Checking plants

Joe Merrell, owner of JW Merrell Farms in Beaufort, checks out his bountiful crop of collards Wednesday. (Cheryl Burke photo)

BEAUFORT — While county farmers lost most of their collard crops last year to Hurricane Florence, residents can look forward to bountiful offerings of the local favorite this year, especially for Thanksgiving.

“We’ve got the prettiest collard crop we’ve had in 10 years,” Joe Merrell, owner of JW Merrell Farms said Wednesday. “We tried new things this year to get them started.

“I sowed seed about two months after Florence hit last year. We did six different plantings in five fields. We’re preparing to plant another crop in a few days for next year.”

Collard greens, in the cabbage family, are a traditional Thanksgiving staple side dish for county dinner tables. They’re also a popular dish for Christmas and New Year’s Day.

Mr. Merrell said he’s already started selling collards to area stores and farmers’ markets, as well as at his produce stand on Highway 101.

One of his biggest county customers is Piggly Wiggly in Beaufort. Store produce manager Lisa Pigford said, “As soon as Joe’s crops start coming in, people start buying. Everyone loves Joe’s collards. It’s just a good collard.”

Ms. Pigford said while people have already started buying the bright green, leafy vegetable, it normally picks up after the first frost and near Thanksgiving.

“People want to buy local to support the community and support local farmers,” she continued. “We normally sell from about now through the end of January.”

Other county farmers are also reporting bumper crops. Sandra Simpson of Simpson Farms in Bettie said, “They’re beautiful. They’re a little late because of the weather. Ours will be ready by Thanksgiving.”

Clayton Garner of Garner Farms in Newport, too, said his fields are green with collards and he’s already selling them at his stand.

“We’ve got a good collard crop. We’ve already been cropping the leaves and hopefully in the next day or two we’ll be cutting the whole head,” Mr. Garner said.

“Last year we pretty much lost our entire crop,” he continued. “This year is a nice boost for our produce stand. It’s a good thing to have toward the end of the year.”

Farmers said collards are selling for $1.25 per pound.

Mr. Merrell said he also sells collards at $20 per crate.

Mr. Garner said he sells whole collard heads for $3.

As to why collards are such a popular Southern dish at the holidays, Mr. Merrell speculates it could be because of the rural nature of the South.

“Years ago, county families grew their own gardens and they ate from their gardens,” he said. “Collards were something everybody could grow and they were easy to maintain.”

There are many ways to cook collards, and the greens are commonly used in Southern braises and stews.

They’ve also become increasingly popular to use as wraps.

According to Medical News Today, collard greens are a great source of several vitamins, including vitamin A, vitamin C and vitamin K. They are also rich in iron and magnesium.

Contact Cheryl Burke at 252-726-7081, ext. 255; email Cheryl@thenewstimes.com; or follow on Twitter @cherylccnt.

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