Valley Bounty: Riverland Farm

“Brussels sprouts are one of those quintessential fall crops for me, marking the transition from the heat of summer into autumn, and colder days, and the oncoming of holidays and group meals,” says Emily Landeck, owner of Riverland Farm and co-founder of the Sunderland Farm Collaborative, an online marketplace for local food and farm products established by local farmers at the beginning of the pandemic.

Riverland Farm is a 40-acre certified organic vegetable farm in Sunderland, offering a wide variety of crops. The crops that are currently in season include broccoli, cauliflower, kale, scallions, sweet potatoes, and of course, Brussels sprouts. “Fall is a really exciting time of the year at Riverland Farm. It really feels like our time to shine,” remarks Landeck.

Brussels sprouts are seeded in a greenhouse in late May or early June, where they grow for just over a month. In late June or early July, they are moved outside. “This year, we were out planting them at 6pm to try to help protect them from the heat a bit. While they can tolerate the heat, it isn’t ideal,” explains Landeck.

In July, as the plants continue to grow in their new homes, weed management becomes crucial both to ensure that the Brussels sprouts are getting the nutrients they need from the soil, and to prevent weeds from bringing in pests.

Aphids, caterpillars, and moths can all decimate Brussels sprout plants, especially during this time of year as it becomes colder. Scouting is one tool that Riverland Farm uses to determine the pest load and make decisions on whether or not to address the issue with an organic spray. The sprays are not meant to be used more than once or twice per season, making proper timing crucial.

To prevent disease, Landeck sprays a powdered form of metal copper, and has been implementing creative measures to increase airflow throughout rows, such as alternating planting cabbages, a plant that doesn’t grow as tall. While the hot and dry conditions had negative effects on many field crops this year, one benefit was decreased risk of diseases.

In September, about one month before harvest, the tops of the Brussels sprout plants are removed. By doing so, the plant channels more energy into the sprouts. Additionally, the sprout tops are a tasty by-product which can be sauteed and enjoyed like kale or collards.

Harvesting generally happens in October and is rather labor intensive. One person goes down the row, stripping the leaves off plants by pushing down the stalk with their hand. A second person then follows with a pair of loppers to cut the stalk. From there, they are put into crates, washed, and sold.

Landeck explains that her favorite way to eat Brussels sprouts is with bacon, or as a salad. To make this salad, take off the 2-3 outer leaves of every Brussels sprout, then shred the inner heads. Toss the outer leaves with a bit of oil and roast in an oven at 375° for 10-15 minutes, until nice and crispy. While those are roasting, dress the shredded, raw Brussels sprouts with a vinaigrette. Add in the roasted leaves, along with any other salad toppings (such as chopped nuts) and enjoy.

You can find Riverland products at places like River Valley Coop in Northampton, Atlas Farm in Deerfield, Simple Gifts Farm in Amherst, Green Fields Market, and Whole Foods in Hadley. They sell to local restaurants including Daily Operation in Eastampton, Belly of the Beast in Northampton, The Upper Bend in Turners Falls, and Wheelhouse Catering. Additionally, Riverland Farm offers a winter CSA running from the first week of November through the third week of January, with a few spots still available.

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Emma Gwyther is the development associate at Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture.