It used to be the six words you never wanted to hear from your mother.
“Don’t forget to eat your greens.”
Sitting on your plate was a sad, watery salad made with iceberg lettuce and soaked in a heavy dressing.
Wanting to earn that coveted chocolate chip cookie, you reluctantly swallowed the salad.
Those days are long gone.
Now instead of the dreaded watery leafy mess, consumers have the choice of any number of flavors and greens and one Culpeper farm has been at the forefront of that greenery since 1989.
Corvallis Farms, owned and operated by Bryant and Terry Osborn, the farm has grown from one that grew sweet corn to now offering berries, flowers and of course the coveted greens.
Farmer’s Market regular
Bryant originally went to school for agriculture, earning his Bachelor’s Degree in agricultural economics. Terry taught agriculture at Culpeper County High School for 15 years before retiring to tend to the family farm.
It was in 1989 that they decided it was time to go into the farming business, having had 7-8 acres of farmable land.
“At that time, we had a neighbor who was growing sweet corn,” Terry said. “We thought ‘that sounds kind of neat.’ So we started growing sweet corn.”
That’s where the name of the farm came from. Corvallis is German for “corn valley.”
The couple always grew a variety of produce, from the traditional Farmer’s Market fare of zucchini, watermelons and green beans to the more rare cut flowers.
As their kids got older and went off to school, they started to reassess what they were growing and why.
“One day Bryant asked me, ‘what do we make the most money at?’” Terry said. “We figured it out and we made the most money off of berries, cut flowers and tomatoes. So Bryant said why are you picking up 1,000 watermelons?”
It wasn’t until their lettuce and spinach was noticed by wholesaler The Fresh Link in the Buy Fresh, Buy Local newspaper. The wholesaler came out and loved the variety. The representative at the time pointed out that the chefs in D.C. wanted to be able to buy local, fresh produce year round and it was hard to find.
At the time, Bryant was finishing up a 30 year career in the IT industry and the offer from The Fresh Link pushed him to leave Bank of America and go into the farming business full time. That was about six years ago and the rest, as they say, is history.
“We always did greens,” Terry said. “We had a beautiful lettuce mix. We always grew spinach. People say they’ve never had spinach like ours.”
The “foodie” culture in America, which really started to take hold about 10 or 15 years ago, has helped push consumers to look for more local and fresh options when it comes to produce.
“I think it really has,”Terry said. “The mesclun mix will grow even in the heat of the summer so people will have that mix with their homegrown tomatoes. The local food movement has really driven our business a lot.”
Corvallis Farms has been a high profile vendor at the Culpeper Downtown Farmers market since its inception.
“I like to think we’ve been an integral part,” Terry said. “Culpeper Renaissance Inc., has really been phenomenal. It used to be that the vendors ran the market, CRI came in and took it over and Missy and Jessica do a wonderful job of getting it set up.”
“It’s a big draw for foot traffic downtown,” Bryant said. “The merchants by and large love it because of that.”
The Farmer’s Market has grown as people look to find the source of their food. Concerns like listeria at mass produced greenhouses and the push to Buy Fresh, Buy Local have helped propel consumers to vendors like Corvallis.
When you buy greens from Corvallis Farm at the Downtown Farmer’s Market, they are usually around 24 hours old and only Bryant and Terry handle the produce. They offer a variety of greens, from the mesclun mix to kale, to swiss chard, to leaf endive and beyond.
“The whole reason iceberg lettuce ever got popular is because it ships well,” Bryant said. “It was never good lettuce, but it was convenient. People have gotten used to salads that had no flavor and it came all from the dressing. Once people can accept salads themselves can have flavor, there’s a whole world that of other possibilities.”
The mesclun mix has bitterness, an anise flavor, some pepper and a touch of mustard. Some is frilly, some is flat and some even has kale. All of it is baby greens, making the mouth feel more tender.
“When people think of kale, they think of the big stuff and when people say ‘I don’t like kale,’ they’ve never had it picked at a baby green stage,” Bryant said. “It makes all the difference in the world.”
Flavors range from the sublime to the ridiculous, as Bryant says.
In 2016, Corvallis Farms started to provide its greens to Grass Rootes Restaurant in Culpeper. It was the culmination of a plan that Bryant and Terry have had for some time, but they didn’t expect business to pick up as quickly as it did.
“We didn’t realize when they were going to open, we didn’t ramp up quick enough but now we’ve caught up,” Terry said. “It’s a learning curve for everyone.”
The greens from the farm are also offered at Vinosity on East Davis Street in the winter months.
The swath of customers is wide. From the farmer’s market, to the CSA service they have along with Seminole Farm to what they call “front porch” clientele, the greens business has kept the Osborns, well, in the green.
It can take 25-30 days to get a crop going, with fall being the busiest time of the year, with a window of just a couple of weeks to plant and get going for the spring.
Then, in April, the Farmer’s Market will start up again and they will begin interacting with their customers once again. It’s that interaction that Terry said has helped grow the business.
“We get a lot of people who ask questions, I think people are becoming much more educated about their food and growing practices,” Terry said.
One of the main questions they get are – “are you organic?”
Technically, no, they are not. They haven’t gone through the certification from the USDA, but they do try to limit their use of commercial fertilizer.
“A lot of people don’t go through the certification, you can’t say you’re organic,” Terry said. “You can say we’re well spray, or we don’t use commercial fertilizer. But to say you’re organic you have to have that sticker.”
The farm does a lot of composting and cover crops, but Bryant said the biggest problem is the spinach with is a heavy feeder, especially during the winter months. It needs a lot of nitrogen so sometimes they have to supplement with commercial fertilizer.
Getting greens to germinate can be tricky as well, but there’s a secret to the success they’ve had, Terry said.
“The secret to greens is that greens need a minimum of an inch to two inches of water to germinate,” Terry said.
The seeds also need to be cool, so they stick them in the refrigerator and then add lots of water.
But if your seeds don’t take off, you can rest easy knowing that come April, Corvallis Farms will be sure to have plenty of leafy greens to try out.
For more about Corvallis and to see what’s in season now, check out www.corvallisfarms.com.