We feed off the energy of our partners – our community partners, our product partners, our farm partners. After all, we choose to work with them because they’re as obsessed with their craft as we are with ours. One of those partners: Richardson Farms.
When it really comes down to it, we’re proud of our food and we believe in knowing where it’s coming from. And we believe you should know, too:
Nestled amid rolling, cow-studded hills just about 90 minutes from DC, you’ll come across a charming, Amish-built farm store studded with handmade bins overflowing with fresh produce, a canopy of hanging plants for sale, and more locally made jams, sauces, and salsas than you know what to do with.
This is the Richardson Farm Store.
Walk through the back door of that farm store and you’ll get a peek at the bread and butter crops for this bucolic White Marsh, MD, farm. Inside adjoining rows of green houses, the very beginnings of kale and collard greens peek through aromatic, nutrient-rich soil. Richardson Farm produces about 5,000 cases of kale a week, and all of that kales starts out here, in a weather-protected greenhouse.
Once the leaves have grown to about the size you might expect spinach leaves to be, they’re transplanted to one of sprawling fields where Don Richardson and his family coddle and cultivate those plants until they’ve reached full size – think leaves that are a foot long, at least. In fact, when the weather’s cooperating, the Richardson team can plant thousands upon thousands of plants a day.
Now it’s time to harvest. Richardson’s team plucks kale from these verdant green fields from about June all the way through late November. This isn’t a one-harvest-and-you’re-finished situation, though: Picking involves grabbing the largest, darkest bottom leaves off the plant and leaving the still-growing heart of the plant in the ground to continue growing. The leaves will continue to regrow within the next few weeks, and then it will be time to harvest again. This rhythmic cycle continues throughout the summer and early fall with anywhere from 30 to 50 workers picking three to four full acres of kale and collards a day.
And after that kale is picked, packaged, and rinsed, it’s combined with a variety of other fiber-rich greens and delivered to each Cava Grill location every day. Enter SUPERGREENS.
Don Richardson has photos of his family farm that date from the late 1800s, and this bustling, greens-focused business has been selling to the public for the past four generations.
“Once you get dirt under your fingernails, you can’t stop,” Richardson says.
He’s a methodical man with a commanding presence – but he’s not intimidating. When he talks about the effect recent rains and flooding have had on his harvest, you can tell he’s deeply passionate about – and entirely consumed by – his work.
“I have to keep track of everybody and I have to plan everything out so we make sure the harvest goes smoothly – and that we’ve planned for what to do if it doesn’t. I have no boss, and I get to set my own hours. Ok, ok, so farming hours aren’t exactly the shortest,” he laughs.
He also laughs when asked about the so-called ‘kale trend.’
“We’ve been growing [kale and collard greens] crops for as long as I can remember – because they’re hearty and nutritious. A few years back, we started to see the kale trend coming, with everyone pushing it on TV and the rise of greens. So we planted a third more plants three years ago, and that first crop still wasn’t enough to keep up. We’ve been growing our output year over year since then, and we plan to continue building.”
Richardson says he draws inspiration from the thriving farm corridor in New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania – he says they first started to see the ‘kale trend’ taking root in the Philly farmers markets where they were selling some of their product a few years ago.
“Farmers haven’t always had the reputation for being very big on camaraderie or trade secrets,” Richardson says. “The Philly markets, though – it’s brutal up there. But they’re brutally honest. It’s a great place to learn more about what’s new and what’s changing. You can’t always find that in the farming industry.”
Richardson seems pretty content with the crop he calls his bread-winner. Thousands of cases of it are picked up from the farm grounds each week and delivered to restaurants and markets all over the region – Cava Grill customers alone eat about 700 pounds of that kale each week. Some of it goes to the nearby high school, which boasts the status of one of the most sustainability-focused public high schools in the state.
And some of it goes straight to the farm store on the Richardson Farms grounds, where the store’s full-time executive chef incorporates it into a thriving prepared foods, grocery, and catering business. This is not your grandma’s farm store. This is 10 to 15 gallons of homemade crab soup a day, platter upon platter of greens-studded pasta dishes, rich and flaky chicken pot pies, and a tomato-and-mozzarella salad that’s bursting with the most flavorful locally sourced tomatoes.
“The funny thing is, I’m really more of a salad guy,” Richardson says. He loves everything they produce from scratch at the farm store every day, but he loves those greens most of all.