Put aside the sour cream and onion chips. Abandon those messy, orange cheese curls. Toss away the nachos topped with gloppy processed cheese. Make way for Delaware’s hottest new snack food – baked kale chips.
If the Delaware Urban Farm Coalition has its way, every Delawarean will soon be munching on this snack sensation. “Kale chips have the crunch and flavor that people love but, unlike most snacks, they’re nutritious, too. Kale is rich in vitamins, minerals and anti-oxidants,” says Carrie Murphy, a University of Delaware Cooperative Extensive horticulture agent and the interim chair of the Delaware Urban Farm Coalition.
“The Urban Farm Coalition wants to generate excitement about growing local foods and eating local foods. Coalition member Tara Tracy hit on the idea of creating a buzz about kale chips,” says Murphy.
“When we posted a kale chip recipe on the coalition’s Facebook page, we had positive feedback from everyone from mom bloggers to health specialists. The recipe has caught everyone’s attention,” she says.
Kale chips are easy to make (see recipe below) and kale – which is related to cauliflower and broccoli – is easy to grow. Plus, kale is readily available in most Delaware supermarkets and, later in the season, at farmers markets and farm stands.
However, for many residents of Wilmington, it’s not easy to obtain kale and other fresh produce. Large swaths of the city have been termed “food deserts” by the U.S. Department of Agriculture because they lack convenient access to a supermarket and limited or no opportunities for residents to grow their own food.
The Delaware Urban Farm Coalition is doing a lot to change that. Since its inception in 2008, the coalition has worked to expand community gardens and on other ways to improve access to healthy foods in the city. In addition, it helps to teach local residents about healthy eating (including how to make kale chips) through programs run by coalition members such as the Food Bank of Delaware.
The coalition is made up of almost a dozen organizations. Key partners are UD Cooperative Extension, Delaware Center for Horticulture and Delaware Department of Agriculture. The coalition’s presence can be felt in dozens of neighborhoods, from a nascent garden in Edgemoor to the thriving “West Side Grows” garden in the Cool Springs area of the city. But the cornerstone of the coalition’s efforts is the 12th and Brandywine Urban Farm, which had its first harvest in 2010.
“What makes the urban farm different from a community garden is its focus on production agriculture,” explains Tracy, who is urban agriculture manager for the Delaware Center for Horticulture. “Our 1,600-square-foot urban farm grows fruits and vegetables – including kale – that are sold at an on-site farmer’s market. In addition, we operate a 1,200-squre-foot community garden at this site, where residents can rent plots for a small fee. And, yes, we do grow kale in the urban farm and sell it at the farmers market.”
Delaware Center for Horticulture staffers and volunteers do the bulk of the planting, tending and harvesting at the urban farm. But a farm apprentice will be hired soon to assist with farm chores and engage more community members in the project.
Tracy is quick to note that East Side residents don’t need to pull weeds to help out. “A working mother who is too busy to volunteer is still helping the farm – and her family – when she purchases produce at our weekly farmer’s market,” she says.
The Delaware Urban Farm Coalition is now growing beyond its city of Wilmington roots.
“I’ve had phone calls from individuals and organizations throughout Delaware who want to get involved,” says Murphy. “The coalition has really become a statewide effort.”
If you want to buy kale and other produce from the coalition’s farmer’s market, its opening day is May 7. Located at 12th and Brandywine streets, the market is open every Monday in season from 4-7 p.m.
If you want to grow kale yourself, now’s the time to plant this cool-season crop, says Murphy. Seedlings are available at garden stores throughout the state. Plant now and you’ll have fresh kale by early June.
And if you want to make your own kale chips, here’s what to do:
BAKED KALE CHIPS
1 bunch kale (4-5 cups)
1 TBS olive oil (olive oil spray works especially well)
1 TSP sea salt or seasoned salt
1 TSP vinegar
1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line a non-insulated cookie sheet with parchment paper.
2. With a knife or kitchen shears, carefully remove the leaves from the thick stems and tear into bite size pieces. Wash and thoroughly dry kale pieces with a salad spinner. Drizzle chips with olive oil or spray with olive oil. Sprinkle with vinegar and seasonings.
3. Bake until the edges are brown, anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes. Gently stir leaves halfway through baking.
Try different seasoning combinations, suggest Murphy and Tracy. Teens may prefer a spiced-up version; cheese lovers may want to sprinkle parmesan cheese on top before baking.
Article by Margo McDonough
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