On July 16th we took a group of our chefs to visit the salad growers with our fruit and veg supplier Fresh Direct. We left sunny Hertford at 7.30am and drove down to Kent which was equally as hot and sunny and a perfect day to walk around the farm looking at a variety of whole head lettuce such as English Romaine and gem, and also the baby leaf such as spinach, rocket, land cress and chard.
We met the team from Southern Salads at a nearby location and all got on a mini bus and drove up to the farm. On arrival the team from LJ Betts Farm greeted us and we split into two groups, team A went to Southern Salads processing factory, Team B headed out into the fields. I was in team B and we went straight to the picking of English Romaine and I even got the chance at picking my own as you can see from the pictures I am wearing a very stylish blue hair net!! Picking wasn’t as easy as you would imagine you have to cut through the core of the Romaine at a certain height, check for tip burn, peel away the outer leaves (which looked good to me and seemed a shame to remove) then pack into clear bags and pack into boxes of 12. I picked one which I thought was good but because the core had grown at an angle this had to be discarded; such high standards were great to see. We moved on to the gem fields and again saw a picking line working hard in hot conditions but these needed to be picked before 2pm as the temperature will rise and put the leaves under too much stress to be picked after that time. Picking starts at 3.30am and the team work for up to 14 hours a day and on a day like this I’m sure it was tough going.
On to the baby leaf fields starting with baby spinach and what a view rows and rows of baby spinach and eating straight from the ground it doesn’t get any better than that and I couldn’t stop eating. Picking the baby spinach is done by a machine and due to the delicate nature of these leaves the picking stops earlier. From there we moved up to rocket and chard, the rocket was fantastic with a great peppery after taste, the varieties of chard were visually great and although very tasty I couldn’t really tell them apart in the field you can see red chard and bulls blood chard.
We were then shown the mizuna fields and some were under poly tunnels to protect from pests, this was due to the weather change which if I remember correctly a south westerly wind brought in flea beetles which loved the mizuna and were happily eating away, 3 rows of mizuna were left uncovered and these were know as the sacrifice beds so the flea beetle could enjoy which would keep them away from the rest of the crop so LJ Betts could still fulfil the orders they had, to sound a bit geeky I could of stayed there all day just listening to Nick who’s knowledge was mind blowing.
The only way to finish the day was a picnic in the field lots of salad as you would imagine with cheese, cured meats, gala pie, salmon blinis, fresh dips, baguette, watermelon, strawberries and cream. A great day enjoyed by all.
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