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This Farm Family Raises Dandelions
Most people think of dandelions as stub-born weeds, but Adrian R. Wells, Wilton, Maine, considers cultivated dandelion greens a delicacy.
Wells, with the help of his family, grows dandelions and then cans them in a small factory for shipment to nationwide chain stores. They sell the, dandelions under the "Belle of Maine" label:
"Dandelion greens are one of the best-tasting vegetables you can grows" says. Wells. "They taste like spinach but are., little more bitter. They're great with) vinegar, or cheese sauce. Other producers raise dandelions for the fresh market, but as far as I know we're the only ones who can them."
Wells is proof that one person's weed can be another's livelihood. His company, W. S. Wells & Son, was founded in 1896 by his grandfather. Wells and his son Adrian, Jr., represent the third and fourth generations. "As far as we know we're the only company in the world that cans dandelion greens," says Wells, noting that the company also cans fiddleheads, a gourmet vegetable` that grows wild, and beet greens. From 1911 to 1929, the cannery discontinued dandelions because of a diminishing wild supply in nearby regions.
Through years of trial and error, Wells learned how to grow dandelions domestically. Every year he uses a 1-row planter to seed 1 1/2 to 2 acres of Italian Thick-leaved dandelions, a hybrid, in long, straight rows.
He buys the seed from a New Jersey company which imports it from Holland. He harvests the crop with a machine that cuts the dandelions off just above the ground. "We harvest them when they're 10 in. tall. They grow right back so we get four or five crops per season," says Wells. "The harvested dandelion greens are quick steamed and packed by hand into cans. The key to growing dandelions is lots of moisture, with warm days and cool nights. Growing dandelions takes a lot of manpower because we have to hand weed everything, and because we irrigate as much as possible. We don't harvest the yellow blossoms but they're absolutely delicious when dipped in batter and deep fried. They also make wonderful jelly and wine."
He sells more than 100,000 cans of the "Belle of Maine" dandelions annually. The label on each can reads simply: "Ingredients: Dandelions, Water". Wells says sales have held fairly steady over the years.
The Wells family has sold out its 1989 production and won't have any more dandelion greens to sell until next June. A brochure offering dandelion recipes, including such delicacies as dandelion spoonbread and dandelion quiche, is available. Send a pre-addressed stamped envelope.
For more information, contact: FARM SHOW Followup, :S. Wells & Son, High St., P.O. Box 109, Wilton, Maine 0429446 207 645-2117).

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1990 - Volume #14, Issue #1