Wild mustard greens
Forager and farmer come together for a win-win project
You see, among a zillion other wild edibles, we pick wild mustard greens in fall. They taste like their name implies, of green and mustard, yet nutty, with a pleasant touch of bitterness. François refers to them as our ‘wild rapini’. In the wild they can be extremely pungent, or in humid, temperate to cold climate, in the right soil and shady conditions, wow - super delicious! Especially young, the sprouts, even full grown leaves can be so tender and soft, even buttery with but a delicate bite. They are tasty raw in a mixed salad, or gently cooked like spinach. Some years we had it on the menu and used it liberally, other years, not so much; we rarely bothered bringing it to market because among the other better known edibles, it could be a tough sell.
However, François has been wanting to exploit this further for a while. He couldn't help but think that it would be ideal and easy in a greenhouse, consistently customer friendly. He was a conventional farmer before he focused on the wild stuff, he knows that mustard is a good fertilizer. So..
He has been throwing around ideas with André Cormier for years, a nearby farmer who grows asparagus, tomatoes, cucumbers, greens, corn, squash.. Who has a lot of greenhouses. They have collaborated in the sense that he lets François pick wild greens in and around his fields (weed his garden) and has learnt a lot along the way, even eats some of it himself now. In fall, he grows a fertilizer crop like canola in his greenhouses only to enrich his soil. Finally they got it together this year and André listened to François and grew mustard.. For weeks, it went crazy, he was happy with the 'no sweat' rich green cover and high germination rate, François with the greens he could pick past frost. He was able to sell a bunch at the market if he was there talking about it and making people taste it. (Like most of our stuff, you need to educate, prepare and give a lot away in order to sell). Anyway, I'm happy that we still have local fresh ‘wild’ greens that aren’t blanched sous-vide on the menu at the restaurant. All in all, it appeared to be an experiment that showed promise. Plus, bonus chickweed (another good weed that I love) that in conjunction, stuck around a little longer.
Finally, the greens froze sooner than we expected, so I guess this project won't go that much further for this year, but it was a small victory for both. André the farmer is happy with the productivity and result of his soil, and François got to harvest greens through November. We don't think it would be worth it to heat the greenhouse for this year, but who knows in the future, if there was more of a market that we would have to develop and secure first. Even if it's just a seasonal one-two month thing post harvest season, it's one more spoke in our wheel.
François is such a great ideas man, in the moment and all over the place, spread thin, not always the best with forethought and planning. We will be better organized next year.. He has collected so many seeds for a myriad of his projects. While in sync dancing with nature, there are still sustainable tangent opportunities to explore. But the reality is that these experiments can never take too much away from where we need to be in day to day business; in October we are so focused on our mushroom festival, the market and then getting ready for the Xmas market in L’Assomption..
No matter, I’m happy that we are constantly trying new things and evolving, me in the kitchen and him in the field. It’s essential.