January is a good time for green!!!
No, not money. That other green – fresh, nutritious, delicious leafy green vegetables like endive, Spring Mix, cabbage, Romaine, Arugula, Iceberg, and Radicchio, to name a few.
And all of it coming from one of the more unexpected places on the planet: Arizona. Yuma, to be precise, that once and former wide spot in the road tucked into a curve of the Colorado River on the southern edge of the Sonoran Desert.
It’s hard to think of it as desert now. Where once the only green was native wildflowers in spring, now miles of leafy green crops have transformed the landscape into a $1-billion source of revenue for the state. No wonder native Yuma Representative Lisa Otondo is so proud of her town.
Yuma County has now become a greengrocer’s Mecca. Known as America’s Winter Vegetable Capital, 96 percent of the area’s growers are supported by an organization called Arizona Leafy Greens. The crops themselves crops provide about 85 percent of the leafy green foods eaten in the United States and Canada from November through March.
And no wonder. These acres and acres of salad varieties are growing in prime conditions: virgin soil, Colorado River water, and a brilliant desert sun that allows them to photosynthesize like mad to reach peak growing conditions and nutrient content. Pretty good record for a leaf that started out as a weed around the Mediterranean Sea, was brought to America by Columbus, and has been grown here ever since.
What other interesting facts are leafy veggies hiding behind their cool, green exteriors?
- The average American annually consumes 30 pounds of lettuce. If you’re munching down on some of those leafy greens during the winter, Yuma, Arizona, is supplying 90% of it to all Americans.
- When it comes to nutrition, the darker the leaf, the more vitamins. This puts Romaine ahead in most categories – i.e., calcium, potassium, riboflavin, etc. But there are exceptions. Red leaf lettuce, with its green-to-maroon leaves, is mostly water, while a newer introduction, Butterhead, is almost as good as Romaine, but with a lighter, sweeter, crisper leaf like the ever-popular Iceberg.
- Lettuce isn’t just for salads anymore. My mother, who hated the way lettuce wilted so fast in summer, used to purpose-wilt it in a frying pan of cooked onions and bacon bits, finally stirring in French-cut green beans lightly sautéed with sugar and vinegar. If you want to be even more adventurous, try lettuce instead of cabbage as a wrap, but don’t parboil the lettuce.
- If salad just isn’t your thing, consider the host of other leafy greens grown in Yuma County. Like kale, that curly-leaf green, distant cousin to the lowly cabbage. The flavor is unique – some say bitter, I say more like rutabaga or Jerusalem artichoke. There is one downside to kale, though.
- Like your leafy veggies hot? No, I don’t mean with green chilies – though that’s good, too. I mean heated over a fire, or boiled. The one with the highest nutrition is spinach, which is why our mothers used to make us it eat or suffer in other ways. In spite of early experiences, many of us have grown up to love this vitamin-packed veggie.
- If the only thing preventing you from eating leafy greens is a failure of imagination – I mean, how many times can you use Roquefort without picking up a French accent? – Let your fingers do the walking…to the recipe section of FillYourPlate.org, where you will find recipes of all types for leafy greens straight from the Arizona farmers who grow them.
In a world where the cost of meat is increasing, changing up your diet to include more leafy green vegetables can only be good.
- Learn More About The Health Benefits of the Mediterranean Diet (with an Arizona Twist!) (fillyourplate.org)
- Let’s Celebrate Arizona Grown Leafy Greens (fillyourplate.org)
- Gardening is Good for Your Health (fillyourplate.org)