Reconnecting Roots: Lettuce Tell You About It

From burgers to wraps to, well, salads, lettuce is one of the go-to ingredients for just about any meal. You can find it at pretty much every restaurant in America, whether you’re enjoying fine dining or grabbing a quick meal from the drive-through window. The average person eats more than 12 pounds of lettuce per year, in fact. So we rely on a lot of farmers to help grow these leafy greens we enjoy so much.

When you think of crops, what season do you imagine farmers toiling away in? Springtime, right? Turns out, there are quite a few types of crops that flourish in colder temperatures, one of them being lettuce. In fact, lettuce actually LIKES lower temperatures and seems to thrive in that environment.

Sounds crazy, right? We thought so too. So the only thing for us to do was visit the Needmore Acres farm in Bowling Green, Kentucky to find out for ourselves how lettuce is grown. It was an overcast day with cool temperatures begging us to throw on a long sleeve shirt or jacket (or both). As Nathan and his family showed us around the farm, we came upon a huge row of different types of lettuce. Sure enough, these heads of green sprouts seemed to be doing fine!

As Nathan told us, “Lettuce likes cold weather. And as that first frost comes along, the sugar contents will enhance in it. The flavor will actually get better.” What he was saying is not only can you grow lettuce during colder months, but the lower temperatures make the greens taste BETTER. Who would’ve thought?

This is great news for farmers and growers who want to farm during what some people might think is the “off-season”. It’s hard to run a small business PERIOD; having only certain months where you can make a profit has to be stressful. So when you’re able to cultivate different types of vegetables all year around? That’s a huge deal for family farms everywhere. The Howell’s know this and take full advantage of it.

“We farm year-round,” says Nathan. “Actually, some of our better months in sales are those considered non-production months for vegetables in Kentucky.”

It’s a good reminder that no matter how far technology has come, farmers like Nathan still rely on centuries-old methods of farming in order to produce a harvest every day of the year. New machines may make certain parts of farming easier, but there’s often no getting around the weather. To maximize the fruits (and vegetables) of their labor, the Howell’s have to go back to the basic foundations of knowing how to shift their farming practices according to the climate.

In our journey to better understand where our food comes from, we’ve found that great food doesn’t sprout up solely because of new inventions we’ve come up with in the past few decades. We still need knowledgeable farmers who know the lay of the land and how to best utilize it. So during the winter season, we might think of adding a fresh salad to go with our hot bowl of soup. We’ve tried some of that good old winter lettuce and we can tell you - it’s pretty amazing.

TVGabe McCauley