Kale has become an integral part of the American diet, and with that cultural significance comes a great cost for farmers.
Photo via Flickr user USDA
In 2008, 544 newborns were given the name Kale.
Last year, during New York City's biggest blizzard of the winter, people rushed to local grocery stores to stock up on provisions like sugar, water, cooking oils, duct tape—and kale.
In fact, kale was on so many New Yorkers' "essentials" list that the storm created a complete shortage in grocery stores across the city.
Evidently, the leafy green has become an integral part of the American diet, and with that cultural significance comes a great cost for the farmers whose job it is to grow one of nature's leanest and most affordable superfoods.
Between 2007 and 2012, the number of farms growing kale exploded from 954 to 2,500. While this might sound like more of a boon than a bane for kale farmers, America's apparently insatiable appetite for their produce is creating a shortage at the very source of the kale supply—seeds.
A recent report by CBS News points to a kale shortage far beyond a blizzard-battered New York City. According to New Jersey farmer Ryan Flaim, the price of kale has climbed 30 percent over the last few years and the price of seeds has increased by far more. "Seed prices are through the roof," told CBS News, "The price has probably gone up 80 percent over the past three years."
While the rapid increase in kale seed prices combined with a shortage of actual seeds is causing serious headaches for farmers, food researchers are saying that panic is not warranted because kale sales are bound to plateau eventually.
"Overall, we are growing much more kale than we ever did, but increases in acreage are slowing down compared to the very rapid increase observed a few years ago," Timothy W. Coolong, an assistant professor of vegetable production at the University of Georgia, told CBS News. "However, keep in mind that there is still much more kale grown now than in the past. I think it probably will probably stay somewhat static from here out for the next few years."
But with kale now on McDonald's, Wendy's, and Chick-fil-A menus, there is no end in sight to Kalemania, and big food companies know it. In the food business, the hunt is on for as many kale seeds as possible.
"For a couple of years, if you didn't have the kale seeds, you were out of luck. There could be some suppliers that are out of it. Our suppliers have plenty of seeds," Rhythm Superfoods CEO Scott Jensen told CBS News, adding that he's not so sure that sales will plateau. "I just see more and more people adding it to things rather than it waning."
At this rate, the 544 Kale babies of 2008, now aged eight-years-old, may one day have to explain to their children and grandchildren that they were named after a superfood driven to extinction by health-conscious consumers.