So here we are. An entire year. I’ve learned way more than I thought possible but aside from all of the learning and the massive amounts of kale washing, I am so so grateful and privileged to have met so many wonderful people. You know who you are. Thank you for your support, your encouragement, your enthusiasm when I talked about kale for yes, a million hours. Thank you for wanting to be involved. Thank you for your blog posts, your tweets, your endless sharing. Thank you for believing in me.
It’s funny. While the entire Project was built upon social-media and online interaction to help create ‘a movement,’ if it was not for your faithful offline promotion and dedication, this first year never would have been possible.
So here’s to Year Two – I won’t be able to do it without you.
For those that have joined The Kale Project recently, this year-in-review recap should provide a good idea of all that’s happened.
It all started with a seed packet. And isn’t that true for all kale beginnings? Actually, the idea for The Kale Project was first discussed between my husband and I in November 2011, but it was the gift of this vintage seed packet that acted as the final encouragement to launch the crazy idea of re-introducing kale to France. What was the initial identity for the Project, which was officially launched on April 26, now hangs in my kitchen. The first month was consumed with finding my first farmer, which to my surprise, Hermione Boehrer who most of you know as Madame Mustard, agreed to grow some kale if I brought her the seeds. Why is she called Madame Mustard? Mainly because the reason I even approached her about kale was because she grew mustard greens – another hard to come by leafy-green – and I thought she might be more open-minded to the entire idea. Hence Madame Mustard came to be… As for the seeds, they needed to be organic and I was able to find a source in the UK that would ship to France.
June was the month of delivering the seeds. Both Madame Mustard and Monsieur Vincennes – whom I met through one of the first people to ever contact me about her love for kale – received both curly-green and red Russian varieties. The rest was up to them. All I needed to do was to keep building a community of kale-lovers who would be ready for kale when the time came. June also also brought The Kale Project’s first piece of press!
July was a slow month. The kale was being planted and germinating. Meanwhile, the kale I had planted back in May was in full force on my balcony. If you want to grow your own kale, you can buy seeds via The Kale Project’s Etsy shop.
This was the month of the Tour du Kale. I had not been back in America (or Kale-merica as Paris Paysanne once called it… the name has stuck) for almost nine months and subsequently had not had kale for the same amount of time. I may have gone a little bit overboard, but the trip had two goals. The first and most important was to check out as many places as possible that offered kale and eat as much as possible (yes, my stomach did pay for it).
The Tour du Kale went well. I enjoyed salads and interviewed the chefs from Northern Spy and Back Forty – two city restaurants known for their great kale salads. I enjoyed juices from Organic Avenue and Juice Press. I even was invited out to Brad’s Raw Foods Chip Factory (a large American kale-chip supplier) in Philadelphia for the day. I devoured other salads at the amazing Candle Café West and at Jean-George’s restaurant in the Columbus Circle Trump Building. To top it off, the Tour du Kale did not end in New York City but only continued in my hometown of Pittsburgh where the kale from my parents’ garden was at complete maturation and ready to be picked. The only problem was that there just weren’t enough days to experiment!
La rentrée proved to be more exciting than I ever imagined. While I was expecting to have kale from Madame Mustard and Monsieur Vincennes, I was pleasantly surprised when I discovered that rockstar farmer, Joël Thiebault, whom I’d spoken to about growing kale back in June, did in fact plant some and was finally selling it at his markets in the 16ème. This was a game changer.
Along with Joel, farmer Nicolas Thirard from Picardy, who brings his organic produce into La Ruche Qui Dit Oui!, also started selling green kale, which he beautifully refers to as chou plume.
Unfortunately, snails ate Madame Mustard’s first kale crop (the organic life!) but she was determined to try again and did replant in September.
After multiple efforts to go visit Monsieur Vincennes farm (I’m talking like almost six or seven failed tries), I pretty much gave up on him. What I found out a few months down the road was that he did indeed grow and sell kale at his Tuesday/Friday stands at Marché Vincennes.
Other news was that vegetable distributor Terroir d’Avenirs was working with a farmer in the 95 department to grow and sell kale at various restaurants. This discovery led to the planning of The First Official Paris Kale Evening, held at Verjus restaurant. Owners Laura & Braden were so gracious to offer their culinary creativity and wine bar space for the event – they even incorporated kale into each dish on their bar menu for the night. Over 70 people showed up, some good friends and some of you that I met for the first time. And yes, Verjus’ famous fried chicken also had a kale twist!
OCTOBER & NOVEMBER
Finally Paris had kale! Throughout the fall, I discovered a few more places that were selling the leafy-green. Marché Bastille, Marché Place Monge, La retour de la terre in the 11eme and 5ème to name a few. I was and still am so appreciative of your kale-sightings and sharing them with me. They only make the Kale Map more accurate and stronger!
It was around November that kale really started catching on. I created the Kale Project Google Map as an effort to aggregate everywhere to find kale in Paris and at the peak, there were almost 15 spots!
The efforts were paying off. Kale was available and it was selling out. At some markets if you did not arrive by 9am or 10am, the kale was gone. No sleeping in for kale-lovers. Due to the high demand from expats, the farmers also started adopting the Anglo-name and were much more receptive to people asking for “le chou kale,” or “le kale.”
These months also meant more kale in restaurants, like Au Passage and Le Bal Café. Au Passage included kale in their lunch – which was enjoyed by many French people all trying the vegetable for the first time. Le Bal Café used it in a salad one day and then as part of a beet side for an evening roast.
At the end of October, The Kale Project participated in the third annual Cupcake Camp and prepared vegan, Kale, Chocolate & Beet Cupcakes. While they definitely were not the hit of the day, I think I won the award for most raised eyebrows!
Leading up to the holidays is always a busy time for everyone and this held true as The Kale Project, at the last minute, was included as part of Yelp’s Winter Food Festival. I was honored to be next to other vendors like Sugar Daze and Demoury Beer and Sherry Butt Cocktail Bar. The Project was definitely the baby of the bunch and it was obvious I was just starting out, but it could not have gone any better. With a sampling of kale pesto, kale chips and kale smoothies, around 500 French people, most of whom had never seen or heard of kale before, were introduced to France’s légume oublie, how to eat it and the nutritional benefits.
In December, one of the most exciting things to happen since the Project began was the first visit to Madame Mustard’s farm, located 40 km east of Paris. This video says it all but it was a huge moment to finally see the kale growing from the seeds I handed-off to Madame Mustard back in June.
For the holidays, it was back to Kale-merica, where I basked in the glory of Florida & California grown kale supply (you can’t always be devoted to only eating local!) and marveled at how well my parent’s kale was still alive & going strong in the harsh Pennsylvania cold and snow.
While the new year brought an end to a lot of the farmers’ kale supply (mainly because we all bought them out so quickly!), the superfood was still popping up in various places.
C’Bio, a popular organic stand, sourced kale from a farmer in Brittany and had supply through early April. We all can thank the lovely American, Suzanne, who works at the stand weekly for encouraging the head farmer to source the kale.
Jour, the make-your-own salad restaurant, imported kale from Germany and The Netherlands to offer as part of your salad, soup or smoothie and I was consulted for their marketing and in-store efforts. While they no longer offer kale (and I’m not sure if it’s a supply or demand issue, they’ve never written me back), I was not satisfied with my salad, as they did not massage the kale with the dressing, which meant the kale was much too tough and not a great way to have a kale-virgin experience.
January also marked the opening of Café Pinson, a new veggie spot in NoMo. And when they could they used kale: in soups, salads, with grains and juices. Finally a restaurant was serving kale consistently and people liked it.
And just as kale continued to pop-up throughout the city, The Kale Project received its first French press.
FEBRUARY & MARCH
The bio markets were catching on. More French press caught on as well. Each week, another large vegetable seller was sourcing kale from Brittany to sell at either the Marché Batignolles and Marché Raspail. Vendors were explaining to curious French buyers that le kale is “the fashionable vegetable of the moment!”
The Omnivore Food Festival’s “discovery” section featured Curly Kale and a large grower from Brittany who’d grown kale for the first time in 2012 because she and her husband had noticed it during a trip to the UK.
And in my favorite and another piece of most exciting news… Madame Mustard finally was selling her kale at the market! Nothing spelled success more than this moment! And guess what? She was selling out too.
The Kale Project was featured in France Ô’s show, Tendance. I luckily had a voice over as I explained what kale is, the health benefits and shared how to do a kale massage for the first time ever on French TV.
Just like the entire past year, every week brings new surprises and opportunities. April was the month of new farmers. I spent a weekend near Avignon with a large, conventional producer of lettuce and tomatoes and very interested in growing *mass* quantities.
I also heard back from a farmer in Lyon with a beautiful photo of their baby kale plants ready for transfer from greenhouse to ground! I met up with Kayla who is working with two farmers around the Nice area and they were planting seeds. I also connected with two brothers recently located from England to Normany, to practice Permaculture. They of course were already growing and are making a new meaning to the phrase, “hungry gap.”
And… I launched The Kale Project products (kale chips, kale pesto and kale salad) products at Loustic. Trust me, there will be a lot more to come in this category!
Then the Project did it’s first (of many to come) events at Wanderlust with the lovely Jessie from The Francofly. We made beautiful kale & spring herb bouquets that educated all about kale at the same time!
So I say it again – if you actually made it to the end. Here we are. An entire year. I’ve learned way more than I thought possible but aside from all of the learning and the massive amounts of kale washing, I am so so grateful and privileged to have met so many wonderful people. You know who you are. Thank you for your support, your encouragement, your enthusiasm when I talked about kale for yes, another hour. Thank you for your blog posts, your tweets, your endless sharing. Thank you for believing in me. It’s funny. While the entire Project was built upon social-media and online interaction to help create a movement, if it was not for your tireless offline promotion and interaction, this first year never would have been possible.
Here’s to Year Two – I won’t be able to do it without you.