Salad greens are the cash crop on Green Dragon Farm. Everything else is more or less a hobby or grown/produced mostly for private use. A small bag of salad greens (150 gram, enough for one large salad or two to three side salads, I’d say) sells on the Tatamagouche Farmers Market for 3.50 $, a pound in „wholesale“ (meaning larger quantities going to restaurants in the vicinity) costs 8.50 $. That’s a lot of money for salad. Yesterday morning it finally became clear to me what makes this lettuce so special and why the price is rectified.
Salad greens have to be picked very early in the morning or late at night, because they will wither quickly when it is too warm or they are hit by direct sunlight. So cutting or picking salad means a very early start on Green Dragon Farm (get up at 5, start picking at 5.30 am or something like that). Finest quality is what gives the Green Dragon salad greens its advantage over the cometitors, so in addition to being grown only with organic methods, every leave is checked for damage (like feeding holes from carterpillars, bruises or the like) and only perfect leaves of just about the right size end up in the batch. Everything that is questionable is put into a seperate bowl and will be eaten by the family later (and even those „leftovers“ are better in quality than any salad greens I have eaten before).
The salad is handwashed and then carefully spin dried, keeping just enough water in it to keep it fresh, then it is packed either into 1 lb bags or into large plastic containers. The chefs who use Green Dragon salad greens in their kitchens proclaim that they can use it just out of the bag without further washing or picking out any wasted leaves or the like. That is what rectifies the high price for them.
It is hard and uncomfortable work to pick salad greens like that. You never know how to position yourself in front of the garden bed without putting to much strain on your back and legs. I kept alternating between sitting, squatting and kneeling and still my legs screamed after just a few minutes. Sometimes you get the feeling of making no progress at all because you have to throw half of your harvest away due to lack of quality. It takes a lot of time to get the pounds of salad green together which are needed.
And sometimes it just does not work out. Things take longer than you thought in advance or there just are not enough salad greens ready for cutting. You are working against the clock, because at about nine o’clock (or maybe at ten on a cloudy day) it gets too warm to keep cutting.
When you grow salad greens in your garden for yourself, they are about the easiest thing to grow and you can just go out and get some whenever you feel like eating salad. I even had salad greens on my balcony for a while. But the difference in effort between growing salad for private use and making a commercial product out of it is amazing. The same is true for any other kind of agricultural produce, I would guess (note to self: never even think about commercial farming).
This is one of the many lessons I learned in Tatamagouche so far, maybe the most important one. Commercial farming is much much more than just doing what you do in your vegetable garden anyway on a slightly larger scale. It is completely different. And that is not even talking about the annoying things like bookkeeping, marketing and organic certifications.
I can milk one of the goats now, by the way, but I think I will write about that next week. It is worth a chapter of its own. So tune in again next week when you hear Capella scream: „Hold still you ferocious beast!“ Upcoming side project: making goat milk yoghurt.