The Sea of Emerald

... At Loon Organics

By Katharine Plowman

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The winter doldrums. Everyone has them...especially us Minnesotans who try as we might to eat with the seasons inevitably succumb to the robotic gravitation toward the Cali grown mesclun mixes and assorted baby kales. We rationalize and in honesty, there’s only so many ways one can eat a butternut squash before you quite literally begin to take on a pumpkin toned complexion. (I speak from experience on this note.) But vitamin D deficient friends rejoice. I can’t guarantee this will take away your Seasonal Affective Disorder but it certainly will add that lovely green dash your locally procured dinner plates have been lacking.

Folks, meet Loon Organics’ winter spinach. Yes, despite the sub-zero conditions and Jack-Frost nippy winds Loon Organics owners, Adam Cullip and Laura Frerichs, raise local spinach November through April. No they aren’t magicians growing this tasty winter treat out amidst snowdrifts and ridiculous infrared heaters. Loon’s secret weapon: their hoop houses. (Think a non-heated greenhouse if you’re unfamiliar with the hoop house terminology.) Nutty, dense and I guarantee the most delicious spinach you will ever eat, Laura and Adam are seeking to serve us green deprived winter tundrites year round.

How this sea of emerald wizardry exists…strategic fall planting and insulated row covers. Laura and Adam plant the spinach in late September, irrigate and come November they have full size plants ready for harvest. The cold temperatures cause the leaves to get very dense making this perhaps the thickest spinach you will ever eat while freeze thaw patterns give the spinach its extraordinarily sweet taste.  Oh, and did I mention it’s full of all the nutrients your body is craving during the winter like vitamins K, A, and C. And don’t forget those trace nutrients like manganese, magnesium and iron, Loon’s spinach is full of them.

Our favorite way to eat it? Raw of course, because what’s better with red wine braised short ribs and some delicious stone ground organic polenta than a lovely salad? Granted we also flash-sauté it (thanks Matt Kappra at 320 Northeast for this idea), put it in frittatas and it’s a stellar addition to stews. But in all honesty nothing is quite as good as enjoying a light spinach salad amid our meat and root centric Ole’ and Lena diet.

And keeping in the tradition of eating local, we like to add dehydrated vegetables that we preserve throughout the year. Forgo buying those golf-ball-dense tomatoes for the Cesar or adding the cranberries and walnuts. We add dehydrated leeks, beets, celery and even fennel that was harvest during the growing season. Equally as stunning are dehydrated raspberries and strawberries, which shine like jewels contrasted against a blanket of nutrient rich greens. A grate of some winter storage purple haze carrots and you’re bound to bedazzle even the fussiest dinner guest.

So how does one procure these coveted greens? This past holiday season Laura and Adam sold their goods at Mill City Indoor Winter Farmer’s Market November through December. In the future Loon hopes to extend their availability through the addition of a winter pack shed. This would make harvesting and processing the winter greens easier and provide year-round employment for a full-time employee.

Cheers and eat more local greens this winter. They are a rare treat amidst butternuts and bacon but, well worth it. Six more weeks of winter…local spinach can and will help! recipe-card