The Collard King

Some people could sell a sugar cube to an engorged honeybee in a honey bound hive–their salesmanship abilities are that good. Others of us struggle with selling. 

I remember the first time I ever sold anything at the farmers’ market. In eastern NC, where I grew up, collards were big business. It seemed like every small town had a collard peddler, who before Thanksgiving and New Years would park at a gas station with a truckbed overflowing with freshly-cut collard heads. There, in the parking lot, the collard king would hold court, a big folded up wad of cash in his hand as he bestowed the honor of buying his freshly cut collards on his followers. And followers he had. There would be a genuine traffic jam in the parking lot from people clamoring to fork over cash to the collard king. 

Thus, I aspired to be–only I aspired to be a collard king in western NC, where I settled once I got married. I grew a quarter-acre collard patch, tended them with gentle loving care to maturity, then spent a Friday evening picking my first batch to take to the farmers’ market. Nobody was selling collards at the farmers market, and thought I could establish a niche. I had also done my salesmanship research and read that produced piled high draws people’s attention. The saying was, “pile it high and watch it fly,” a metaphor meaning people would surely buy my collards so fast they would fly off the table. But the only thing that flew were my collards, literally, as they parachuted down due to periodic wind gusts. It was a chilly, windy November morning, and in the excitement to get to the market that morning I had forgotten my coat. I froze for five hours, made 30 dollars, and returned home with a pickup full of collards to give away to neighbors. One neighbor said, “We never ate many collards growing up around here. Seems like most folks here ate turnip greens.”

And that’s the problem with farming. You can grow the world’s most beautiful collard greens, but if you live in an area where people eat turnip greens, good luck.

9 thoughts on “The Collard King

      1. Sure does, believe it or not the veg here is diabolical. All that land and its just supermarkets selling pass sell by stuff…very disappointing. Markets are few and far between and expensive.

    1. Collards are an acquired taste–growing up, I hated them because they smelled up the house when my mom cooked them, but the final product tastes pretty good.

      1. I’ve tried many cooked greens and just can’t do it. Same with kale – I know it’s so good for you, but the only kind I can stand is the baby oak leaf type.

  1. Some years ago I got collard seeds from a heritage seed catalogue and grew them with delight – had never heard of them in Scotland and thought they were fabulous. That summer we had a volunteer from North Carolina stay. I thought she’d be impressed with collards for supper. “Oh no not collards!” she groaned. “I thought I’d escaped them”. But she et them anyway! I gather they are very variable and “collard” is a bit of a generic term?

    1. Usually, collard is pretty specific in eastern NC to a variety called the Georgia Southern Collard. They had big rubbery leaves that had to be boiled for hours, and in so doing stunk up the whole house with a strong cabbage smell. They are definitely an acquired taste. I used to hate them growing up, but have grown to like them now.

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