In season: lettuce

There are lots of vegetables that pop up in the spring – succulent shoots of asparagus, bright green leaves of dandelion, tiny sweet radishes – but for some of us, nothing says “spring” like tender young heads of lettuce. Those leaves in every shade of green (and red and burgundy) are like the season of spring made tangible, the beginning of a new year of delicious eating.

Paul Feather and his wife Terra Currie of Full Life Farm just west of Carrollton have lettuce tucked in many pockets of the 2 acres they have in production. “I have a 75-foot row of kohlrabi and cabbage and I underplant those vegetables with lettuce. They’re good companions. Although I usually direct seed my lettuce, I’ll be putting out some transplants in another field, so that will add about another 50 feet.”

Feather grows Buttercrunch, Red Sails and Black Seeded Simpson lettuce, but he also saves lettuce seed from year to year. He’s been saving lettuce seed for so long that he doesn’t remember what varieties they are. “Lettuce is an easy crop to save seed from and we save seed from as many crops as feasible. Sometimes what we started with is determined by what’s at the local seed store. I like to support local businesses so if I go in looking for lettuce seed, I’ll just buy what they’ve got. That seems to work for us as people have given me plenty of feedback about how beautiful our lettuce is and how much they enjoyed it.”

Some lettuce they sell as loose leaves and some as head lettuce. Later in the spring, they sow some mixes like Asian green mix or a braising mix.

The farm is over 11 acres with space for chickens and a commercial kitchen were they produce value-added foods such as pies, soup and frozen fruit. “We got into this because we wanted to build up the market for local food in our area, but we noticed that there are a lot of people who want more ready-to-eat stuff. Dollars spent on processed foods make up the bulk of the food-buying dollars in this nation. We realized if we wanted to reach more people, we needed to give them processed foods. So we make it possible for them to buy what they want, but also eat healthy food and support local farms.”

Full Life Farm sells its produce and value-added foods at Carrollton’s Saturday morning Cotton Mill farmers market which opens for the season April 22, through Farmers Fresh CSA and through on-farm sales. The Cotton Mill market will be at its new location: 609 Dixie Street near Tanner Medical Center.

Lettuce is something Full Life Farm grows throughout most of the year, stopping just during the hottest part of the summer. “We grow it through the winter but it definitely grows more slowly so I don’t always have any to sell. But we eat it and our neighbors do, too. I had lettuce for a salad last night.”

The Mercury’s Spring Garlic and Green Onion Dressing

For beautiful spring lettuce, The Mercury’s Chef Brian Carson suggests a beautiful spring dressing. You’ll find green onions and green garlic right there alongside locally grown lettuces. If you’re lucky, the parsley will be there as well.

Carson doesn’t have this dressing on the daily menu, but uses it on specials when the ingredients are in season. In addition to making a very green and luscious dressing, he suggests trying it as a marinade or grilling sauce for chicken, pork and beef.

For sale at local farmers markets

Vegetables just coming to market: asparagus, cauliflower, peas, ramps

Vegetables and fruit: arugula, Asian greens, beets, cabbage, carrots, chard, collards, cornmeal, cress, cutting celery, escarole, fennel, frisee, green garlic, green onions, grits, herbs, kale, leeks, lettuce, microgreens, mushrooms, mustard greens, polenta, radicchio, radishes, spinach, strawberries, turnips