When we pull up to the fields that surround his friend’s farm, a cluster of pickers in yellow rain pants is already bent over the crops. “They’re really good with controlling weeds here, which is always disappointing to me,” Kallas says. He wears a brown brimmed hat and a down vest; despite the light rain, he sports sandals with black socks.
After we skirt cultivated beds of kale and spinach, Kallas leads me to our first destination, a mass of low-growing chickweed (Stellaria media). From his hip holster, he unsheathes his favorite foraging tool, a pair of sewing scissors “just like Mom’s,” and snips off the plants’ tips with their tiny, white-petaled flowers. Each pair of oval leaves on a filament stem is minuscule, and he collects fistfuls of them in one of the shoebox-sized plastic containers he’s brought along and filled with an inch of cold water to keep the plants hydrated.
Chickweed grows profusely in wide-open spaces, including our yards, but these greens are nothing like the stemmy weeds I routinely cull from my garden, I tell him. “That’s bad chickweed,” Kallas says. “The bigger the leaf, the better.” I pop one into my mouth. The taste is deliciously bright and fresh, almost nutty.
Nearby, the wild mustard (Brassica rapa) is even more copious, and the sun-yellow flowers that sit atop the foot-high stalks make the plants easy to spot. We not only pick the pale green leaves, but also snap off the buds, which look like tiny broccoli florets. “Just like asparagus: break it where it’s tender,” instructs Kallas. When I sample a bud, it reveals a distinct broccoliness with an aftertaste of mustard. We even steal some of the dainty flowers for a salad garnish. As we fill another bin, Kallas mists the harvest with a spray bottle to keep the leaves from wilting and tells me how much better this mustard tastes than the distantly related mustard greens available at the average grocery store.