Texas Agriculture April 1, 2016 : Page 12

RGV cabbage growers satisfy nation’s tastes By Jessica Domel News Editor With a sharp knife and a keen eye, dozens of workers slowly walk the rows of cabbages, carefully selecting the best-sized vegetable to appease American and Canadian appetites. Growing and harvesting cab-bages isn’t easy, but it’s something that Mike Helle and his family have found a passion for. Helle owns and operates Green Gold Farms in the Rio Grande Valley near Edinburg. There, they have more than 1,200 acres of vegetables, including: cilan-tro, collards, kale, onions, watermel-ons, honey dew, dandelions and, of course, cabbage. A PRIL 1, 2016 “I have 200 acres (of cabbage) this year,” Helle said. “We start off in Au-gust (with planting).” The cabbage is planted through November and December to ensure longer availability of Texas cabbage. “That will take us to before it gets too hot in May,” Helle said. Helle grows green, red and savoy cabbage. “We change varieties when it starts getting warmer to tolerate the heat,” Helle said. “It takes 120 days from seed to harvest. It does take a lot of fertilizer to shape the head and have a nice, dense head of cabbage.” In fact, it’s the density of Texas cab-bage that sets it apart from the rest. “The same size head of cabbage in Texas versus the same size head out of California will weigh up to 1.5 to two pounds more,” Will Steele, presi-dent of Frontera Produce, one of the companies Helle grows for, said. Cabbage is hand-harvested. Workers walk through the field behind a platform pulled by a trac-tor. Their experience helps them to select the right sized head of cabbage as they walk the rows. The pickers then place the cabbage on a ledge above their heads so the employees on the platform can place it in the proper spot in the produce boxes. “They know how they all fit in there,” Helle said. “There’s really no other way to do it. You can’t ma-chine-harvest it.” Helle’s cabbage is boxed in the field to cut down on the amount of bruising and the amount of heads that are cracked open. “It’s a clean operation. They dip their knives in Clorox a couple of times per hour,” Helle said. “There are hairnets. It’s a clean process.” The 16-and 18-count boxes of cab-bage are then taken to a shed where they’re refrigerated and prepared for shipping. “Waiting 24 to 48 hours, it’s load-ed on a truck, and it goes to its final destination,” Steele said. Helle raises produce for Steele’s Frontera Produce and for J&D Pro-duce. His cabbage is sold in H-E-B, Kroger and Walmart stores across the middle and northern sections of the United States and in Canada. “Our soils and our conditions are ripe for quality produce,” Helle said. The water in the Valley also helps Helle’s produce grow. He uses flood irrigation on most of his greens and drip irrigation on the cabbages, onions and watermelons. Cabbage plants are grown about three inches apart and then thinned for optimum yields. Although New Year’s and St. Patrick’s Day are huge holidays for cabbage demand, Steele encour-ages shoppers to buy Texas cabbage whenever they can. “If it’s green cabbage, you want to find something that has a good green color. Shades of green vary by vari-ety. Blue Vantage has a bluish-green tint to it,” Steele said. “Make sure it doesn’t have a lot of blemishes, insect damage, decaying leaves, which is a discoloration (a yellow tint to it). Nor-mally, if it’s in a supermarket, you’re not going to see that to begin with.” To ensure cabbages are in good condition when they reach the store, pickers in fields like Helle’s pick the larger leaves surrounding the cab-bage heads with them. The leaves protect the cabbage head through-out the shipping process and are then removed at the store. “Cabbage is hugely important to Texas,” Steele said. “It’s a crop that we do well, and it’s a crop that we do better than most areas of the coun-try, if not all, in my honest opinion, mainly because of the density and yield potential we have. It’s a big crop to us. It’s in good rotation with all the other crops we have.” Growing crops like cabbage keeps Helle busy on the farm, but he has help from his loyal staff and sons, Mike and Troy. Together, they carry on their family legacy that started with Helle’s grand-parents in the Rio Grande Valley. “My grandparents came on my dad’s side from Norway through El-lis Island. They were working in New York. Back in the day, there were a couple of developers in the Valley who sold 10-acre tracts,” Helle said. “The salesmen worked at the rail-road stations, and my grandfather on my dad’s side bought 10 acres and moved down here.” Helle’s grandparents on his moth-er’s side did the same thing—coming from Wyoming to farm in the fruitful Rio Grande Valley of Texas. A hard freeze put the family in tough times as citrus trees, and their income, froze. “They went back to regular jobs,” Helle said. “And then my dad start-ed roughnecking and farming on the side. I took over in 1989. We went through bankruptcy. Bad weather and bad times took its toll on the Valley farmers. There were several that didn’t make it. I got lucky. I made it.” 12

RGV Cabbage Growers Satisfy Nation’s Tastes

Jessica Domel

With a sharp knife and a keen eye, dozens of workers slowly walk the rows of cabbages, carefully selecting the best-sized vegetable to appease American and Canadian appetites.

Growing and harvesting cabbages isn’t easy, but it’s something that Mike Helle and his family have found a passion for. Helle owns and operates Green Gold Farms in the Rio Grande Valley near Edinburg.

There, they have more than 1,200 acres of vegetables, including: cilantro, collards, kale, onions, watermelons, honey dew, dandelions and, of course, cabbage.

“I have 200 acres (of cabbage) this year,” Helle said. “We start off in August (with planting).”

The cabbage is planted through November and December to ensure longer availability of Texas cabbage.

“That will take us to before it gets too hot in May,” Helle said. Helle grows green, red and savoy cabbage.

“We change varieties when it starts getting warmer to tolerate the heat,” Helle said. “It takes 120 days from seed to harvest. It does take a lot of fertilizer to shape the head and have a nice, dense head of cabbage.”

In fact, it’s the density of Texas cabbage that sets it apart from the rest.

“The same size head of cabbage in Texas versus the same size head out of California will weigh up to 1.5 to two pounds more,” Will Steele, president of Frontera Produce, one of the companies Helle grows for, said.

Cabbage is hand-harvested.

Workers walk through the field behind a platform pulled by a tractor. Their experience helps them to select the right sized head of cabbage as they walk the rows. The pickers then place the cabbage on a ledge above their heads so the employees on the platform can place it in the proper spot in the produce boxes.

“They know how they all fit in there,” Helle said. “There’s really no other way to do it. You can’t machineharvest it.”

Helle’s cabbage is boxed in the field to cut down on the amount of bruising and the amount of heads that are cracked open.

“It’s a clean operation. They dip their knives in Clorox a couple of times per hour,” Helle said. “There are hairnets. It’s a clean process.”

The 16- and 18-count boxes of cabbage are then taken to a shed where they’re refrigerated and prepared for shipping.

“Waiting 24 to 48 hours, it’s loaded on a truck, and it goes to its final destination,” Steele said.

Helle raises produce for Steele’s Frontera Produce and for J&D Produce. His cabbage is sold in H-E-B, Kroger and Walmart stores across the middle and northern sections of the United States and in Canada.

“Our soils and our conditions are ripe for quality produce,” Helle said.

The water in the Valley also helps Helle’s produce grow.

He uses flood irrigation on most of his greens and drip irrigation on the cabbages, onions and watermelons.

Cabbage plants are grown about three inches apart and then thinned for optimum yields.

Although New Year’s and St. Patrick’s Day are huge holidays for cabbage demand, Steele encourages shoppers to buy Texas cabbage whenever they can.

“If it’s green cabbage, you want to find something that has a good green color. Shades of green vary by variety. Blue Vantage has a bluish-green tint to it,” Steele said. “Make sure it doesn’t have a lot of blemishes, insect damage, decaying leaves, which is a discoloration (a yellow tint to it). Normally, if it’s in a supermarket, you’re not going to see that to begin with.”

To ensure cabbages are in good condition when they reach the store, pickers in fields like Helle’s pick the larger leaves surrounding the cabbage heads with them. The leaves protect the cabbage head throughout the shipping process and are then removed at the store.

“Cabbage is hugely important to Texas,” Steele said. “It’s a crop that we do well, and it’s a crop that we do better than most areas of the country, if not all, in my honest opinion, mainly because of the density and yield potential we have. It’s a big crop to us. It’s in good rotation with all the other crops we have.”

Growing crops like cabbage keeps Helle busy on the farm, but he has help from his loyal staff and sons, Mike and Troy.

Together, they carry on their family legacy that started with Helle’s grandparents in the Rio Grande Valley.

“My grandparents came on my dad’s side from Norway through Ellis Island. They were working in New York. Back in the day, there were a couple of developers in the Valley who sold 10-acre tracts,” Helle said. “The salesmen worked at the railroad stations, and my grandfather on my dad’s side bought 10 acres and moved down here.”

Helle’s grandparents on his mother’s side did the same thing—coming from Wyoming to farm in the fruitful Rio Grande Valley of Texas.

A hard freeze put the family in tough times as citrus trees, and their income, froze.

“They went back to regular jobs,” Helle said. “And then my dad started rough-necking and farming on the side. I took over in 1989. We went through bankruptcy. Bad weather and bad times took its toll on the Valley farmers. There were several that didn’t make it. I got lucky. I made it.”

Read the full article at http://texasagriculture.texasfarmbureau.org/article/RGV+Cabbage+Growers+Satisfy+Nation%E2%80%99s+Tastes/2450154/296943/article.html.

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