We love seeing new customers at the stands – not only for the obvious reason that it means we’ll be making more sales, but also because it’s so much fun to observe new customer reactions to what we have on our market tables. We enjoy explaining how to prepare a vegetable they’re unfamiliar with; or on the opposite end of the spectrum, to hear how they use the ingredient in a completely different way than we’ve tried it.

And all humility aside, I’ll admit we also relish those occasions when someone new compliments our stuff. We work hard to bring the best possible produce to our stands, so it’s difficult not to puff with pride just a little when we hear an exclamation of joy over, say, some pretty spinach. Or broccoli. Or lettuce mix. Or…well, you name it.

So last Saturday, by the third time a new customer asked if we grow our vegetables indoors, I chose to take that as a compliment as well. At first I assumed their inquiries stemmed from the fact that the winter was such a cold, dark and rainy one. As if they were kind of congratulating us on growing anything at all out in the elements over the past few months. Truth is, we’d struggled with that very thing, so it made sense to me…until the last group of newcomers who asked about indoor growing took it a step further and wondered aloud how else the roots of the leeks could possibly be so clean.

Oh! They thought we were growing in tubes, maybe, or in big vats of water laden with fertilizers! (In case you haven’t figured it out, hydroponic growing is not my expertise.) No, we’re not nearly so high tech here. We do start most of our crops from seed in our greenhouses, so the plants do indeed live their formative weeks indoors – but as soon as they’ve grown a bit, we set them out into the ground, at the mercy of all aspects of outdoor life with only the most basic intervention from us when necessary, i.e., hoop houses, shade cloth and fabric row covers.

The young leeks we’re bringing to the farm stands now are from our rows of multipliers. They’ve never enjoyed the comforts of indoor living, and in fact began as a small clump of tiny alliums that eventually spread and spread until we pulled them up in groups, separated each one, and planted them out individually in a more orderly manner. Their roots have been firmly entrenched in the earth for some time, and are freed only with the help of our big digging fork’s tines.

The leeks come up anything but clean.

Let me emphasize once again that we’re not high tech. Our root washing station consists of two rows of five PVC sawhorses lined up side-by-side with sheets of heavy wire stock panels laid over top of them. Two or three garden hoses with spray nozzles attached are always hooked to the wire, at the ready. When that day’s designated harvesters have filled a few bus tubs with alliums or other root crops, they deposit them onto the hardware cloth, where that day’s designated vegetable washers suit up and spray, spray, spray…

…pausing only briefly for the occasional photo op.

When a dirty tub’s worth of leeks are blasted clean and transferred to a new tub, the washer brings it into the salad station area where the leeks are trimmed of any unsightly leaves and laid out on tables to be bunched.

By then they’re spic and span, as if they’d been grown in tubes, maybe, or vats of water. I can see now, really, why three new groups of customers – at completely different times – were curious about their origin. Once the leeks reach this stage, they are truly beautiful.

Given the opportunity to see the entire process for themselves, however, these new customers might not feel the same about the leek washers.

Yet as the saying goes, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Don’t you agree?

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Here’s what we’ll be bringing to the farm stand this Wednesday:

Spring broccoli; head lettuces – butterhead, romaine, green leaf and red leaf; a good amount of spinach; beautiful lettuce mix; lettuce/chicory salad mix; Asian greens mix; bags of arugula; bunches of leeks (eat those gorgeous roots, too!) green onions (ditto!); green garlic (ditto again!); bags of chard; broccoli greens and/or young dinosaur kale (only if the kale has grown big enough); and anything else we find ready to harvest.

**Reminder: Barr Mansion will be cooking up some of their wonderful organic dishes for a TOGFA (Texas Organic Growers and Farmers Association) fundraising brunch this Sunday, March 28 at 11:00 a.m. Food and sponsors include Angel Valley Farm (you may have heard of them!), Boggy Creek Farm, Coyote Creek Feed Mill, Lund Produce, Shades of Green and Johnson’s Backyard Garden. Tickets are $50, and all proceeds benefit TOFGA. If you’d like to attend what is sure to be a lovely and delicious event, email Valerie@BarrMansion.com.

Jo Dwyer
Angel Valley Organic Farm