I don’t like travelling much, which is good since I don’t get to do it very often. But I did travel to Texas over the holiday to visit with my in-laws — the first time in two years that I’ve left California.
Texas’ local cuisine doesn’t exactly focus heavily on vegetables, so it was interesting to see an abundance of salad greens and other healthy items working their way onto restaurant menus. Even at the airport, I ordered some tacos only to find them accompanied by — of all things — a very nice arugula salad.
It was never hard to make a salad, compared to say, making a souffle. But it’s gotten much easier now given the abundance of pre-washed juvenile greens that shorten the prep time. This has also made it easier for restaurants to add salads to their menus.
Salad greens like arugula and spinach have also gotten more affordable thanks to innovation on the farm. Cutting baby greens close to the ground by hand is a time-consuming and uncomfortable task. Italian farm equipment manufacturers invented specialized greens harvesters that quickly were adopted by American growers. Unlike much U.S.-built farm equipment, the European companies produce affordable, size- appropriate machinery for smaller farms. They even have battery-powered, push-behind units suitable for the smallest growers.
Terra Firma bought a salad greens harvester this year, and it has dramatically lowered the amount of time it takes us to harvest spinach and arugula: two people using the machine can pick the same amount of greens in an hour that it used to take a crew of 10 people 3 hours to pick.
Using the mechanical harvester has other benefits as well. The smooth cut it makes, thanks to a band-saw blade, encourages the greens to quickly regrow two or three times — increasing the amount of greens we harvest per acre. It also allows for denser planting.
We won’t be using the salad harvester for lettuce anytime soon. It can’t cut head lettuce like the ones we grow, and we find pre-washed baby lettuce to be an inferior product — overly delicate and quick to break down in the fridge. But Plant breeders are working on all kinds of new salad greens that are well-adapted to mechanical harvesting, and we’ll keep an eye on those.