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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







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

Entries in dan kittredge (2)


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


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. 


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


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