How buggy should kale be?
September 15, 2016 11:11 AM   Subscribe

I got my first delivery from a new CSA and was super-excited about the kale. Until I realized that the kale was buggy--very buggy. How buggy should kale be?

I do realize that since it's fresh from the farm and unwashed, that I should expect to find hitchhikers. However, this kale was quite holey (every leaf had multiple holes) as well as buggy (every leaf had at least one bug, many had multiple bugs).

Is this normal? I don't want to complain if it's just a normal thing to expect from farm-fresh kale. I've been spoiled by years of buying the chemically treated stuff at the grocery store, I suppose.
posted by whistle pig to Home & Garden (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I haven't bought from a CSA, but I buy from a farmers market occasionally, and it's often gritty/dirty and maybe a bug or two, but definitely not eaten through or multiple visible bugs.
posted by greta simone at 11:23 AM on September 15, 2016 [2 favorites]

That's super gross. I got kale in my CSA this post week and there weren't any bugs. Occasionally there will be one or two but not lots! Where are u located? Maybe theres some infestation problem. I would ask your CSA.
posted by silverstatue at 11:24 AM on September 15, 2016 [3 favorites]

CSA vegetables are likely to be much buggier than anything you're used to. In my experience it varies from farm to farm and produce item to produce item (when I was in one, you had to be careful with the corn), but, yeah. This is a thing. Items are not washed or picked over for bugs before they come to you.

You're also a lot more likely to get produce with holes in it, because it's not profitable for farmers at this scale to throw away unsightly produce the way that industrial growers and supermarkets do

It's not a matter of complaining, being "spoiled", etc. this is just what CSAs are and how farms work.

If you can't use the kale, just ask for them not to send it next time.
posted by Sara C. at 11:25 AM on September 15, 2016 [2 favorites]

That does sort of feel like slightly too buggy even for CSA kale. Like, even if it's completely organic, there is such a thing as pest control.

If you have a means of contact with the farm, maybe send a picture and say "is this normal for kale or is this pretty substantially buggy?" It is possible that, in transit, your bug population increased and they would not have packed it if it looked like that at the time.
posted by Lyn Never at 11:32 AM on September 15, 2016 [10 favorites]

This wouldn't be normal from my CSA. Funny-shaped and muddy vegetables, yes, but buggy and eaten-through, no.
posted by in a dark glassly at 11:37 AM on September 15, 2016 [3 favorites]

I've gotten buggy things in my CSA. Contact the farmers or CSA coordinator and politely let them know that it is too buggy.
posted by bdc34 at 11:45 AM on September 15, 2016 [3 favorites]

Also, it may be a temporary thing and they may usually have beautiful kale, they're just currently dealing with an infestation but didn't want to short the boxes. N-thing to contact them.
posted by momus_window at 11:46 AM on September 15, 2016 [2 favorites]

That is buggier (and holier, but it's kale--you're going to chop it up anyway) than anything I have gotten from a CSA or at a farmer's market.
posted by quaking fajita at 11:54 AM on September 15, 2016

I often find that my CSA's summer kale is buggier than cool weather kale. There's always a point in August or so when it gets unacceptably buggy, and I just stop taking it. I don't mind the occasional bug or hole, but I draw the line when many leaves are nibbled down to lace or when I see a crust of aphids on the leaves. Just compost it and let your CSA folks know so they can look for solutions.
posted by ourobouros at 1:07 PM on September 15, 2016 [3 favorites]

Thanks, everyone. I may contact them not necessarily to complain but just to let them know. I ended up having to compost the kale because I frankly lost my appetite while washing it.
posted by whistle pig at 1:39 PM on September 15, 2016

I used to buy the produce for a food co-op. This doesn't sound out of line for locally grown kale, and I probably wouldn't have had any trouble selling it if the holes weren't larger than, say, a pencil eraser.

We would often receive kale with bugs and slugs. The most common were cabbage worms, probably Pieris rapae, the small green caterpillar larvae of the white- and sulfur-colored butterflies that you see around gardens in the summer. We would handle them by swishing the kale vigorously in a large sink or plastic tub filled with water, which has the knock-on effect of getting off most (but probably not all) of the grit. Which is to say, when you've received non-buggy kale, it's very possible that someone else just did the washing for you.

If you got aphids, on the other hand, you should complain. Aphids leave the kale dirty in a way that's hard to wash off, and make for less edible leaves that don't store well or taste very good.
posted by pullayup at 4:22 PM on September 15, 2016 [3 favorites]

I've had several CSAs and only one of them had kale that was this bad. On the other side, only one of them had kale that never had bugs in it, but she triple-washed the greens.
posted by aniola at 8:08 PM on September 15, 2016

Honestly, vegetables grow outside, outside has bugs, and bugs eat vegetables. When I first started large-scale gardening, the bugs grossed me out too but after a while you get used to them, pick them off, and move on. Depending on where you are, kale can be a tough crop to grow cleanly in the summer. Like others have said above, it will get better into autumn. If you visit your CSA farm, ask them questions about the crops and pest management. Generally the kind of pest control needed to keep kale clean around where I live can be challenging on a larger scale. You either have to keep it completely covered with row cover at all times, or you'd be spraying chemicals on it every week to kill the cabbage worms. (And sorry, but just because pyrethrum is allowed in organic systems doesn't mean it's something you necessarily want sprayed every week on your growing veggies.)
posted by bluebelle at 8:27 PM on September 15, 2016 [3 favorites]

Just want to say: just wait till you get some brussels sprouts. OMG the aphids.
posted by the marble index at 10:49 PM on September 15, 2016

I grew up on a farm. Produce is variable, full stop. Rinse it off and cook with it.

The farm I grew up on prepared a lot of produce for a commercial cannery (and, ultimately, for a commercial food product distributor that made things like the filling for pre-made Sara Lee / Schwan's type foods, like pot-pies, burritos, and so on). The appearance standards for the produce that goes into canning or food products is sometimes a little shocking to people who grew up habituated to glossy grocery store display vegetables, which account for maybe 15% of a total plot's crop. So everyone eats the ugly veggies, they just don't know it because they've been processed. See also

I now live in a large city and also get my stuff from a CSA. Greens, especially, occasionally have folds that shield aphids and scale insects from rinsing (so heads up). It's pretty common and normal for greens to arrive with aphids, occasionally with a lot of aphids. This isn't harming the produce. Again, just rinse and enjoy. The only conditions I worry about in terms of CSA produce quality are relative intactness and absence of spoilage.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 9:33 AM on September 16, 2016 [3 favorites]

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