is seeded using a mechanical seeder in high-density beds.

Seeding beds

Seeding beds

Four-to-five days after seeding, we have germination! (The miracle of Life.) All types of lettuces and various mustard greens begin popping up out of the soil. Three to five weeks later, depending on the time of year and weather conditions, the greens are at our baby leaf size. We continue to hand-weed and water throughout the growing process.

Hand-weeding a bed of lettuce

Hand-weeding a bed of lettuce

When the lettuce is the correct size, we harvest it using a mechanical harvester. We generally harvest, wash, and pack all in the same day—the day of shipment. This ensures freshness and quality. (Think about it- the salad greens are arriving in the store/at the restaurant a day or two after they have been cut!) We cut the crop only once to maintain top quality, not taking a second cutting.

We bring the different greens in from the field and blend them together- creating the spring mix. As we do this, we visually inspect for any foreign materials (compost sticks, bugs, fun things). The mix then passes through a flume-type wash system with cold water and a peroxide-based sanitizer.

The greens are all then packed, by (gloved) hand, in our dedicated clean room. From there, it is a short step to the consumer.

The finished product

The finished product

By |May 16th, 2014|News|Comments Off on Spring Mix, from Seed to Plate

A Salad by Any Other Name…

Why is a salad called a salad? These are the questions we (ok, I) ask ourselves as we chomp into the first bites of locally-grown lettuces this season… 

“Salad” comes from “sal”, ie, salt. In ancient times (and modern, as well), salt was an ingredient in the salad dressing. As they say, clothes make the man, so it goes for salad.

From An A-Z of Food and Drink by John Ayto:

Etymologically, the key ingredient of salad, and the reason for its getting its name, is the dressing. The Romans were enthusiastic eaters of salads, many of their differing hardly at all from present-day ones–a simple selection of raw vegetables…–and they always used a dressing of some sort: oil, vinegar, and often brine. And hence the name salad, which comes from Vulgar Latin Herba salata, literally ‘salted herb’.

So our ancient ancestors enjoyed salad much the same way we do today (less the brine). And then somewhere, in the turn of the century, things went horribly awry…

From Perfection Salad: Women and Cooking at the Turn of the Century by Laura Shapiro:

Salad greens, which did have to be served raw and crisp, demanded more complicated measures. The object of scientific salad making was to subdue the raw greens until they bore as little resemblance as possible to their natural state. If a plain green salad was called for, the experts tried to avoid simply letting a disorganized pile of leaves drop messily onto the plate…This arduous approach to salad making became an identifying feature of cooking-school cookery and the signature of a refined household…American salads traditionally had been a matter of fresh greens, chicken, or lobster, but during the decades at the turn of the century, when urban and suburban middle class was beginning to define itself, salads proliferated magnificently in number and variety until they incorporated nearly every kind of food except bread and pastry…Salads that were nothing but a heap of raw ingredients in dissaray plainly lacked cultivation, and the cooking experts developed a number of ingenious ways to wrap them up…The tidiest and most thorough way to package a salad was to mold in in gelatin.

Gelatin salads have not, thankfully, been in vogue for some years, though I did see a recipe for one on Pinterest last week. Most home cooks and restaurant chefs prefer a simple dressing to salad, some combination of oils, acids (vinegars), and other flavors (mustard, herbs, etc). The salad greens we grow here at the farm have enough inherent flavor to be eaten un-dressed… but would it still be considered a salad, then?

A very Blue Moon salad, topped with Edible Flowers (lightly dressed)

A very Blue Moon salad, topped with Edible Flowers (lightly dressed)

By |April 18th, 2014|News|Comments Off on A Salad by Any Other Name…

How Climate Change is Changing Farming

Drought Affect on soybeans in TexasFarming was never an easy gig, but lately it’s been downright frustrating.

Record heat waves, floods, cold-spells, and droughts are cutting into yields and in some instances ruining entire crops. Analysts warn that such climate change-driven extremes could reduce grain production in G20 countries by up to 8.7 percent by 2020 if no significant action is taken.

Last June’s epic rainfall is a prime example. New Jersey saw an average total of 9.57 inches, 5.55 above the 4.02 average. At our Pennington farm, over 13 inches fell in a 30-day period, wreaking havoc on our more delicate lettuces and brassicas.

“When where we’re getting ¾ of an inch in 20 minutes, the ground becomes completely saturated,” Pennington farm manager says. “All the oxygen is forced out of the soil, and the plants suffer.”

Extreme Weather on the Rise.  

According to climate change scientists, such extreme events are likely to increase. As the world’s climate continues to warm, the National Climate Assessment predicts higher rainfall totals and temperatures, along with more intense droughts and hurricanes. Events like the Colorado wildfires, Superstorm Sandy, and the 2010 Russian drought will likely become the new norm.

All of which bodes ill for agriculture.

“Every year now is made of record-setting months in either temperature or rainfall,” he explains. “Rain comes down so heavy that it rips the leaves, making plants vulnerable to disease.”

If there’s any good news, it’s that organic farming seems best poised to handle these extremes.

Organics to the Rescue

Organic-Farming-in-Promoting-Sustainable-LivingIn a report titled, Organic Farming and Climate Change, the FiBL argues that organic agriculture, thanks to its adaptability and reduced dependence on inputs, will fare better than its conventional counterpart. Organically-managed soil retains significantly more water during drought, and resists erosion more successfully during floods. Organic farmers, necessarily more attuned to changing conditions, can more readily swap crops or tweak techniques than those who rely on chemical inputs. And finally, organic agriculture’s diversity—differing crops, fields, rotations, landscapes, and farm activities—ensures the survival of at least some crops in any given season.

“Already we’re doing a lot to mitigate extremes,” he says. “We grow our heirloom tomatoes in high tunnels to keep the heavy rains off, and give them shade during heat waves.”

We also incorporates a low pressure irrigation system to make efficient use of well-water during drier times. Grassy buffers around the farm’s perimeter prevent valuable soil from being washed into nearby streams. And the promotion of soil biology aids in moisture retention, structural integrity, and nutrient cycling.

An Uphill Battle.

Organic farms, however, account for only 2 percent of total farmland. And while organic sales have been increasing—5.3% in 2009, 7.8% in 2010, and 9.45% in 2011—conventional agriculture still dominates. To defend against the coming floods, droughts, and heat-waves, we need not only narrow this gap but take significant strides in climate change-resistant technologies.

Part of this includes creating cultivars of drought- and heat-resistant species. And because climate change lengthens growing seasons, new disease- and pest-resistant species too. Irrigation and water use will have to become more efficient. Conservation and reduced-tillage practices will need to be refined. And finally, new crops will need to be experimented with.

“The goal is to build a more resilient system,” he says. “And if you’re doing everything right, your farm will be better suited to handle the ever-changing climate.”

Storm clouds may be gathering on agriculture’s horizons, but humans are nothing if not resourceful and innovative. Put our minds together, and we can solve this puzzle.





By |March 28th, 2014|News|Comments Off on How Climate Change is Changing Farming

8 Things We Love about Spring

best things about spring (2)

1. Cooking with fava beans and asparagus

Ashley Lyons, Sales Manager

2. Sleeping with the windows open

Emily Boell, Market Manger, Sales

3. Strawberries from Manoff Market Gardens

Jeremy Tucker, Sales, Delivery Driver

4. Exchanging jackets for t-shirts

5. Seeing the first flowers blooming

Josh Goldsmith, Assistant Market Manager

6. Kayaking in Bucks County

Natalie Rockwell, Market and Events Manager

7. Being surrounded by green grass

8. Weather to walk in!

Rebecca Van Wagner, Sales, Social Media

By |March 21st, 2014|News|Comments Off on 8 Things We Love about Spring