Califonia Bountiful

Going green!

Learn how the "superheroes of the vegetable world" are making a splash with chefs and consumers.

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Everyone wants to look good, feel better and have more energy. That's where these guys come in—dark leafy greens. Nutritionists call them the superheroes of the vegetable world, pointing out that they are packed with vitamins A, C and K as well as iron, calcium and fiber. And because of all of that nutritional appeal, what started out more as a Southern-style comfort food has found acceptance amongst the masses as of late. Yet few of us quite know what to do with dark leafy greens when we see them in the store. That is, unless you're in Ventura at the 71 Palm Restaurant. That's where you couldn't find a bigger fan of dark leafy greens than Chef Didier Portier.

It seems like almost every dish he prepares is one made with cooking greens. So what's his tip to finding so many ways to use them? Well, his main secret to success lies with his friends and neighbors, Roy Nishimori and Jan Berk, who run San Miguel Produce and have nearly every green you could imagine at their farm in nearby Oxnard.

Besides selling to local chefs, San Miguel Produce is actually behind one of the most innovative products in the leafy greens market for consumers these days—bagged cooking greens. Launched in 1996, it was the first packaged form of cooking greens in the United States. The idea goes back to the 1970s when Roy and his two partners were in the vegetable and lettuce business. They saw the trend in the bagged salad market and wondered if there wasn't something else they could grow to distinguish themselves from the pack.

In addition to those—collard greens, which have a cabbage/broccoli-like flavor—some of their best sellers are a curly mustard, which is spicy and vibrant, and a rainbow chard, which has a delicate taste similar to spinach.

It takes about 35 to 40 days to grow a crop of greens, and then harvest crews move into the fields and are able to get three to four harvests a year out of the plants. From there, they travel to the production plant, where they are triple washed and cleaned and then put through what amounts to a huge salad spinner. After they are bagged up, these fresh, tasty greens are shipped out for us to enjoy at home.

Today, the farm has grown to become the top-selling brand of cooking greens in the nation. They now sell to local chefs like Didier and are also shipped across the country to stores like Trader Joe's and Whole Foods for home chefs to devour. But no matter how big San Miguel Produce gets, the vision remains the same: to provide people with an easy solution for adding nutritious and delicious greens to their diet.

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