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Wilson County collards will be highly sought this year because surviving collard crops are rare in other eastern North Carolina communities hit directly by Hurricane Florence.
For years, collards have been a traditional fare when North Carolinians serve their Christmas meal.
But this year, collards may be hard to find in counties ravaged by the hurricane’s high winds and pelting rains.
“Back when Hurricane Florence came through, to the south and to the east of us lost a tremendous amount of collards,” said James Sharp of Deans Farm Market on N.C. 42 west of Wilson. “They either drowned or the wind damaged those collard plants. Pretty much anywhere east of I-95 suffered a lot of damage.”
According to Sharp, a lot of growing regions had just transplanted their collards when the storm came through. They were more susceptible to damage because they were still young and tender.
Fortunately for Wilson County, it wasn’t a total washout.
“Here, we had a pretty good loss, but we had planted some extra this year, so we are pretty fortunate to have enough collards to cover all of our customers,” Sharp said. “We will have plenty of collards for our market and some of our other customers we supply. We will have ample supply.”
Sharp said the crop here in Wilson County looks good, and the word has gotten out.
“The phone rings off the hook and folks are driving in from all over eastern North Carolina to come purchase collards,” Sharp said.
Sharp called collards “a staple” at Christmas.
“You can’t have a Christmas meal without collards,” Sharp said.
About half of the collards Sharp grows will stay here in Wilson County with the remainder being shipped.
Sharp planted 50 acres of collards.
“They were seeded in the greenhouses last January and planted at the end of March, first of April, so that crop has been maintained all summer,” Sharp said. “That way they are nice, healthy plants come fall at collard harvest time.”
Sharp said Wilson was fortunate not to have had more damage from Florence, which battered the state for days after making landfall on Sept. 14 near Wilmington.
“It could have been a lot worse,” Sharp said. “We got hurt on some other crops, and the collard crop withstood some of the wind and rain, and we were very fortunate here.”
SMELL OF CHRISTMAS DINNER
Deans Farm Market is known for cabbage collards.
“It was an old heirloom variety that was in the Deans family since the late 1960s,” Sharp said. “We keep those seeds from year to year. They are very unique and very tender and sweet and not as bitter as a standard green collard is.”
The market now sells cabbage collards cooked with ham hock seasoning.
“If some of these folks drive from down east to get our fresh collards, they realize that we have got them already cooked, and we have been fortunate to get some of those folks to try our cooked collards,” Sharp said. “They loved them at Thanksgiving and some of those same people are coming back here at Christmas to buy some more.”
Collards can take an hour or so to cook, and they leave a lingering aroma inside the house.
“That’s one reason we pre-cook them for them,” Sharp said. “If they microwave them or warm them up on the stove, it doesn’t stink their houses up.”
For many, though, the aroma of collards is synonymous with Christmas.
“Those smells at Christmas with different food cooking, that’s what makes those special occasions, it makes memories,” Sharp said. “I do love them. They are healthy, and they are good for you.”
“We had a had a large Thanksgiving push from the lack of collards outside the county,” Sharp said. “Now we are actually cutting the heads of the collards. People really like those small heads with the tender leaves, so that is what we are harvesting now.”