Hello beautiful humans! If you don’t already know me, my name is Erica Van Skike and I am the PICA Weekly Community Meals Coordinator this school year. This means I help coordinate and facilitate the three-night-a-week community meals program that is open for all Village residents. These meals are a time for community members to come together through food. I am a second year PICAn, a third year psychology major, and I have an additional interest in sustainable food systems and agroecology. After living in PICA for my second year now I have become increasingly interested in what we grow in the PICA gardens. Out of all the delicious fruits and veggies we grow, kale is my favorite.
There is something about kale that really appeals to PICAns. I remember last year, as a PICA resident, just about every PICAn I knew was obsessed with this beautiful brassica and tried to incorporate it into their diets as much as possible, and this obsession has not seemed to wither away this school year. But what is it about kale that is so intriguing to us? Where does it come from, and why has it become a staple vegetable in the PICA diet?
Kale has been cultivated for over 2,000 years. Before the Middle Ages, kale was the most popular leafy green until cabbage became more widely eaten. Because kale does so well in cold climates, it became increasingly popular in colder European regions. For example, in nineteenth century Scotland, kale was so resistant to the frost that kail became a generic name for “dinner” and all Scottish kitchens included a kail-pot for cooking.
The Brassica oleracea family refers to the following vegetables: cabbage, broccoli, kohlrabi, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, and kale. The Brassica oleracea plant is native to the Mediterranean region of Europe. Kale is currently botanically known by the variety acephala which means “cabbage of the vegetable garden without a head.”
But why do we as PICAns appreciate kale so much? First of all, kale is a nutritional powerhouse. One cup of chopped kale contains 9% of the daily value of calcium, 206% of vitamin A, 134% of vitamin C, and an amazing 684% of vitamin K. This richness in vitamin K is associated with various health benefits. It can reduce the overall risk of developing or dying from cancer (specifically: cancer of the bladder, breast cancer, colon cancer, ovary cancer, and prostate cancer), and is necessary for a wide variety of bodily functions, including normal blood clotting, antioxidant activity, and bone health.
Not only does it have awesome health benefits, but it can be cooked and eaten in a variety of different ways so it never gets boring. Kale is always good massaged in a salad with lemon and soy sauce dressing. It’s also great in vegan scrambles in place of eggs, or in soups, as kale chips, or sautéed with olive oil. There are so many ways to eat kale, which is good since it never gets boring.
Kale has been growing abundantly and successfully throughout the years in our PICA gardens. It is an especially good harvest in the winter when the harvest is low for other fruits and veggies. The types of kale we grow in the PICA gardens are dinosaur kale, Russian/Siberian kale, and tree kale. Dino kale, also known as Tuscan kale, is the best type of kale for cooking, with its blue/green/black leaves and its earthy, nutty flavor. It is growing in both the A and B gardens. Russian kale is incredibly hardy and has the toughest stems of all the types of kale. Look for this variety in the B-garden. Tree kale is found in the A-garden and although it is a little tough, when massaged it’s very good in salads as well. Make sure to take advantage of all the beautiful, tasty kale that will be available to harvest in the PICA gardens this year! There will be a lot and we don’t want any of it to go to waste.