Green Goodness at Snug Haven Farm
The Belleville farm is known for its sweet winter spinach
Bill Warner and daughter Danielle Wood of Snug Haven Farm
PHOTO BY OTEHLIA CASSIDY
We often think of early spring as prime spinach season, but Bill Warner of Snug Haven Farm enjoys peak spinach production on the coldest days of winter.
Warner started farming in the late ’80s, helping on his mother’s land near Dodgeville. But when she handed him a bottle of pesticide to spray on the broccoli, Warner realized he was on a different path. He learned how to grow food using more organic pesticides and built hoop houses, heavy-duty plastic greenhouses, to extend the growing season.
On his own farm near Belleville, Warner grew various crops, including greens, flowers, tomatoes and spinach. In 1993, he decided to move away from growing spinach, but the previous years’ plants had different plans. They had reseeded, resulting in a bumper crop of winter spinach. Too early in the year to sell at the farmers’ market, Warner sought an alternative outlet for his crop. Eric Rupert, now the head chef at Epic, was working at the time as co-chef with Odessa Piper at L’Etoile. He purchased the spinach and then wanted more. Rupert told Warner it was the best spinach he had ever had—the frost had sweetened the tender greens to perfection.
From that moment, spinach became one of Warner’s biggest crops, and he increased the production area from five hoop houses to fourteen. Currently, Snug Haven Farm supplies only two Madison-area restaurants—L’Etoile/Graze and Bradbury’s—with their spinach. The rest is sold to consumers through CSAs or at markets.
This year, production was down as a result of the very bitter, prolonged winter. But Warner expects to have the product available during the first few weeks of the Saturday Dane County Farmers’ Market. Stop by the Snug Haven booth and say hello to Warner and his frequent helpers, daughters Danielle and Hannah. His wife, Judy Hageman, is still recovering from a long battle with chronic Lyme disease and takes care of tasks at the farm, where their mission is to “grow food for the body, and flowers for the soul.”
RECIPE: Puff Pastry “Empanada” with Spinach and Chorizo
1 package puff pastry (sheets)
1 tbsp olive oil
6 oz chorizo sausage, removed from casing
3 medium yellow potatoes, peeled and diced
1/2 yellow onion, diced
2 tbsp finely chopped cilantro
2 tbsp canned green chiles
Salt to taste
4 oz cream cheese at room temperature
6 oz Monterey Jack cheese or Mexican cheese
6 oz baby spinach (about 4 cups fresh leaves), steamed and drained
Make filling (filling can be made ahead of time and frozen): Cook chorizo sausage over medium-low heat until oil has separated and sausage is cooked. Remove sausage from oil, drain and set aside. Par-boil or steam potatoes in microwave about 8 minutes until just tender. Heat oil in skillet over medium heat. Cook onions and potatoes until golden brown. Add chorizo, add diced green chiles. Cook covered until potatoes are tender, about 10 minutes, stirring often. Add cilantro, salt and pepper to taste.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Thaw puff pastry about 45 minutes at room temperature. Cut each sheet into three equal parts (or more for smaller puffs). Spread 1 tbsp of cream cheese on bottom of pastry. Layer a bunch of spinach, then top with 2 tbsp chorizo-potato mixture and some grated cheese. Fold pastry over and gently press. Bake according to pastry directions until golden, about 30 minutes. Top with salsa verde. Serve warm.