Ever wonder how, despite the huge amount of variation in the natural world, almost all produce sold in grocery stores looks so uniform and perfect? Well, long before that produce reaches a store or farm stand, commercial growers both large and small have worked to sort out the good, the bad, and the ugly. Industrial-scale farmers that only grow one crop such as corn, tomatoes, potatoes, etc., have a lot of this process done by specialized machines, but here at North Star Orchard the washing and sorting of vegetables is all done by hand by a few lucky individuals who learn to develop a discerning eye for quality.
This year, I was lucky enough to spend harvest days helping out in our washroom, where I learned how to make our beautiful produce even more beautiful by cleaning it up for our customers. I also learned I had to make some difficult decisions when it came to our not-so-beautiful produce. Would someone at market decide to buy a banged-up beet? Contortionist carrots? Caterpillar-chewed chard? Spotty spinach? Peculiarly-shaped peppers? A lot of otherwise perfectly good funky-looking vegetables end up going into our staff pile of “seconds”, either because they didn’t sell at market or were too weird and ugly to risk going out for sale to begin with.
Having had the pleasure of eating much of these “reject” vegetables, I can say with confidence that they taste just as good (if not way more delicious) than the perfect produce showcased at the grocery store, most of which is all looks no flavor! Growing produce using organic methods allows for a lot of imperfections, but embracing natural variation along with the hardships our food has been through is better for farmers and better for the earth. So next time you’re at a farmers market and see an inelegant eggplant, a teeny tiny tuber, or a slightly tarnished turnip, give them a chance! Ugly vegetables deserve love too!