The kale shortage: When superfoods get too trendy for their own good


Kale against textured background

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A kale crisis? Say it ain’t so! In late July, a report from ABC News Australia raised alarm when it announced that Bejo Seeds, one of the world’s major kale seed suppliers, was running low on seeds.

At a property southeast of Melbourne, Australia, the company increased planting from 1,500 kale seedlings a few years ago to as many as 150,000 seedlings each week. But even the farmers’ speediness has been outpaced by the rapidly growing demand for the superfood. Furthermore, it turns out that Bejo Seeds also supplies to U.S. farmers, causing some stateside green juice devotees to panic.

Bowl of freshly washed kale


According the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s 2012 Census report, published in May of this year, kale consumption in the United States has skyrocketed. The figures speak for themselves: the number of farms harvesting kale has more than doubled in recent years, from 954 farms in 2007 to a whopping 2,500 in 2012. In comparison, the number of farms harvesting romaine lettuce and spinach are 1,537 farms and 1,594 farms, respectively.

A one cup serving of kale packs in a high concentration of antioxidant vitamins A, C and K, among other nutrients, so it is unsurprising that healthy cooking aficionados are eager to blend the leafy greens into their smoothies, toss it in their salads and bake it into a chip-like snack. Innova Market Insights reported that more than 60% of global 2012 products featuring kale were introduced in the United States, where the food is especially trendy. New products that incorporated kale included Heinz’s Mediterranean-Style Parmesan, Kale and Seared Italian Sausage Soup and Pasta Prima’s Superfood Spinach and Kale Ravioli.

Then there are the telltale cultural signs of kale’s reign as vegetable supreme: the existence of National Kale Day (mark your calendars for October 1 this year!), the publication of a cheekily titled “Fifty Shades of Kale” cookbook and the appearance of a kale and fennel salad on the White House Thanksgiving dinner menu. Kale is more than just a trendy ingredient, too; in 2013, 262 babies were named Kale.


Looking ahead

July’s seed shortage isn’t the first threat kale has faced this year. In April, the nutritious crop was ravaged by a spray-resistant superbug, Lacinatari ederi, leading agricultural specialists to worry the entire crop was in danger of a tragic end by early June. Chefs at high-end restaurants were forced to raise the prices of kale-inclusive tasting menus — or just replace the vegetable in certain dishes altogether, Bon Appetit magazine reported.

So could the current seed shortage impact the kale supply in the United States? Only time will tell, but Mark Overduin — managing director at Bejo Seeds USA, which constitutes 80 to 85% of the nation’s kale acreage — doesn’t seem too concerned. He said that while the kale seed supply is tight, the situation here is “not as panicky as others make it out to be.” (http://www.nbcnews.com/business/consumer/kale-crisis-not-really-though-s...)

What to do if the kale apocalypse ever does come into fruition? Better be safe than sorry, and diversify your palate. Modern Farmer recommends kale’s cruciferous cousin, broccoli, which contains more carotenoids and also offers a number of cancer-fighting nutrients. And, hey, dare we say it might be nice to eat something that wasn’t once considered a mere garnish?