Photograph courtesy of stockphoto.com
Ever since David Kamp’s book about the evolution of American cuisine, The United States of Arugula, came out in 2006, the peppery, once-unassuming salad green (also known as rocket) has been hijacked into a kind of shorthand for trendy cuisine. Farmer Nicolas Donck—who runs Crystal Organic Farm in Newborn, Georgia—remembers that arugula had a decidedly understated introduction to Atlanta kitchens a decade earlier. Shoppers at Morningside Farmers Market, which Donck helped found in 1995, regarded it at first with apathy. By 1997, chefs like Bacchanalia’s Anne Quatrano began requesting it, so Donck and other farmers would bring it to the market whether other customers wanted it or not.
Donck admits that his arugula wasn’t as appealing back then. He initially grew the plant in full sun to maturity, resulting in bigger, tougher, bitter greens. “Slowly people would try it—and we got better at growing it,” he says. Donck now plants the green under cover, year-round, in high tunnels (large, unheated greenhouses) and harvests it when the leaves are young and tender. For him and other local farmers, arugula has proved itself to be a consistent performer, not merely a fad ingredient. Donck sells up to 150 pounds weekly to restaurants and to eager customers (for $3 a bunch or two bunches for $5) at Morningside, which operates every Saturday, even in winter. morningsidemarket.com
This article originally appeared in our March 2013 issue.