Danny Pendley stood proudly in his store, Turnip Greens in downtown Darien, on Tuesday as he carefully arranged heads of fresh lettuce.
“This is kind of my baby. I keep an eye on it all day,” he said of the display of greens. “People come in and buy them, and the display gets all messed up. I try to keep it looking good.”
He brings in the locally grown lettuce twice a week, along with an assortment of other fresh produce. On Tuesday, he returned from a nearby farm with his minivan packed with carrots, cabbage, onions and his cherished lettuce.
This time of year, Pendley’s assortment of produce is growing. The faint winter that briefly graced the Low Country is giving way to sun-drenched springtime, and with it comes radishes and snap beans and sweet Vidalia onions.
“The days are starting to get longer, and it’s staying light a little later,” said Cathy Pendley, Danny’s wife and co-owner of Turnip Greens. “The summer produce is coming soon, and that’s really fun. That’s when you’ll start to get your watermelons and your cantaloupes.”
Those sweet southern fruits are yet to arrive, but in the meantime, the Pendleys take pleasure in the winter-grown greens and root vegetables that are finally ripe for the picking.
“The farmers all seeded them in the late fall, and things are finally ready,” Cathy Pendley said. “And soon, we’ll have Vidalia onions. Those are the ones everyone’s looking for.”
Not everybody can grow Georgia’s prized onions, named for the modest Toombs County farm town, Cathy Pendley explained.
“Only some counties can legally claim the Vidalia onion,” she said.
Thirteen counties and portions of seven others can claim the Vidalia onion, by law. The geography of those counties spans a variable growing season. From the region’s northwestern tip in Screven County to its southern-most edge in Pierce County, the weather can fluctuate. To keep farmers from harvesting early and gaining a competitive edge, the Vidalia Onion Committee sets a date each year when the onions can be sold under the Vidalia name.
“This year, it’s April 12,” Cathy Pendley said. “That’s about 10 days earlier than usual, just because of the weather.”
Tri-colored carrots in hues of purple and orange are also making their way to the shelves of Turnip Greens and other local markets. Their unique tints make them a favorite of Cathy Pendley, who adds them to her meals for a little flair.
“We like to roast them,” she said. “You can just drizzle them with olive oil, or whatever type of oil you like, and they make a really pretty plate.”
Locally grown vine vegetables like squash are also on their way, Cathy Pendley said. And a long-awaited favorite of many of her customers will be ready for market soon, too.
“The radishes,” Cathy Pendley said with a smile. “We’ll have red radishes, French breakfast radishes and Easter egg radishes — those are all different colors. People are excited those are coming.”
Fresh collard greens — a Southern staple — and broccoli are also on people’s minds.
“Oh, people are definitely wanting broccoli, that’s one I get asked about a lot,” she said.
Locally grown produce is not only delicious, Cathy Pendley said, but purchasing it supports area farmers and allows consumers to know where their food is coming from. In Turnip Greens, an ever-changing map of Georgia pinpoints which farms the Pendleys use to source their produce. But still, they sometimes find themselves chasing the freshest vegetables all the way to Atlanta.
“It’s really surprising that with all the produce grown in South Georgia, it can be hard to get,” she explained. “A lot of times, it’s grown here, shipped up to Atlanta — that’s where the big market is — and then makes its way back down here.”