Dan and Ali. You’ve surely seen them; talked with them on Saturday morning. They’re that energetic and knowledgeable husband and wife team of farmers who bring you organically grown produce from Boyce, Va., a mere 33 miles from the Leesburg Farmer’s Market. You may know them as the Shenandoah Seasonal folks.
As we head to Market this weekend, decked out in sweaters and coats, these two will be entering their 5th season of winter vegetable growing, which begins in December and lasts through March.
For the first winter growing season at Leesburg, in 2013-3014, “We grew in one high tunnel (unheated greenhouse) and were able to eek by, and bring in greens throughout winter,” says Ali. Since then, they acquired at least one high tunnel each year, for a total of six, and they probably haven’t stopped counting. “This allows us to bulk up our winter growing,” she continued.When asked why they do this, Dan responded, “Two reasons: First, we saw a need for fresh produce at winter markets and wanted to provide ‘you all’ with the best of the best! Winter provides unbeatable produce, just like summer. The winter brings you the sweetest carrots, kale, collards and spinach. That ‘s because the plants convert starch into sugar to use as antifreeze.” More on that nifty fact here. “Second, we simply wanted to be full-time farmers!”
Excited to speak about their love of farming, Ali added, “It’s not only the temperatures, but the length of daylight that affects winter growing. We enter a time period called Persephone when there is less than ten hours of light per day. At this time of year, plants grow the slowest (or not at all!)” Caught up in Ali’s enthusiasm, I bent down to pick up a bit of soil, just to feel a part of it all. “The passive solar heat of our tunnels,” she said, “tricks the plants into continued growth, but it is still much slower. You would be surprised how warm a tunnel can be on a sunny day. I have clocked 80 degrees inside when temps outside are a frigid 20 degrees.” With a chuckle, she added, “it’s great for keeping a four-season face tan.”
“We also love to cook,” they seemed to sing out in harmony. “Recently we have indulged in using our collard green leaves as wraps. This helps us battle winter weight by cutting out the carbs in tortillas,” she informed me. And, I must say that folks will be pleasently surprised that the leaves are not bitter (In fact, they are pretty sweet from going through frosty temperatures).
Stop by the Leesburg Market and gather your ingredients from the Shenandoah Seasonal stand this weekend! Watch out, though, you may just catch a bit of the infectious desire this team has for making magic happen with a bit of soil and seed.
In the meantime, here are a couple of Dan and Ali’s favorite recipes to click on and try. Believe me, you can’t go wrong.