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Sacramento Oracle

Leafy Greens Thrive in the Winter

Feb 06, 2024 05:06PM ● By Mitch Barber, photos by Mitch Barber

Juan Toledo, owner of Toledo Farms, stands behind his economically-priced produce.

SACRAMENTO, CA (MPG) - Under the freeway at 8th and W streets, adjacent to downtown Sacramento, there is a bustling farmers’ market on Sundays from 8 a.m. to 12 noon. The freeway provides a concrete canopy to protect visitors from the rain in the wet months, and a shady refuge when temperatures creep toward 100 degrees.

This writer visited the Certified Farmers’ Market on February 4th. At a table close to the main entrance, next to the parking lot, sits a husband and wife pair, Dan and Renae Best. They operate and manage the market they said was founded in 1980.

Renae humbly boasted that the Certified Farmers’ Market is one of the largest in California, and that growers come from near and far — counties like Sacramento and El Dorado that are close by, and distant areas like the North Coast and Fresno.

When asked what was in season, Renae emphatically said “leafy greens,” which became the focal point of this article.

A variety of chards, and spinach on the right, at the Barbageleta Farms stall.

The first stall visited was the Salle Orchards tables where Billie Jean Salle greeted this MPG writer, standing behind a bevy of green leafy vegetables. She owns the farm in Wheatland with her husband of over 50 years, Nick, who happened to be born on the farm. Their children Nicole and Gene do the farming while Billie Jean displays the produce at the market.

L-R, Natalie Chamberlain, Delinda Hogaboom, and Bille Jean Salle, Salle Orchards staff at their market stall.

Bille Jean explained the various ways to eat leafy greens — vegetables such as curly and dino kale, swiss chard, and cabbage — saying, “The possibilities are endless.” There are cabbage rolls, soups, stews, vegetable lasagnas, and chips (like kale chips). Cats enjoy the produce as well; she mentioned that some customers make natural, nutritious cat food that includes leafy greens.

She said of leafy greens, “You can grow some of them year-round, when it isn’t hot. Heat makes lettuce bitter.”

Another vendor was Brent Levin who sells organic produce from Spreadwing Farm, a farm he owns with his wife and another couple. The farm is in Rumsey, a very small town in the Capay Valley. He was all smiles.

Brent Levin stands at his Spreadwing Farm stall, ready to serve.

At the entrance of his stall were an assortment of kales for $3 a bunch — dinosaur, red Russian, and white Russian kale. He said his favorite way to prepare them was simply cooking them in butter with garlic salt. He said other folks juice them.

He also sells head lettuces and cabbage, which is a disputed leafy green. He talked to customers and weighed produce while taking part in the interview.

And the farm’s name? It comes from a type of dragonfly: one of the female owners specializes in entomology. He got specific with the leafy-green growing season on his farm: November through April or early May.

Lettuce was $3.50 per head, and cabbage was $2 per pound. The different kales were $3 a bunch.

Bargains were to be found at the Toledo Farms booth on the north side of the market. Juan Toledo, who owns the business with his father Federico Toledo, was selling heads of lettuce for $1. They also sell dandelion greens, swiss chard and kale.

Spreadwing produce, from left, leeks, red Russian kale, dinosaur kale, and white Russian kale.

What does one do with dandelion greens? Juan said they are good “juiced, roasted, diced up, and in salad.” He said people are split into “eat-it-raw” and “cook-it” camps.

Theirs is an organic, family-owned farm in Lodi.

Next door was Barbageleta Farms, based in Linden, which is just to the east of Stockton. Martin and Francisco Barbageleta were speaking Spanish when this writer approached — a customer was slinging the Spanish language, as well.

Martin Barbageleta, left, and Francisco Barbageleta, right, stand in front of their company truck and farmers’ market sign.

Martin explained that his Swiss chard that was a rainbow of colors is best steamed or boiled, and cooked with other things, like meat.

He said that the current weather was conducive to chard growth and that it is too hot during the summer for it to grow well. He was selling leafy bunches of spinach, as well. Bunches of greens were $3 and two for $5.

Cabbage for sale at the Salle Orchards stall.

Unfortunately, about 10 vendors canceled on February 4th, largely due to the high winds. Fortunately, the freeway’s columns serve as a wind break, as well.

Why not come out and shop on a Sunday in the temperate friendly confines of the Certified Farmers’ Market under the freeway?