With so many great supermarkets and food shops in Chicago I never imagined getting produce through the mail, but every two weeks during the cold months this box arrives by US Priority Mail from Snug Haven Farm in Belleville, Wisconsin, located in the south-central part of the state. It contains a 1-pound bag of the best spinach I’ve tasted. It’s sweet and toothsome when sautéed. A huge bonus is that the spinach comes cut, washed, and ready to eat.
I came across Snug Haven’s spinach about four years ago at the indoor Green City Market, which starts in November of every year, and liked it—a lot. This spinach only becomes available in late fall because proprietors Bill Warner and Judy Hageman grow their spinach during the winter months in giant hoop houses. By using a process of letting the spinach freeze and thaw, they bring out the best in its taste. The more the spinach freezes and thaws, the higher the sugar content. Also, in the winter months, spinach grows slower and thus sweeter and thicker than summer varieties.
During November and December at the indoor Green City Market at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, Bill Warner eagerly proffers leaves of his “frost-sweetened” winter spinach for prospective customers to taste. But if raw spinach in the morning doesn’t appeal to you (I have scones or croissants on my mind at that hour), try a $5 bag to sample later at home. The first time I came across Snug Haven’s spinach at the market I was taken aback by the (now) $11 per pound price, even though I recognize that small-scale farming has higher costs. I nevertheless bought a bag to try, but didn’t think I would pay that much for spinach in the future. But four years later, I am. The spinach is just that outstanding, and to me, worth the extravagance.
This excerpt from Snug Haven’s October 2010 program letter gave customers an update on the farm’s activities, but explains by extension the costs and efforts that small-scale farms bear:
“As most of our family of customers already knows, our farm has been battling symphylan — a tiny anthropod that lives in the soil, feeds off of root hairs on newly germinated plants, and is in general nearly indestructible. Last fall  we removed the soil from two of the worst infected hoop houses, put down landscape fabric, and replaced the soil. Germination was amazing and [got] our crop back to normal in those two houses, so during August this year  we have done the same process in 4 more hoop houses. In addition and before putting down the landscape fabric, we dug trenches below the frost line into the hoop houses during the winter and keep the overall temps a few degrees warmer. This should help our energy cost when the days are cold and gray and the sun doesn’t shine to thaw the spinach.”
I’ve been long overdue in writing this post since October is the time of year to sign up for Snug Haven’s winter spinach program, now in its seventh year. Individuals/families can sign up for 1-, 2-, or 3-pound bags of spinach that are shipped every other week, starting mid-November, for a total of 11 deliveries, up through early April. Orders are shipped by US Priority Mail unless you prefer another shipping option. For information, contact Bill and Judy by phone or at the email at the end of this post. And by the way, if the program doesn’t work out for you, when you dine at Frontera Grill, Xoco, and a few other Chicago restaurants during the winter months, it’s likely you’ll get a chance to try Snug Haven Farm’s spinach then.
Snug Haven Farm
Bill Warner and Judy Hageman
1170 Hageman Road
Belleville, WI 53508
E-mail (spelled out for anti-spam purposes): spinach at snughavenfarm dot com