Now why, you might ask, are we writing about Brussel sprouts? Easy! They’re grown in my home region of Santa Cruz County, California. And also, they’re the rockin’-hot vegetable this winter!
Thanks to celebrity chefs, who use them in their meals, practically everyone is giving Brussel sprouts a try, and then another try. Because I had a creative, health-conscious mother, and was raised on the Monterey Bay, I grew up with Brussel sprouts and my children grew up with them. We love ’em in our house.
Just a few years ago, Brussel sprouts were the “Rodney Dangerfield” of vegetables – they “got no respect.” But now, the little green orbs are getting newfound attention. They are the darling of the a new generation of chefs and consumers around the world. You can’t watch a cooking show or go to a restaurant without being exposed to Brussel sprouts.
Brussel sprout acreage has increased along with demand. Chefs Emeril Lagasse and Rachel Ray began showing consumers how to cook them, magazine articles followed suit and made them into rock stars of the vegetable world.
Brussel sprouts are grown in north Santa Cruz County right on the coast. Hand picking begins in June and continues into September. Machine harvesting begins in the latter part of September. A number of American companies also have Brussel sprout farms in Baja California that start production in January so Brussel sprouts are available year-round.
Immediately after harvest, Brussel sprouts are cooled and then packed into boxes with ice. They can stay fresh up to three weeks. They used to be shipped back East by rail, but now all transport is by trucks. Two drivers can drive from the West coast to New York in four days.
The foggy coastal climate is perfect for growing Brussel sprouts. Growers like for all sprouts to be the same size on each stalk, and the cool climate allows for even growth up the stalk. Smaller sprouts go to the freezer market. Larger ones go to the fresh market. The price now is $40.00 per box, much higher than in the past, which is nice, too, for the farmer.
Growing them is not cheap. The hybrid seedlings begin life in a local nursery. At two months old, they are transplanted into the ground. The plant matures in 8-9 months. The crop needs a specialized harvesting machine which costs $400,000.00 to $500,000.00. Growers also need a cleaning and storage facility for their crop.
Brussel sprouts don’t lend themselves to organic production, due to aphids’ attraction to them. If not sprayed for aphids, at harvest, the outer leaves must be peeled back to shake out the bugs. This is very unpractical on a production scale. However, sprays are targeted to the aphid, which is a mandible. The sprays are safe for humans, because we are not mandibles.
Nutritionally, Brussel sprouts are loaded with antioxidants and have the same cancer-inhibiting potential as cabbage and other cruciferous vegetables, like broccoli and cauliflower. This is because they contain the nitrogen compounds called indoles and a significant amount of Vitamin C. Brussel sprouts also supply good amounts of folic acid, potassium, Vitamin K and a small amount of beta-carotene – all needed for a healthful diet.
If you haven’t tried them in awhile, head on out to your market and buy up some Brussel sprouts for dinner tonight!
Capital Press, March 11, 2016