Radish Reflections

coverlarge-4Excerpted from “Street Farm: Growing Food, Jobs, and Hope on the Urban Frontier” by Michael Ableman (Chelsea Green, 2016).

Market growers too often view radishes as unremarkable, easy to grow, whatever vegetables. Their high-speed, forty-day seed-to-harvest cycle, throw-em-in-the-ground in between slower crops flexibility make them just a sideshow. Too often they play a two-bit part that tends to feature the more flamboyant and prima donna leading melon, tomato, or pepper.

But at Sole Food, radishes are a big deal. We grow a lot of them, and our crops are proof that not all radishes are created equal. Walk the aisles at the farmers market and you’ll often see similar products; walk those same aisles with a critical eye, however, and you’ll see big differences in quality and variety. Taste a radish from four different farms and you’ll have four very different experiences. Spiciness, texture, moisture, color, shape, all these things are influenced by different growing practices, soils, irrigation, and harvest times.

I grew up with the standard “cherry” type radish put in my lunch box or waiting in a bag in the refrigerator for some salt and a quick after-school crunch. I still love those round plump red radishes, but I have lifted myself out of my monocultural, radish-is-red-and-round belief system. I now facilitate a virtual rainbow radish parade, a carnival of color and shape, texture and flavor.

And at the market, just as customers almost always ask “Is it sweet?” when referring to a tomato or pepper or an ear of corn, they look down at the humble radish and ask “Is it spicy?” If the answer is yes, they often walk away.

We grow cherriette, Easter egg, red meat or watermelon, Pink Beauty, Crunchy Royale, purple Bravo, black Spanish Nero Tondo, long daikon, white icicles, green meat, round Ping Pongs, and my favorite, our signature radish—the French breakfast.

It’s amazing to me that after all the years of public and private culinary obsession, people still look at me funny when I use the words radish and breakfast in the same sentence. It is true that most of us don’t think of vegetables when considering the morning meal. With a focus on sunny-side-ups or Frosted Flakes, radishes are not included in most people’s breakfast repertoire.

The D’avignon, our choice variety of these strikingly beautiful long slender radishes—red bulbs with perfectly isolated white tips—begs for illumination when seen piled at our stand at the market.

You can pickle, roast, sautée, or shave them, but where they really shine is when they’re grated into sweet butter with a few chopped leaves for color then spread on good bread. Or, simply put them on a plate with tops intact and score the end of the roots with a knife then dip into salt or butter. Or, slice lengthwise and put on a butter sandwich. I often wait until there is a long queue before I voice these recipes and then watch as people step out of line to grab a bunch, something moments before they would have ignored.

coverlarge-4Excerpted from “Street Farm: Growing Food, Jobs, and Hope on the Urban Frontier” by Michael Ableman (Chelsea Green, 2016).

Street Farm is the inspirational account of residents in the notorious Low Track in Vancouver, British Columbia―one of the worst urban slums in North America―who joined together to create an urban farm as a means of addressing the chronic problems in their neighborhood. It is a story of recovery, of land and food, of people, and of the power of farming and nourishing others as a way to heal our world and ourselves.

Michael Ableman is a farmer, author, photographer and urban and local food systems advocate. Michael has been farming organically since the 1970′s and is considered one of the pioneers of the organic farming and urban agriculture movements. Ableman is a frequent lecturer to audiences all over the world, and the winner of numerous awards for his work.

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