Did you notice that our beloved kale is on the Environmental Working Group’s “Dirty Dozen” list? According to the Environmental Working Group, the plants on this list have the most pesticide residue. However, my grandfather grew kale annually without the use of pesticides. How can this be? My grandfather simply grew great varieties that did well in this area (NC) and he grew kale only in the season that it thrived.
So, why is such a care free crop on the “Dirty Dozen” list? First, kale has no peel, meaning anything that is sprayed on the plant is directly applied to the part we eat. Bananas, on the other hand, have a peel that limits the contact between the pesticide and what ends up on the bottom of your ice cream sundae.
Second, kale has become such a hot commodity that many growers are growing it in the heat of summer, even though it used to be strictly a cool season crop. Unfortunately, extending the plant’s growing season has introduced new complications, particularly insects like aphids, caterpillars, and flea beetles. Summer kale is also more likely to develop diseases, such as Anthracnose, Alternaria, and Black Rot. Black Rot has been a growing problem on the east coast with some growers treating their kale with copper multiple times before it is harvested.
Is any of this justification for removing kale from our diet? No! The nutrition in kale makes it a healthy, and delicious, part of any meal. We simply have to be smart about buying our kale.
The best strategy for buying kale you can trust is purchasing yours seasonally at the farmer’s market, preferably from a grower you know. Local growers who run small operations normally only grow kale during the season that it thrives. This means when pest pressure increases, the grower is more likely to tear down the kale and move on to a summer crop, than to get out the sprayer. Additionally, many of the varieties these growers choose have pretty good natural resistance to diseases.
This photo, taken in late May when it was very hot in NC, shows how important it is to choose varieties with good natural resistance. The variety in the background is Ripbor and the variety in the foreground is Red Russian. Notice that the Red Russian kale has quite a few disease spots on the leaves, while the Ripbor has none at all. Heirloom Lacinado kale also has pretty good natural disease resistance and is relatively disease-free.
In a nutshell: If you want the best kale, buy your kale from a grower you know at the farmer’s market. Prepare to spend your June with tomatoes and zucchini and look forward to kale’s return in September!
Eat your veggies,