When you think of Alberta, what do you see?
I would bet that most of us instantly bring to mind the vast fields of yellow canola.
We take pictures of it’s beauty, and we cook with it’s oils. Canola is a fundamental part of agriculture in the prairies. My family has planted the seeds year after year for decades now. It has become an integral part of our farm, but it wasn’t until last year that we had ever tried to eat the greens. I realize that to many people, eating canola leaves seems quite strange, especially if you have spent your life cultivating it for it’s seeds, but I strongly urge you to try it! The spring treat has become a family favourite in our house, even earning the stamp of approval from meat-and-potatoes type farmers!
Last year, a coworker excitedly asked me if I was growing canola. She described the baby greens as one of the most delicious vegetables available. I looked at her and said, “Are you nuts?” In my garden, canola used to be considered a noxious weed. If you give it an inch or let the plant go unpicked, it will literally take over. During the first summer of my garden I went away for a week and came home to see one of the nicest canola crops in the county! It took me two full days, with help, and we carted over 6 wheelbarrow loads out of the garden. The following year, I was still battling the canola. I have spent countless hours hand weeding in hopes to completely extract the weed and this friend of mine was asking me to intentionally plant it, the thought of it was completely laughable!
But then, I started thinking... maybe she was on to something. Maybe this could be the 'something' that makes my CSA (community support agriculture) boxes unique?
I have spent countless hours watching my parents, or following my dad around, just to soak up any knowledge I can about our farm. If there’s one thing I have learned, it is how to grow canola. This past spring, I seeded my first field of the yellow blooms, with my dad sitting alongside me in the tractor. It was far from perfect, but the fact remains that I was able to catch a glimpse of the feeling of being a part of something so much bigger than myself. Now, as the field has started to bloom, I am filled with such a sense of patriotic pride, knowing that it is growing because of me. This farm means so much to me and I am constantly dividing my time between my garden and the big scale crops. I am in no way ready to take on the responsibility of the grain farm, but I am eager to learn all that I can so that some day I will be. In the meantime, melding those two worlds together is how I have found something so unique and so perfectly ‘me’ to add to my boxes!
The tender greens that I am picking, are planted in rows that are completely tended to by hand. This helps to ensure that the leaves you are eating are never exposed to sprays of any kind. You can enjoy them a number of different ways, such as raw in salads, steamed with melted butter, or by using the recipe that follows for sautéed greens. Canola is a derivative of the cabbage family, so the possibilities are endless!
These days, canola is getting a lot of bad press. Politics have gotten in the way of business, and it is the farmers who are suffering from the effects. The latest trend of health foods is non-GMO’s, which unfortunately does not bode well for us either. Conventional farming practices aren't perfect, and I think it is an issue that farmers will constantly battle, but regardless of any of that, we need canola for our country to thrive!