The Collard Green is a humble plant – tough leaved and not as showy as a cabbage but a solid performer agriculturally and nutritionally. I have always associated the Collard with the southern United States, and I believe we in America do generally assign this plant to the southern states.
Collards Greens, like everything have migrated of course and now they are a regular in my weekly farm box here in California. Sturdy and storable they adapt well to many meal types and serve well as the greens portion of a dinner plate (though perhaps not producing delight for al of the people eating in my house). I cook greens the California way: sautéed with olive oil, salt and pepper. Perhaps if I included more of the south with salt pork they would be more popular. As it turns out Collard Greens have been showing up on the menu in various parts of the world for about 2,000 years, going far back to ancient Greece where botanic archeologists have found them. I was thinking I could try that as a comeback to menu complaints: if it was good enough for Ovid, it’s good enough for you. I’ll let you know how that goes…
Recently I joined a group of colleagues to spend part of a day at the Goodwill Farm of Durham, and it was there that I spent some brief hours of my life close to the Collard Green. I shoveled dirt into five gallon buckets while someone else potted the baby greens that would spend their winter growing so that by spring they could be handed to the food bank and continue their long history of providing sustenance. Our guide for the day was the farm manager, native to local agriculture but perhaps moonlighting as a guru. As we dug and planted Charles challenged us with “simple” questions, and laughed at the naïveté of the office people. To illustrate the vast power of the simple plant he told us a story; I paraphrase here:
Once upon a time, a long time ago, a farmer determined that it was time to marry. He lift the hills in which he toiled, cleaned the dirt from his hands and headed into town. On the way, as is proper for a gentleman who is courting he picked he wild violets and daisies of the field to make a bouquet. Unsatisfied that the flowers he chose were adequate to convey both his ardor and the qualities he sought in a partner he supplemented this floral arrangement with the leaves of the Collard. Tough and sturdy to surround a protect the gentle, fragrant and beautiful he was content that this bouquet provided the right information about both suitor and sought. With offering ready he stood at the crossroads of the town waiting to find a bride who displayed the same combination of elements.
Many women passed, none were suitable. At last the one he waited for appeared: strength and confidence with a gentle beauty shining through. He stepped into the intersection blocking her path and declared himself. Naturally the right woman would understand the complexity of the offering and thus the qualities of the man giving it. She immediately accepted. Together they returned to his hilly farm where generations have since sprung, both greens and people, nurturing and strong, humble and complex.
“If it weren’t for the collard green I wouldn’t be here,” laughed Charles, deeply arching his back to guffaw. I suspected that like the greens and the story there was more to Charles than he revealed.
I have been, if you will indulge me, stewing on this story. Not only is it charming but I think there is a lot in there to contemplate – about life and nature and what we value and how we see the world. I often spend so much time puzzling out how to answer a question or solve a problem I forget that simple solutions often work the best. What reflects what I need or what I seek? Maybe it really is just that easy. Or put another way: do we have the material we need to draw to us what we are looking for?
Charles asked a different question later in the day, I’m stewing on this one too: what is a collard green without the hand that plants it? What indeed are any of us without the gratitude for the place in which we live, for those that planted us and those that sustain us? I am awfully glad I got to spend the day playing the dirt!