Salad with Trillium Haven Vegetables
I went to college at Grand Valley nearly twenty years ago, so from time to time I found myself driving through the fields around Hudsonville and Jenison, just west of Grand Rapids. I clearly remember being struck by the dark, visibly rich soil that paraded up the hillsides; you can’t help but be struck by it, it’s everywhere. The gently rolling hills in the distance make this landscape quite breathtaking. There is quite a lot of agriculture in the area, ranging from good sized dairies and big tracts growing corn or soybeans for feed, to small organic vegetable growers like Trillium Haven Farm and Groundswell.
I wondered what made the ground so dark but not enough to dig in and find out. The aroma of onions was always thick in the air in the summer months so I figured this may be part of the reason. Eventually, Jesse from Grassfield’s gave me an eye opening history lesson. Turns out that, like much of West Michigan, this area was first settled by the Dutch, specifically, Dutch farmers. In the Netherlands where most arable land was below sea level, farmers were used to draining the land they intended to farm. The Dutch are by nature creatures of habit so when they relocated to West Michigan they did what they knew: they found low lying land in a marsh or river basin and drained it. This revealed very fertile, rich, dark black soil on which to raise crops and graze animals. I have often heard farmers who work this land refer to as being “down in the muck”.
The vegetables that grow there are different. You will notice this immediately on your first visit to Trillium’s booth at the Fulton Street Farm Market. They visually have distinct, bright colors. The root veggies in particular are fat, round and sweet. Compared to the vegetables grown by another favorite organic grower closer to the lake and considerably further south, it’s night and day. The Lakeshore vegetables are bright and lithe and tapered, with clear, clean flavors. They seem healthy like a long distance runner. Good vegetables grown in the Grand River watershed look rosy and plump, and seem healthy like, well, a strong Dutch farm wife. This little pocket of farms is West Michigan agricultural terroir in a bottle, a place where the physical character of the land and the cultural habits and know how of those who settled there come together to produce something that is not repeated elsewhere.
Vegetable season is in full swing and the output from Trillium and Groundswell is nearly overwhelming. It’s a struggle to use everything we’d like to. The salad above features some of the current favorites, including purple, white, and red carrots, lamb’s quarters, flowering dill, and baby fennel and will be hitting the menu next week.