alliums ameraucana Anthony Bourdain aphids Appleseed Permaculture aquaponics arthritis artichokes Asian Vegetables aussie basil baby chicks baby turnips bearss lime bee keeping beet greens beneficial insects benner tree farm Biochar Bitter Melon blight blooming hill farm boothby blonde cucumber brix broccoli brussels sprouts cabbage cabbage hill farm camp hill farm cancer caraflex celeriac chicken coop chickens children chinese tamale chives cilantro cilantro root coconut cold frames collard greens Compost coriander corn crop rotation cruciferous crucifers cucumber Dan Barber dan kittredge Dave Llewellyn detox dirty dozen dragon fruit Dutch white clover dwarf citrus eggplant Elderberries factory farms farm to table farmer's market farmers markets Fava beans ffarm to table fish oil flea beetle flowers food allergies food combining food miles founding farmers four wind growers Fred Kirschenmann french bulldog G6pd deficiency garlic garlic festival garlic scapes geese Glynwood grass-fed beef Great Outdoors Listening Tour green tomatoes greenhouse growing indoors Hanalei Hemlock Hill Farm heritage turkey heritage USA hudson valley farms hurricane Irene hyssop iced tea infections influenza Insect control isothiocyanates joan gussow jolie lampkin joong kaffir lime kale Kauai kohlrabi korean licorice mint Ladybugs late blight leeks lettuces local food locust tree maine avenue fish market menhaden meyer lemon mycelia mycorrhizal natural fertilizers nectary nightshades No Reservations Nurse cropping nutrient density okra organic Baby food organic christmas tree Organic Pest Control Parsley Paul tappenden peas Permaculture pesticides pesto petite watermelon plant sap pH plymouth barred rock pole beans potatoes preserving food purple basil qunice Radish Greens rainbeau ridge farm raised beds rampicante raw food real food campaign red hook Rockland Farm Alliance ronnybrook farm row covers salt-preserved duck eggs sambucus nigra seed saving seedlings Sheet mulching small space soil analysis soil blocks soil conductivity sorrel Squash Vine Borer star fruit sugar snap peas sustainability sustainable fishing Swiss Chard tabbouleh TEDx Manhattan terracing three sisters tomato sauce tomatoes trellis trovita orange turkana farms Tuttle Farm urban zen volt white clover winter harvest Winter Squash Young Farmers Conference
Indispensable Books and Resources
  • Edible Forest Gardens (2 volume set)
    Edible Forest Gardens (2 volume set)
    by Dave Jacke, Eric Toensmeier
  • The Winter Harvest Handbook: Year Round Vegetable Production Using Deep Organic Techniques and Unheated Greenhouses
    The Winter Harvest Handbook: Year Round Vegetable Production Using Deep Organic Techniques and Unheated Greenhouses
    by Eliot Coleman
  • The Biological Farmer: A Complete Guide to the Sustainable & Profitable Biological System of Farming
    The Biological Farmer: A Complete Guide to the Sustainable & Profitable Biological System of Farming
    by Gary F. Zimmer
  • The Garden Primer: Second Edition
    The Garden Primer: Second Edition
    by Barbara Damrosch
  • 1500 Live LadyBugs - A GOOD BUG! - Lady Bug
    1500 Live LadyBugs - A GOOD BUG! - Lady Bug
    Organic Insect Control
  • Acres U.S.A.
    Acres U.S.A.
    Acres U.S.A.

    The best farming and growing magazine money can buy!

  • Seed Starter Soil Block Maker Makes 4 Medium Blocks
    Seed Starter Soil Block Maker Makes 4 Medium Blocks

    2" Soil Blocker

  • Mini Soil Blocker
    Mini Soil Blocker
  • New York City Farmer & Feast: Harvesting Local Bounty
    New York City Farmer & Feast: Harvesting Local Bounty
    by Emily Brooks
  • What Doctors Eat: Tips, Recipes, and the Ultimate Eating Plan for Lasting Weight Loss and Perfect Health
    What Doctors Eat: Tips, Recipes, and the Ultimate Eating Plan for Lasting Weight Loss and Perfect Health
    by Tasneem Bhatia, Editors of Prevention

 

 

 

 

 

THE DAILY BROADFORK

Short journal entries detailing the nuts and bolts of our ventures in growing food at our micro-farm

Entries in brix (4)

Sunday
Jan092011

Nutrient Density Growing: The Declaration of Seeds

Last week I saw a long-time patient, pregnant with her 2nd child, coming in for follow-up of her blood work.  A working mom, socially conscious, and well-educated on eating locally, sustainably and organically, she was perplexed as to how she could be deficient in magnesium.  In addition to having a CSA share and shopping regularly at a Brooklyn food co-op, she thought she had access to the best foods available.  I’m not arguing that she didn’t - many people have different absorption rates for vitamins and minerals and some have greater or lesser biological needs - but this brought up the point that a carrot is not a carrot.  And my explanation of nutrient dense growing, a ongoing topic in past journal entries, came as a complete shock to this young woman.  “You mean if I eat brussels sprouts that doesn’t necessarily mean I’m getting all the nutrients it’s supposed to have?”

In The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals by Michael Pollan, nutrient density growing is briefly addressed.   Pollan outlines the assumption people make when they buy a vegetable - that a carrot is a carrot, but in fact, it just depends.

“Back in the fifties, when the USDA routinely compared the nutritional quality of produce from region to region, it found striking differences: carrots grown in the deep soils of Michigan, for example, commonly had more vitamins than carrots grown in the thin, sandy soils of Florida.  Naturally this information discomforted the carrot growers of Florida, which probably explains why the USDA no longer conducts this sort of research.  Nowadays US agricultural policy, like the Declaration of Independence, is founded on the principle that all carrots are created equal, even though there’s good reason to believe this isn’t really true.  But in an agricultural system dedicated to quantity rather than quality, the fiction that all foods are created equal is essential.”


This is exactly the premise for why and how we grow food here at our micro-farm.  Is it organically grown? Of course it is, but our approach of truly addressing soil fertility is 10 steps ahead of organically certified foods - what people understand as the pinnacle of healthy eating.

Now in the winter season, our efforts are focused towards figuring out what we want to grow this season, crop rotation (a laborious endeavor on a small bio-intensive farm,) and re-evaluation of varieties we liked, disliked and new ones we want to try.  Colorful seed catalogs in hand contrast the white and gray landscape outside bringing back the anticipation of growing again as we’ve physically recovered from the prior year’s strenuous work.  When the day length time in mid February starts to awaken the lettuces and spinach in the high tunnel, we will be in full force again.  For now, it’s all about the seeds.

At our last Nutrient Density lecture, Dan Kittredge focused on the seed as the starting point for producing the most optimally productive and healthiest plant.  The size of the seed can correlate to the best genetic plans for the plant.  This makes a lot of biological sense.  Oftentimes, the runt of the litter, is the sickliest and usually the one the mother rejects by not choosing to feed.  Her Darwinian instincts know that this runt has the least capability of surviving when grown and that this runt, bearing the weakest of her genes,  should not be one to reproduce.  From a human standpoint in infertility treatments, the largest and healthiest looking eggs (or follicles) are selected for intrauterine insemination or in-vitro fertilization.  The male contribution is also important; the sperm that is the healthiest is usually the most motile and the fastest one to the egg wins (how interestingly male!)  Naturally, a combination of the best follicle and sperm will most likely produce the healthiest embryos.  All this logic applies to vegetables seeds as well.  For those that have grown from seed, your packet contains a variety of different seed sizes.  Some are small and some large, some are lighter in weight and some are more dense.  Planting the larger, denser ones will give you better vitality, yield and growth potential.  This is all about getting it right from the beginning.

These are pea seeds. On top, the ones you should plant and below, the ones you should discard

The problem is that seed companies don’t offer you this option.  Mostly because no one is asking for it.  However, Dan Kittredge of The Real Food Campaign, has been interviewing seed companies to try and see if there is a way growers can pay more for the larger size seeds as this will lead to increased yields.  The company that was most open to the idea is one that we often use - High Mowing Seed Company in Vermont.  Johnny’s Seeds and Baker Creek were also open to the idea.  What we all need to do is simply ask for it.  Hopefully en masse.  When there is a demand there will be a supply and if enough of us call and ask, companies will eventually oblige.

Tomato seeds. The larger top seeds are the ones that promise to produce the strongest and most vigorous plants

SEED SAVING

This is another way to guarantee you have the best access to the best seeds.  Growing high brix crops, aka nutritionally dense plants in optimum soils will produce the strongest plants and thus the healthiest seeds which you can pick and choose from.  Given that 96 percent of the commercial vegetable varieties grown in 1903 are no longer available, seed saving is important for a variety of other reasons.  A great movie that discusses this is Food of the Future by Deborah Koons Garcia.  [See it HERE for free.]  If you’re just starting to save seed like we are, start simple and small with the easiest vegetables to save seed from.  Peas, beans, tomatoes and lettuce are on the beginners list.

Here, the Vigna Caracalla or Corkscrew Vine, a plant that produces a stunningly gorgeous and fragrant flower obtained from Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello produced one seed pod last fall which I saved.  Which seeds do you think I’m going to use to grow my next plants?´╗┐

 

Click HERE to tell High Mowing Seed Company that you'll pay more for larger denser seeds.

Click HERE to email Johnny's Seed Company that you'll pay more for larger denser seeds.

Click HERE to email Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds that you'll pay more for larger denser seeds.

Ther are many seed companies out there, you can make a difference by calling or emailing the company and make a request for the option to purchase larger seed szies. 

Sunday
Mar212010

Nutrient Dense Foods: Minerals and Soil Analysis part 2 of 6

Sci-Fi Mineral Harvester Henry Hudson
For those who are fans of science fiction reading, often a space traveler will find themselves stranded on a remote area devoid of what the traveler requires to sustain life. Our traveler will then tunnel to the center of the planet it lands on, harvest the raw minerals in the rock and then construct anything it needs using only these minerals, and a very sophisticated computer, as well as some imagination on the part of the reader.


There is some truth to these stories though. For those of us who remember the periodic table from high school chemistry, the thought of reciting these minerals often leads to immediate nausea and abdominal pain. However, with a little attention to a few of the important minerals, we can increase the yield of our plants as well as the nutritional quality of what we are feeding those who eat our food.

In the last entry on Nutrient Dense Foods, I began the introductory explanation of how most produce, organic or not, is not necessarily high in nutrition as measured by vitamins, minerals, amino acids, enzymes and anti-oxidants. The first place to address in our pursuit of increasing the nutritional content of our food is to look at the growing medium - SOIL.  Soil has become so empty and depleted that the plants that grow from this soil do so but are nutritionally compromised and are then susceptible to disease, short storage lives, and they taste like substandard produce.  This is the second in a six-part series as we embark on learning and incorporating this nutrient density farming technique as we attend a course led by Dan Kittridege of the Real Food Campaign.

Anyone who has been among animals knows that they have an intuitive nature.  Your dog may start getting excited way before you pull up to the driveway or even your street.  We know of a NYC cat named Ichabod who started howling at his owner when a space heater was plugged in and minutes later it blew up.  Animals seem to also know what’s better for them.  A Hudson Valley farmer present at the Nutrient Density Growing conference stated that he once tried feeding his pigs the same type of feed he usually does however he used a GMO (genetically modified) variety and they refused to eat!  The same could be said about bees as well and may indicate one possible reason for colony collapse disorder, the phenomena of disappearing bees in North America.  According to Arden Andersen, soil scientist and physician, bees will preferentially go to flowers with a BRIX measurement of 7 or higher.  BRIX, as discussed in previous posts, is an easy measurement performed with a device called a refractometer, that correlates with nutritional quality and density of the plant or fruit.  For a bee to pollinate a lower BRIX flower, it will expend more energy to make the honey than the bee is receiving from the lower BRIX pollen.  If only we had access to that intuitive nature, than we could stand before the produce section in the supermarket and know what to preferentially select to eat!  In the meantime, we can start with purchasing a refractometer and testing the produce ourselves or to buy from farmers who employ these techniques.

What Next?

A lot of people tell us that they don’t have luck growing bell peppers, or that they are inundated with pests like slugs, or that their attempts at gardening seem to produce much less than the effort given.  Our first advice is to TEST YOUR SOIL.  For example, gardeners who use only compost to enhance their soil will uniformly find it to be deficient in Calcium and Magnesium. Before learning about Nutrient Density Growing, we were and still are, Eliot Coleman disciples.  Compost was everything.  But if you think carefully about this, compost only has what it was made from.  If you are making your own compost and you are using the remains of vegetable plants, grass clippings, and table scraps and coffee grinds, your compost will only have the nutrients that are the breakdown products of these additions.  Calcium is the king or queen of all minerals.  It is absolutely necessary to have enough Calcium to ensure that the plant will have strong cell walls in it’s leaves and roots which will then provide the plant with the defense mechanisms to avoid being overtaken by disease and pests. Calcium stimulates soil microbes and earthworms,  and is the primary base for other molecules to react with.  It is essential for overall plant health.

 

 

 

How to Test Your Soil

There are a variety of labs that you can send you sample to for roughly $25.  We use International Ag Labs and Logan Labs.  For $15, you can use Cornell University Labs though they employ a “strong acid” test rather than a “weak acid” test which we believe to represent a better indication of what’s actually available to the plant.  What we recommend doing if you have multiple raised beds like we do, is to take multiple samples from different beds to get an overall picture of what’s going on.  If there are several different locations you grow on and want to analyze than it makes sense to do them separately.  For example, it makes sense to test soil that grows berries separately from the area where you grow your annual vegetables.  Once you get the results back, you will have an idea of what deficiencies and excesses you have and how to remediate it.  Oftentimes, the labs that test your soil offer an analysis for for $25 and will recommend the amount of minerals that will be necessary to replete your specific size growing area.  Your other option to avoid the extra test cost of “recommendations” after the analysis is to contact the companies that sell the rock salts and minerals, tell them your square footage, and have them make suggestions based on your soil results.  Lancaster Ag, Nutrient Density Supply Company, and North Country Organics are some of the reliable companies you can consult.

The next entry in this series will focus on more specifics on the use of brix measuring, transplanting and direct seeding into your garden bed and using foliar sprays, measuring pH and electrical conductivity in the soil and nutrient drenches through the growing season.  The goal we have, and hope you have as well, is to achieve the maximum biologic vitality in the food you grow which then translates to the maximum biologic vitality of your body.

 

Farmer Pam MD and Charlie, Wheelbarrow Operator´╗┐

Saturday
Jan302010

Nutrient Dense Foods: Heal the Soil, Heal Ourselves Part 1 of 6

“While the farmer holds the title to the land, actually it belongs to all the people because civilization itself rests upon the soil.” - Thomas Jefferson

 

 

Perhaps you’ve heard the complaints about how produce tastes these days: That it’s dull and lacks the flavor it had back when your grandparents were growing up.  Or perhaps from Europeans who state that the US has such lackluster produce compared to what they have back home.  Or the more obvious one: that the tomato you grow in your backyard is infinitely tastier than the one you buy at the supermarket or even at your organic grocer.  More importantly, from a health perspective, the lack of flavor actually translates to a lack of nutritional quality.  The soil in your backyard where you grow food, typically, has not been over farmed, over fertilized or over-sprayed with fungicides and herbicides.  Most of our conventional farmland has had all of these insults without a method of remineralizing the soil.  This surprisingly applies to some organically grown crops.  Organic simply means that synthetic chemicals are not used or genetically modified crops are not grown, but there is generally very little attention given to nutritionally managing the soil.  The clear issue here is the state of our soil because that is the medium for which all of life, as we know it, is derived from.  If we improve our soil, we improved our food, and from that we improve our health.  What are the steps that we can take to remediate our soil, our food and our bodies?  An understanding of what soil is would be the first step.From the study: Changes in USDA Food Composition Data for 43 Garden Crops, 1950-1999

Soil

There is a common thought in alternative agriculture that states that if we were to eliminate our topsoil (the first 6-8” of the ground) then our civilization would fall.  John Jeavons, ecology and food activist, estimates in his book, How To Grow More Vegetables, that worldwide only about 42-84 years worth of topsoil remain. In one handful of soil, you will find the most complex systems on earth containing trillions of organisms.  Some soil scientists speculate that there are more species of organisms in a shovel full of soil than can be found above ground in the entire Amazon rainforest.  And Scientists are beginning to create a genomic catalog of the earth's microbes.  These organisms are comprised of bacteria, nematodes, fungi, algae, protozoa and large macroscopic insects like earthworms and millipedes.  In order for this complex world to function, these organisms need to be present and they rely on minerals for their own function but also to impart that nutrition into the plant that eventually feeds you or feeds livestock that then becomes food for you.  Agriculture relies primarily on “N-P-K” feeding which you may have seen in different ratios on fertilizers.  All that stands for is Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potash (Potassium).  But there are 60-80 nutrients that are often ignored that are needed for an optimally functioning system to be in place.  It’s like taking a general multi-vitamin.  You get some basic nutrients but the body needs a greater and more diverse nutrient pool than what a multi-vitamin can give you.  It’s not something that I advise my patients to rely on.  For example, one multi-vitamin can contain the antioxidant beta-carotene as a pre-source of vitamin A.  What about the rest of the carotenoid family of lutein, zeaxanthin, lycopene, gamma and alpha carotenoids?  A multi-vitamin is a reductionistic approach.  Eating whole food feeds you full-spectrum nutrition.  The caveat is that the food you eat hopefully is grown in soil that enables the plant to produce the full-spectrum nutrients it was designed to have.

Improving Our Soil

If you think about which areas in this world are teeming with life, we think of the Nile or Amazon Rivers.  These are bodies of water that flood during certain seasons.  What happens with the flood is that silt is brought up from the river laid down on the earth after the flood and causes the soil to be remineralized regularly.  Life then grows abundantly from that soil.  In our agricultural system, we take and take from the soil and we try to give it a multi-vitamin from time to time but it isn’t enough to produce the healthiest plants.  So we need pesticides to kill off what’s attacking these unhealthy plants and herbicides to kill off the weeds that are choking the plants.  And that makes it on to your dinner plate.  The fact is, that an invasion of insects is a scientific index of unhealthy plants and similarly disease and illness in humans is a scientific index of a human with poor nutrition or a poor immune system.  Ensure the plant has what it needs and that plant will not succumb to disease.  Ensure the human has truly proper nutrition and a well-functioning immune system, they will be less likely to succumb to disease.  Of course, it’s more complex than this when we factor in genetics and environmental exposures but that’s for another blog entry.

A great case in point - we grew San Marzano tomatoes, the famed tomatoes from Southern Italy that are thought to be the best tomato for making sauce according to many chefs and foodies.  The few that survived blight last year were tasty but not mind-blowing.  When you look further into where in Southern Italy these tomatoes are typically grown, they are grown at the base of Mount Vesuvius.  The volcanic soil is one that is rich in minerals and nutrients!  The rich mineralized soil is the key factor in the legendary taste of the San Marzano tomato.

 

 

Growing Nutrient Dense Crops

Dan Kittredge Demonstrating Seed InoculationAfter learning about this “new” science we signed up for a year long course with Dan Kittridge, a farmer and researcher, to bring these techniques to the food that we grow to consume and to the seedlings that we grow and sell to our community.  I say “new” because there is more research that we need to coordinate and gather so that this can eventually become mainstream sustainable agriculture.  The “brix” measurement which I alluded to in December’s blog is a method to quickly ascertain the nutritional quality of a vegetable or fruit.  This brix measurement correlates with a longer shelf life because the fruit has more vitality and it also correlates with it's flavor.
 
To illustrate this point, we took a brix measurement of an apple which was cut at 11AM.  We all know that apples, when cut, turn brown because of an oxidative process that converts phenolic compounds which are beneficial substances found in certain foods, for example, resveratrol in grapes or catechins in green tea. The less ´╗┐phenolic compounds present, the quicker the oxidative process happens converting those phenols to secondary metabolites that take on a brown appearance.  We can then say that a highly nutritious apple, has high phenolic compounds and will take a much longer time to turn brown than the regular run of the mill apple.   This is a photo 3 hours later compared with a freshly sliced section of the apple.  Brix measurement of this apple was measured at 11 and an average apple should be at 10, a good apple should measure at 14 and an excellent apple at 18.  If this apple was just above average in terms of nutrition, what is that apple you’re eating that turns brown in less than 10 minutes?Apple slice on left cut at 11AM, slice on right cut at 2PM

Stay tuned to the next blog in this 6 part series to find out more about soil and what you can do about ensuring the maximum biological vitality in your food through nutrient dense growing techniques.  In the meantime, be sure to visit Dan Kittredge’s website “Real Food Campaign” and the non-profit organization “Remineralize the Earth” to understand more.

Farmer Pam, MD

Friday
Dec042009

The Future of Food and Farming: 2009 Young Farmer's Conference at Stone Barns


“The farmer is the only person in our economy who buys everything retail, sells everything wholesale and pays the freight both ways” - JFK

The Old Rockefeller Dairy Barn is now Stone Barns Ag Center
For the second time, we attended the "Young Farmer’s Conference: Reviving the Culture of Agriculture" (YFC) held at Stone Barns Agricultural Center this year in Pocantico Hills, New York.  This 2 day course was geared towards providing both the young and new farmer with tools and ideas to help ensure their success, to provide a place where these new farmers can network and exchange ideas, to learn the nuts and bolts of sustainable farming, and to discuss the obstacles, especially financial obstacles, of starting and maintaining your own farm.  The New York Times reported earlier this year, on a wave of liberal arts students choosing their summer internships, not at Goldman Sachs, but at farms in search of work (usually unpaid or nominal wages) and also fostering the student's belief in the need for social change.  This seemed to be reflected in the sea of 250 fresh young faces at the sold-out YFC this year.

With only 400,000 farmers in this country providing about 95% of the food we eat, the future of farming is dependant on a new generation of farmers that not only can farm, but are innovative and creative enough to face the new set of challenges that farming faces:  energy, climate and water changes.  We are facing the end of cheap energy, we'll need farming systems that will be resilient with climate change, and we’ll need to learn to grow food with 1/2 the amount of water we now use.
High Tunnels at Stone Barns

We started the first day with a beautiful breakfast provided by our favorite restaurant in the world, Blue Hill, in the context of a modern elegant setting with farmhouse nuances.

Meals in the grand dining room

 

THE CONFERENCE

Charlie's first lecture was an extremely practical one for those farmers who want to grow through the winter season. It was given by the head farmer at Stone Barns, Jack Algiere. It was extremely informative and fun to watch Jack get a bed ready for the next planting. As is usual with farmers, and not in many other business models, their are no "trade secrets" Everyone is always available to help their neighbor or competing farm learn the latest technique or any modality that will increase yield. It is so refreshing to be around people like that. One can only imagine what the day would feel like in other businesses if everyone approached work and their "competition" in this manner.

Jack Algiere demonstrating greenhouse seeding

I veered off to a lecture given by Benneth Phelps and Ethan Roland on Permaculture, which is a sustainable way of farming, gardening and landscaping where it provides design tools for those that grow biodynamically, organically or even conventionally.  Everything is about increasing efficiency; tools and plants have multi-purposes, for example.  Things are planted with the goal of the "least effort for the largest effect."  I like that.  The most common example is the Sunchoke, also known as the Jerusalem Artichoke.  You plant this once and it not only yields a delicious root vegetable to be consumed, but it also grows tall providing ground cover that may act as a barrier to wind or provide shade, and also provides beautiful chocolate-scented flowers.  The beauty here for me is that I’ll never have to replant this; it’s perennial!  So I just got a food source, shade, wind protection and cut flowers in one plant!  We planted these out last October.

The next lecture we went to was “Vegetables with Taste: Growing and Marketing Vegetables with a Culinary Focus” given by Tom Wilcox and Caroline Pam from The Kitchen Garden Farm in Massachusetts.  They are a lovely couple with a food background (Caroline was a food critic and they both have been schooled in cooking) who now farm full time. It was very sobering to hear their financial data and how hard they work just to maintain a salary that is competitive to that they pay their workers. They gave some great insight into the personal relationships growers have with their clients and how important it is for business and also how rewarding it makes their day.

The next lecture we went to was given by Connor Stedman from Gaia University on Treecrops and Agroforestry.  This was a subset and extension of the Permaculture lecture and we came away with ideas for nut and fruit trees and bushes.  Next steps for HMG are currants, gooseberries, hardy kiwi and Paw Paw (a taste of the tropics in the Northeast!), American Persimmons, and hazelnut trees.


Photo from the Glynwood Center
On Friday we were inundated with extremely practical information.  The first was on soil nutrition given by Dave Llewellyn at the Glynwood Center in Cold Spring, New York.  The Glynwood Center is an amazing non-profit center that promotes environmentally sustainable agriculture and the preservation of farmland in the Northeast.  Dave spoke about nutrient density in vegetables citing a shocking example of the state of the present day quality of our food.  In order to get the equivalent nutrients of 1 apple grown in the 1930’s, we’d have to eat 6 of our present day apples!  Vegetables and fruits can be measured by a simple tool called the refractometer which tells you the “brix” content of the plant.  RefractometerWe think of brix typically in the wine, orange juice and maple syrup industries.  It's a measurement of sugar content but it also translates to a higher nutritional quantity of the plant.    For me, this was an "aha" moment.  I've been looking at various studies either supporting or refuting the idea that organic food is more nutritious.  Recently, a review came out stating that organic foods are no more nutritious than those conventionally grown. The reason why we may be seeing these discrepancies is that organic doesn't necessarily mean higher nutritional quality as defined by brix measurements!  Sure, I firmly believe that we should eat food that is free of chemical fertilizers, herbicides and insecticides and still believe that organic certified foods are important; those health effects may not be measured in terms of nutrition but unmeasurable by the potential effects years or decades later.  But, this is the reason why organic certification is not the be all and end all of what it means to be the perfect food.  It's ultimately much more important to know specifically where your food comes from rather than looking for a label at a supermarket.

 

This was reinforced when we had our lunch time Q and A with Dan Barber, chef of Blue Hill at Stone Barns and Blue Hill NYC, and winner of the 2009 James Beard award for Outstanding Chef.  (See Inside Dan Barber's Kitchen)  This guy was such a charismatic, witty, and energetic speaker that I had a fleeting thought that his head might explode while talking.  He told us about a great story of some Mokum carrots he served as one of the entrees at the Blue Hill tasting menu. A cantankerouDan Barber, Food Gods customer called him up to complain about how embarrassed she was for her guests who were at the table because they were served some measly carrots at a meal that cost $90-125 per person excluding beverages.  Mind you, the carrots were pulled fresh from the farm, marinated for 4 hours in a carrot stock and 5 other things I couldn’t imagine doing to some carrots to produce an intense carrot experience.  The customer didn't feel she was getting what she paid for because carrots, in her mind, are a cheap produce item.  In any case, we got around to the sobering stats of running a restaurant, the reality of buying locally, organically and realizing that the cost of food, even at Blue Hill, can even drive the buyers there to sometimes seek the lowest price.  Mr. Barber had once tested the brix content of an organic carrot the restaurant received from California and that reading was a big fat ZERO!.  Normally a good reading would be 8 or higher.  A great example of how organic doesn’t mean everything.

Padraic MacLeish. Photo from www.mnn.comOur last lecture of the day was on Small Scale Beekeeping by Padraic MacLeish, beekeeper at Stone Barns.  We learned the biology of bees and the logistics of keeping bees on a small scale in New York including obtaining hive materials, equipment, approaching bees, and getting sweet honey.  BTW, if you want bees for next year, start now!  You need to start the process of buying and getting their hives set up now so that you will be ready by spring.  The Pfeiffer Center in Chestnut Ridge, New York will be giving a biodynamically-oriented intro course February 2010. 

 

 

 

CLOSING REMARKS

Closing remarks were given by Fred Kirschenmann, a leader of the organic/sustainable food movement, Distinguished Fellow at the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University, and manager of a 3500 acre organic farm in North Dakota and president of the board at Stone Barns.  This extremely uplifting speech was important especially to those young and aspiring farmers who understand the reality of running their own farm - low pay, long hours and inclement weather.  He envisions that agriculture will change over to smaller operations with more knowledgeable farmers who can manage and intensively restore the biological health of the soil.   More importantly, the new young farmers will fundamentally redesign a system where everything is bred for high yield (maximum production and short term return) to a resilient system that is about nutritional quality, not just yield.  He gave us 6 suggestions for the young farmers in the room.

          1. To recognize that challenges are always opportunities.

          2. To accumulate a new capital other than money.  A human capital can provide us with       imagination, creatively and innovation.  This will be critical to solving the problems.  He referred to an essay by ecologist Richard Heinberg called “The 50 Million Farmers” who predicts that by the year 2040, there will be 50 million people growing food in their own gardens or in community gardens.  This is the type of human capital that we need.

          3. Creation of a caring economy: referred to a book by Riane Eisler: "The Real Wealth of Nations: Creating a Caring Economics" whereby we create a system simply to help each other thrive and survive rather than the competitive one man/woman to him/herself kind of ethic that has predominated our economy.  He gave the example of the company Shepherd’s Grain  where grain farmers from Washington, Oregon and Idaho developed a relationship with local millers and bakers and together determined the price based on growing conditions and production costs.  It’s not based on the usual lower marketplace price of grain.  This business model is working.  Sales have exploded and this is a model we should look at.


          4. Reduction of transaction costs.  Travelling 250 miles to a Bronx farmer's market in a pick up truck won’t be sustainable when oil eventually approaches $300/barrel.  Places like Basis Foods in New York are committed to helping small and mid-sized farmers find a place for their products in restaurants and markets all while reducing transportation costs .  For the consumer, all their food will be entirely traceable.


           5. Create and pay attention to new sustainable models.  One example is Will Allen who grows tilapia and perch in addition to veggies in his 3 acre urban farm in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  This is a closed cycle that feeds 10,000 people on 3 acres!

           6. Engage governmental agencies.  Yeah, we're really disappointed in some of Obama's appointments but there is hope in the new young blood in the USDA forming the resistance and trying to develop new policies.

This conference was such an inspiration for us that we plan to make big changes at our micro-farm.  Bees next year, serious scientific inquiry into the real nutritional quality of the food we produce, more efficient techniques will be in place, permaculture design applied to the remaining parts of the property that have not been tapped into and maybe trying out some Aquaponics.  That’s right - growing our own fish source!  We’ll be sure to be at the conference next year and in the meantime, I hope everyone who reads this will continue to vote with their dollars in making the right food choices to both support their own health and their local farmers.