Valley Bounty: Kale

The Valley is back to school. “It is peak vegetable and peak student season,” Maida Ives, Manager of Farm Operation and Education at Amherst College’s Book and Plow Farm, told me during a recent conversation.

As a farm embedded within a college, Book and Plow has a different seasonal rhythm than many other growers. “We’re growing most of our crops to be available for the start of the semester,” Ives said. Many farmers race to be the first to market with crops as they come into season. At Book and Plow, however, summer is the time to lay the foundation for when campus is flooded with students in the fall. “This is the moment when everything converges, and our brains split into two,” Ives said. “We’re continuing crop care, field prep, and cover cropping. But we’re also welcoming new students to the farm, hosting orientations, and even having pizza parties while the weather is good.”

Each autumn, Ives hires on 25 Amherst College students to work on Book and Plow Farm. Many of these student employees have little to no experience with the type of physical labor required on a farm. Ives finds it rewarding to see how the students grow and learn from the work throughout the semester. “I have a lot of students express pride that they were able to do it. They feel themselves get stronger, more capable of doing the physical work, and more confident understanding the decision-making that happens on the farm,” she said.

Book and Plow’s focus on fall makes late-season crops like kale essential to the farm. Back in mid-August, Ives and the other year-round staff planted 1,800 row feet of Winterbor, a cold tolerant variety of green curly kale. Kale is a resilient crop and Ives expects the planting to withstand multiple frost and thaw cycles for harvests lasting “as far into December as the weather permits.” Kale will regrow after each harvest when gathered correctly. “We explain to our students that during harvest, they should harvest all the oldest leaves from the plant,” Ives said. “Even if we’re not taking them for sale, we want to get them off the plant to stimulate the growth of new leaves and keep it fresh.”

Fortunately for those of us who don’t have an Amherst College dining hall card, there is plenty of fresh kale available at local farmers’ markets and stands. Ives recommends trying out a kale Caesar salad. Begin by pouring creamy Caesar dressing onto your kale along with some lemon juice. Then gently massage the mixture into the leaves. “The acid in the lemon and the massaging helps break down the leaves a little bit, so they are more tender to eat raw,” Ives explained. Once your kale is ready, toss it in a bowl and add croutons, anchovies, and parmesan cheese.

Noah Baustin is the Communications Coordinator at CISA (Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture)