Growing Greens for Lopez

“I know it’s spring when I can buy Christine’s greens again,” a friend said at the end of last winter.

The self-serve bins of Christine Langley’s Local Harvest Lettuce Blend and Island Greens appear in early April at Blossom and Lopez Village Market, and the greens keep coming until November.

When I called Christine to find out how she supplies greens for so many months of the year, she laughed about the challenge of creating perpetual spring.  Later, touring her greenhouse and garden, I saw her strategies for growing greens through the seasons and learned why she chose this specialty crop.

Christine, her partner Claudia Elwell and I started the tour in the greenhouse, a 30-by-80 foot frame-and-plastic structure, fourteen feet tall at the ridge and surprisingly comfortable on a sunny July day.  “It’s passively ventilated” Christine explained. “We open the ends, roll up the sides.  We do have a prevailing southeasterly and so get a lot of good breeze coming through it.”

The only greens growing here now were arugula and basil but “in the spring, this is all our lettuce blends. I grow maybe twenty different varieties.”

The next stop was a smaller greenhouse where “every week we plant six hundred lettuces, five or six flats.” Succession planting is key to a steady lettuce supply.  Nametags sprouted throughout the flats: Vulcan, Galisse, Waldmann, Concept, Green Star.

“It’s amazing how fast lettuces change over.  They introduce new lettuces and suddenly the ones you can’t live without it will be gone.  What would I do with out Vulcan? I usually try to identify those I want to keep and grow them out for seed.”

Then we walked to the garden where rows of green, red and variegated heads of lettuce, some leaves smooth, others curly carpeted the soil.  There were also some very tiny leaves starting to grow under shade cloth.  “This is how we germinate our fall plantings.  The shade cloth really helps keep them moist and cool.”

In addition to lettuce, there were rows of escarole and endive. “They love the summer if I can keep them watered,” Christine explained.  “They are the backbone of the Island Greens mix.”  She also pointed out different radicchios, shungiko, and magenta spreen, all destined for her Island Greens mix.

As we left the garden, Christine described how she became a greens farmer.  “I’d done the CSA and the farmers market and I was exhausted.  Greens farming was something people were starting to do so there were lots of models to look at and people to talk to. Susan Moser, author of Salad Gardening for Profit, pioneered the idea of growing greens in a green house. I went to a workshop she gave and got inspired by her.  She had a great sense of how to create a balance between being willing to work very hard but wanting to do other things.”

“I thought ‘I can do this and Lopez would be perfect. People would love to have locally grown salad greens.’ Restaurants and grocery stores were excited about it and willing to try it.  It’s worked really well.  I started in 1998-1999 so it’s almost my ten year anniversary.”

Sitting on their back porch, Christine summed up her farming to this point. “I guess for me this is really profound work.  The longer I do it the deeper it gets for me and the more connections I feel to people all over the world who grow their own food or food for their communities. I feel a kinship with them.  We all try to coax food out of the earth.”

First published in the Islands’ Weekly, August 12, 2008

 

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