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Winter's Green Reward

Grohsgal bought the farm -- separated by a mere stand of trees from the Chesapeake Bay near the mouth of the Potomac, just down the road from Patuxent River Naval Air Station -- with his wife Christine Bergmark, who manages a state program that helps tobacco farmers switch to other crops. On cold, clear winter nights, the constellation Orion blazes over the fields, appealing to Grohsgal's sense of the poetic: They named their organic farm Even' Star. And while Grohsgal's greens are bred to flourish in the cold, they aren't bulletproof. Arctic winds and temperatures in the single digits can knock down many of his plants and delay production on some varieties for weeks. When that happens, Grohsgal cuts back on shipments to wholesale clients and digs into his larder for jams, preserves and other products he can send to his retail subscribers.

"The crops pause and go dormant, but they don't actually crash and die," Grohsgal says. "Summer weather has been far more damaging to our finances and our spirits."

Local farmer Brett Grohsgal surveys the current crop at his Even' Star Organic Farm near Lexington Park. (Photo Above Bill O'leary / Greens Photos By Julia Ewan -- The W)

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[This week, with temperatures slowly recovering from the cold snap over the weekend, Grohsgal will be making deliveries but with fewer field greens than usual. "We got tons of ice down here. Everything is locked in ice," he says. "But there's every indication the kales and collards will be harvestable."]

As we clip our way through the mizuna bed, Grohsgal works fast. He is Edward Scissorhands in the flesh: His bucket is nearly full before I can even cover the bottom of mine. Later, we will harvest purple mustard leaves -- again, separating small leaves from large, discarding anything bruised or damaged. Then it's on to thin and cull broccoli plants.

But after three hours spent mostly on our knees, mercifully it is time for lunch. Grohsgal races back to the house to finish the meal he is preparing. Like the flavor of his greens, the food Grohsgal makes is robust: a big, rustic pot of Thai-flavored soup, dark and thick with a jumble of chicken parts. He has recently slaughtered some pigs, so there is a shepherd's pie with pig kidneys. Milk cartons filled with lard rendered the night before stand on the kitchen counter.

After so many hours in the cold, I practically inhale the food. Grohsgal smiles. "I can burn 4,000 calories in a day," he says with a grin. Meanwhile, 85 miles north, at Addie's Restaurant on Rockville Pike, chef Mallory Buford has 15 cases of Even' Star greens packed into his walk-in refrigerator after receiving his delivery from Grohsgal. Addie's was one of Grohsgal's earliest clients and supporters, and Buford uses the greens in several dishes every day.

Naturally, there is a salad of mesclun, served recently with a Champagne vinaigrette, and a Thai beef salad with flank steak, greens and kaffir lime. Earlier in the week, he had a kale and potato soup on the menu. He presents a grilled prosciutto appetizer with mixed mustard greens, and arugula appears with a pan-seared duck breast. Whatever greens are available make it into the plate of grilled vegetables and the risotto. "As a chef, I never used to use that many greens before," said Buford. "But these just have so much flavor, you could eat them all raw."

Ed Bruske last wrote for Food about chilaquiles.

Even' Star Organic Farm, 48322 Far Cry Road, Lexington Park, Md., 20653, 301- 866-1412. Winter subscriptions run from November to May and cost $560; Grosghal figures his weekly deliveries to residential collection points in the Washington area contain about $23 worth of goods, which may include greens, herbs, radishes, edible flowers, stewing chickens, eggs from his hens, jams or preserves.

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