Once upon a time, greens were just something poor folks in the South ate when they couldn’t get their hands on anything else. Many developed a taste for turnip greens, collards, mustard and kale, but they didn’t spread far beyond the Deep South. Then something amazing happened. Nutritionists started talking about greens as superfoods and the boom was on.
It’s been said that before 2012, Pizza Hut was the nation’s largest buyer of kale — the chain used the curly leaves as salad bar decorations. But between 2007-2012 kale consumption increased by 60% and has only gone up since. Factor in the convenience of value-added packaging and the spiral climbs higher.
That’s been great news for long-time Southeastern green growers like W.P. Rawl in Pelion, SC, Baker Farms in Norman Park, GA and L.G. Herndon Farms in Lyons, GA.
And while greens are a year-round crop, spring and early summer are peak season. This year’s crop shook off a late March freeze that bit off some outer layers and has flourished in a very warm spring.
“This has been the most unusual year I remember for weather,” says Joe Baker of Baker Farms. The freeze “didn’t affect collards and kale at all, some of the mustard and turnips got bit a little but we were able to get in and clean ’em up and move forward.”
The Rawl family has been growing vegetables in South Carolina since 1925,”following our grandparents’ wedding,” said Ashley Rawl, vice president of sales, marketing and product development. “At the time they started with cabbage, later adding peaches and of course, greens. Greens are now synonymous to South Carolina, and in fact, a few years ago we were able to make the collard green our official state vegetable.”
Joe Baker “started farming with daddy in 1989, we grew all the Southern veg but so did everybody else. We were trying to do something that everybody else wasn’t doing. it started out on a very small scale. We’re up to about 3500 acres of greens now; when we started we’d grow five, 10 acres, then we’d wait a few months and grow five or 10 more. It was a cash-flow thing.”
L.G. “Bo” Herndon started farming out of high school in Lyons in the late 1970s. “I started with Vidalia onions then started growing greens. Then, most people in the winter went fishing and hunting. But I decided I was going to start planting greens so I’d have something to do in the winter time. It’s worked real good for me.”
So good, in fact, that Herndon has launched its own value-added line, Super-Fit Greens. Baker Farms and Rawl (Nature’s Greens) also have their own packaged variety greens.
“For years, consumers have been telling us they are looking for convenience and more value-added options; the reality is that everyone is short on time. Our product development team has listened and is always looking for ways to take the guesswork out of prep time,” Rawl said. “In addition to that, our category data shows that consumers are making the shift from bulk to value-added greens. The growth rate on bagged greens far outweighs that of bulk.”
Not only do the three companies all have packaged greens, they all also have operations in multiple states stretching from Florida to Ohio for those rare windows when product doesn’t come from home-base.
“We grow collards and kale out of Georgia 12 months out of the year,” Baker says. “Some years we can grow turnips and mustard 12 months. This is a unique area. Most of the time we grow pretty much 12 months out of the year here.”