Avant Gardeners Celebrate Kale and Community

The leafy green is good for salads, good for stir-fry and, as the Eugene Avant Gardeners believe, good for building community.

Kale is a rising star in the food world, and to celebrate this cool weather crop the Avant Gardeners are organizing the first annual Kale Fest Dec. 5-7, devoted to promoting local food, gardening and kale.

“It’s using food to create community,” says Plaedo Wellman, co-organizer of Kale Fest and a member of the Avant Gardeners, a sustainable gardening group.

Kale Fest 2014 will include panel discussions, a potluck, a kale art gallery and workshops about bioregionalism and how to grow kale.

An important theme of the event is food justice. “Food scarcity is not a foreign thing,” says Ben Riley, co-organizer of the event and also a member of Avant-Gardeners. “It’s here in this country, in this city.”

Riley says the group hopes to “bring awareness” to the social issues and discuss ways in which the entire community can be fed with local food.

Kale is quickly gaining popularity in the Eugene area, particularly among gardeners and backyard farmers. “Kale is huge,” Adam Cole of Down to Earth Home and Garden tells EW. “It has been for the last couple of years.”

Dinosaur kale, also known as Tuscan kale or lacinato kale, has a dark green color and blistered, scale-like leaves. “Dinosaur kale has increased in popularity substantially,” Cole says. “It’s easier to work with and tastier.” Dino kale and other varieties, Cole says, actually become sweeter in cooler weather.

At FOOD For Lane County’s Grassroots Garden, kale is an important winter crop. “Now is the perfect time to be eating kale because we just had these freezes,” says the garden’s coordinator, Merry Bradley.

Kale chips are easy to make and “a way to get young people comfortable just snacking,” Bradley says. Tear the leaves into chunks, add oil and salt and bake at 300 degrees until crisp. Since kale is so sweet this time of year, it’s perfect for salad. Slice kale thinly and mix in apple chunks, pumpkin seeds and lemon-rice vinaigrette, Bradley says.

“Kale has developed its own celebrity status,” Wellman says. “Let’s celebrate kale as a local crop that’s important in our area.”

The inaugural Kale Fest runs Dec. 5-7 all over town, including Dharmalaya, 356 Horn Ln., the UO campus, The Boreal, 450 W. 3rd Ave., and the Old Whiteaker Firehouse, 1045 W. 1st Ave. For those interested in volunteering, see Kale Fest’s Facebook page for more info.