How To Keep Greens Fresh At Market

Greens are tender and prone to wilt, so how you care for them from harvest to sale will make all the difference.

by Jesse Frost
PHOTO: The Land Connection/Flickr

As we head back into the greens portion of the season, there is always one piece of farmers market advice that must be heeded: produce needs to look fresh all day long.
For most things, like peppers and eggplant, they can be made to look fresh with the occasional spirits of water. It’s really the tender greens that need the most attention.

Harvest At The Right Time

Whether or not greens will stay fresh at market depend first on when they were harvested. As a rule, the more tender the green, the earlier it should be harvested. The reasons for this are twofold: First, getting the crop out of the field and cooled off will help slow microbes from starting the decomposition process; Secondly, it will provide you with a generally higher Brix level. Degrees Brix is the measurement for sugar in a crop, but a higher Brix level has also been linked to a longer shelf life. Those higher levels are often found in the cooler mornings.

Be Gentle

This probably goes without saying, but washing and packing should be done gently. Bruising the greens only increases their rate of decline.

Allow For Air Circulation

Packing greens too tightly doesn’t allow for them to cool off fast enough. Leaving space will help with air circulation and getting that field heat off.

Choose The Right Packaging

The less packaging you can get away with, the better for your pocketbook and the environment. Of course, plastic bags or clam shells will retain quality better—if kept out of sunlight, of course—than rubber bands, but it comes at a cost. So does, however, having wilted greens. If you do choose rubber bands, success will come down to the attention you give to display and attentiveness.

Know Your Enemies

At market, three things are going to destroy the quality, or at least the visible quality, of your greens: wind, sunlight, heat. Wind and sunlight will both dehydrate your crops, but so will general heat. The best you can do to keep your display protected from these three things, the better. This may include hanging some sort of shade cloth where the sun comes through or even building a small awning.

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Don’t Display All Your Greens At Once

Greens tend to look less silty when they are stacked as opposed to stood upright. What we like to do is never to display all of our greens at once. A large stack is ideal for brining customer to the table, but keep some in the coolers to swap out as the day—and heat, and wind and sunlight—increase. This will refresh the other greens and keep the greens looking crisp all day. Some people even dunk theirs occasionally in ice water. We prefer a spray bottle with ice water in it to mist the greens regularly. If you can keep your greens looking fresh all day, you can expect to return home with nothing but empty coolers!

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