Connections SEPT–OCT 2010
The magazine of Peter Gillham’s Natural Vitality
Rick Bayless Top Chef Supports Local Farmers Natalie Jeremijenko Environmental Art + Science Farmer Bob Wilt Soil Biology, Nutrition and Taste
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The positive power of non-conformity
ne of the great things about America is that we have the freedom, as individuals, to come up with ideas and act on them. We don’t need to apply for a license to proffer a better way of doing things or launch an enterprise that, even in some small way, would make people’s lives better. Groups in our society play an important role. By cooperating together we leverage our abilities to get things done. But groups are made up of individuals and we often fail to remember this in our zeal to establish group cultures. Groups or corporations are not themselves living entities. The life and power in them comes solely from individuals. Of course, in order to function effectively, a degree of conformity is a positive thing. But when the pressure to conform outweighs individual observation and the ability to freely communicate the fruits of those observations, the group begins a downhill descent from reason to authoritarianism. The group says something is so not because it truly is so but because the authorities within the group say it’s so. A look through history reveals it is the dissenters, not the conformists, who have moved our culture ahead. We certainly wouldn’t have an America if the Founding Fathers hadn’t had the courage of their convictions and the willingness to say and act upon what they observed. Our schools, corporations and governments are institutions geared toward promoting conformity as a virtue. This leaves the dissenter with an uphill battle against the prevailing “wisdom.” How many potential Galileos, Linus Paulings or Nelson Mandelas are being stifled by our current system? While we greatly benefit from certain people’s refusal to conform, the paradox is that our institutes of conformity penalize those who think outside the prescribed box. The whistleblower or critic is typically maligned and ostracized unless he or she prevails. Only at that point—if ever—is he or she labeled a hero. But fortunately for us the channels of communication have been democratized. We have a free forum the likes of which has never existed in the history of this planet. The gates of the Internet are wide open and individuals are empowered with the ability to freely communicate their opinions and counter the opinions of others. Armed with a computer and Internet access, non-conformists are speaking out. Many are looking at our world in different ways. Many are offering new ideas and products that escape the confines of our industrialized and toxic marketplace, with a vision of a sustainable world actually designed for living.
Ken Whitman publisher
Organic Connections™ is published by Peter Gillham’s Natural Vitality 2530 N. Ontario Street, Burbank, CA 91504-2512 Editorial Office 818.333.2171 • www.petergillham.com For a free e-subscription, visit www.organicconnectmag.com
In this issue
or•gan•ic |ôr ganʹik| denoting a relation between elements of something such that they fit together harmoniously as necessary parts of a whole: the organic unity of the integral work of art • characterized by continuous or natural development: companies expand as much by acquisition as by organic growth.
4 Rick Bayless The Top Chef Master and king of Mexican cuisine talks about his Frontera Farmer Foundation and the importance of local agriculture and the small farms that work with nature to provide it.
Natalie Jeremijenko Named one of the top 40 most influential designers, new media artist Natalie Jeremijenko brings a background of biochemistry, physics, neuroscience and precision engineering to her work. She explores “sociotechnical change” with a mixture of environmental art and science.
11 Farmer Bob Wilt Owner of Sunset Valley Organics, farmer Bob Wilt took his family’s blueberry farm from chemical to organic and beyond. A champion of Biological Farm Management, Wilt concentrates on managing the nutrients in the soil and grows his blueberries for “nutrient density.” The result is a healthier, sweeter blueberry. But the true test is in the tasting, and Wilt says that 9 out of 10 people who sample his fruit become new customers.
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Chef Rick Bayless Top chef supports local farmers
grown produce. “History bears witness that great cuisines spring only from healthy local agriculture,” Bayless told Organic Connections. “The great cuisines of the world— France, China, Japan—all come out of great local agriculture. You don’t usually find places that are not known for great food having much great local agriculture.” The evidence of Bayless’s conviction in this regard shows in the way he operates his own restaurants. “We build our various dishes Renowned chef Rick Bayless, owner and based on what we get from the farmers,” he operator of three of Chicago’s best restau- said. “We don’t incorporate the ingredients— rants, knows what elevates good cuisine we build on them. But that’s what you have to to great: the flavors of local, sustainably do if you want to do cuisine of a region; you grown produce. His love of—and absolute don’t sprinkle them over a dish or something demand for—local produce for his own like that. We build around what the farmers restaurants has resulted in the Frontera bring us. Farmer Foundation, a non-profit organiza“Again, that’s exactly the way that cuisines tion that supports local growers all around develop. Cuisine doesn’t develop from the Chicago area. These small and artisan somebody saying they’re just going to dream farmers would otherwise not survive in a up a dish; that’s like building your house market dominated by huge-scale industrial from sand.” corporate agriculture. Bayless has cultivated his sense of taste extremely well. He is an award-winning chefrestaurateur, cookbook author, and winner of season one of Bravo’s Top Chef Masters. Chef Bayless has done more than any other culinary star to introduce Americans to authentic Mexican cuisine and to change the image of Mexican food in America. His best-selling books have been hailed as some of the finest available on Mexican cooking. His first Chicago restaurant, the now famous Frontera Grill, resulted in his being selected as Food & Wine magazine’s “Best New Chef of the Year” in 1988; he has since opened two other eateries also highlighting Mexican cuisine, Topolobampo (fine dining) and XOCO (a quick-service café), and continues to win prestigious awards for his cooking. His television series Mexico—One Plate at a Frontera Farmer Foundation Time is currently in its fifth season on PBS. Bayless has added his name to a growing The Frontera Farmer Foundation and its list of other great chefs, such as Alice Waters, support of local, sustainable farmers began Wolfgang Puck, Dan Barber and Suzanne with a need Bayless had for fantastic-tasting Goin, in his passion for local and sustainably produce—specifically, spinach. Not long after 4 organic connections
he opened the Frontera Grill in 1987, something happened that he wasn’t prepared for. He wanted more of a particular farmer’s spinach that he found outstanding. The farmer,
however, couldn’t afford to produce more of it because he didn’t have the money to buy another hoop house in which to grow it. So Bayless made a deal with the farmer: his restaurant would finance the hoop house, and the farmer could pay them back in spinach the following year. “That turned into a no-interest-loan program that we established in our restaurant,” Bayless related. “Eventually we decided we wanted to take that idea and turn it into a grant campaign not-for-profit organization for which we at the restaurant raise all the money. We have done exactly the same thing as we did with those original farmers except that they make grant applications to our foundation. Once a year we announce the number of grants that we’re giving out. They are small—usually someplace between five and twelve thousand dollars—but they really help these farms to build the infrastructures they need in order to become more profitable and productive.”
Since the Frontera Farmer Foundation’s beginning six years ago, they’ve awarded in the neighborhood of three-quarters of a million dollars to small midwestern farms, covering such essential needs as tractors, watering systems, transportation vehicles for deliveries, and more. “Basically we’re just helping small farms to grow so that they can become sustainable in terms of providing a livelihood for their families,” Bayless said. “We saw too many of these farms going out of business because they could just never put together enough money to buy the equipment they needed to run a really productive farm. And through the years we’ve watched them grow and grow. We’ve seen a number of them get one grant, then come back two or three years later with an idea for a second grant. Or, maybe their children decide they want to add something to the farm and the only way they can do that is to get the equipment to do a new project. So we’ve given grants to a lot of kids—meaning teenagers to about mid twenties, who are the second generations from those farms—which have helped to keep these farms very lively.” Local Produce and Fine Cuisine
In the time Bayless has had his Chicago restaurants, he has seen a definite correlation between the growth in local, sustainable farming and the rise in quality of the Windy City’s cuisine. “The fact that we are now known as a really great restaurant town speaks to the importance of local great agriculture,” Bayless said. “When I opened the Frontera Grill 23 years ago, there were no farmers’ markets; now there are farmers’ markets everywhere and multiple ones during the week. Back then Chicago was an okay place to go for restaurants but not a great restaurant town. Now that we have all this great local agriculture we are also now a great restaurant town, and you can’t go to any decent restaurant in the city that doesn’t have farmers’ names on the menu and farmers’ market salads and dishes that are celebrating the local season.” take that care with the soil, they usually take ground. And when you take this much care, The difference Bayless has seen between amazing care with the stuff that soil produces. it’s not man over nature; it’s man with nature.” chemical-industrial and local, sustainable Then what they’ll do is look for interesting farmers has to do with the care they take with varieties of things to grow, and they’ll pick The Intimate Connection the soil and their crops. “If somebody is work- them at their absolute peak of ripeness or ing organically, they realize right away that perfection. Then they’ll wash them carefully, Another reason Bayless sees the need for they’re a dirt farmer, they’re not a vegetable pack them beautifully, and they’ll bring them supporting such growers is the vital connecfarmer,” Bayless remarked. “They have to cre- to you. The stuff is like jewels because they tion between the growers and consumers. ate really, really healthy soil. From that healthy love it; they have nurtured it. But when you “There’s a crucial relationship between the soil will spring lots of great stuff. But if they look closely, you see that first of all they have person that made the food and the people don’t have healthy soil, then they never are nurtured the ground that gave it to them and who consume the food,” Bayless explained. going to have great produce. So when people they then nurtured the product out of that “That’s the connection that has to be made; organic connections
it’s not necessarily the food itself, because food is the conduit. We say that all the time in our restaurant—that food is always the conduit. For human beings, I firmly believe there has to be a direct connection between the source of their food and the food itself. It’s extremely important to be able to have some interaction with the people who created or nurtured along that food so we understand, as human beings, that we are part of the cycle of nature; we’re not just partaking of the results of the cycle of nature. And that’s what you learn by that.” In creating his non-profit Frontera Farmer
Mango and red onion guacamole
makes excuses like the ones you sometimes hear, such as ‘It’s only for the elitist,’ or ‘It’s too expensive,’ or ‘It’s hard to go because you have to carry your groceries out of there,’ stuff like that, they’re not helping to create a strong local agricultural economy. I’m not trying to sound elitist at all, but the people with the money have to invest their money where their heart is. If they do that, then we’ll find that the prices will begin to drop and the local farmers will become competitive with the grocery store. Right now the economies of scale are so wacky. You can buy the mass-produced stuff from California, or wherever, a lot cheaper
If the people with the money can invest in paying a little more for their food so that we can develop stronger midrange or midsize local farms, the prices of things are going to come down. They’re already coming down. Foundation, it was this exact argument that finally convinced the IRS to grant the foundation non-profit status. “The IRS kept refusing our not-for-profit status because they said it made no sense: we wanted to be a nonprofit organization that actually supported for-profit organizations,” said Bayless. “They kept claiming that if we were not-for-profit, then everything we were dealing with had to be not-for-profit. We argued that the one really important thing about farms is that they create community, and that they’re going out of business unless we can help them to build an alternative agricultural society. After going back and forth with the IRS a number of times, they finally gave us not-for-profit status because they understood that our argument was about creating community. That community happens at the farmers’ market when the urban dwellers can have that direct contact to the source, the people who created their food for them. It also happens within the farming communities, where those small farmers are the backbone of those societies.” What Others Can Do
Pork in tomatillo sauce 6 organic connections
To anyone who asks, the answer Bayless gives to what the ordinary consumer can do in supporting local, sustainable agriculture is very simple. “There’s only one way: buy from the local farmers,” he said. “It’s all about supply and demand. The more demand there is, the more supply there will be. Anyone who
than you can buy the locally produced stuff—only because of economies of scale. There’s no other reason that it’s that way. If the people with the money can invest in paying a little more for their food so that we can develop stronger midrange or midsize local farms, the prices of things are going to come down. They’re already coming down.” Testament to the work Bayless has done through the Frontera Farmer Foundation is probably best expressed by one farmer who benefited from the foundation’s help: “The capital improvement grant from Frontera Farmer Foundation was a blessing for our farm. The timing couldn’t have been better. I was so moved by this generosity that I drove the 270 miles from our farm to Frontera to personally meet and thank the people who provided this to us. I found hard-working folks, dedicated to quality, safe and sustainable food, very much like myself.” —Farmer Mike Hansen, Gifts from the Good Earth. For more information on the Frontera Farmer Foundation, visit www.rickbayless.com/foundation. Chef Bayless’s book Fiesta at Rick’s is available through the Organic Connections bookstore. For more about Rick Bayless, his restaurants, cookbooks and recipes, visit his website at www.rickbayless.com.
Natalie Jeremijenko Environmental art + science by Bruce Boyers
Meet Natalie Jeremijenko, a new media artist who works at the intersection of contemporary art, science and engineering. But this is no ordinary artist, by any stretch. She was recently named one of the 40 most influential designers by I.D. magazine, and her background includes studies in biochemistry, physics, neuroscience and precision engineering. Her projects—which explore sociotechnical change—have been exhibited by several museums and galleries, including the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, the Whitney, and the Smithsonian Cooper-Hewitt. A 1999 Rockefeller Fellow, she currently has an exhibition at New York’s Neuberger Museum of Art entitled “Connected Environments.”
people bring their specific environmental concerns. They are then given “prescriptions” for actions they can take to address particular environmental factors. Such prescriptions include local data collection and urban interventions geared toward understanding and improving environmental health. The clinic also provides referrals—not to medical specialists but to specific art, design The main thrust of her work these days is as and participatory projects, local environmental director of the Environmental Health Clinic, organizations, and local government or civil attached to New York University, where she society groups. is also an assistant professor of art and affiliThe clinic’s “patients” are termed “impaated with the computer science department. tients” by Jeremijenko, in that the people who While the word clinic in the name purposely come into the clinic are too impatient to wait engenders visions of a normal health facil- for the government or some other agency to ity where one might come in to have his or take action with the environment and are her body treated, it is instead a place where ready to start working on it themselves.
Raising awareness and shaping public policy is not Jeremijenko’s objective—at least not directly. “My express goal is not to influence,” she told Organic Connections. “What I’m trying to do is reimagine and redesign our relationships to the natural world. In terms of the Environmental Health Clinic, we are here to treat environmental issues as health issues and health issues as environmental issues. I’m trying to redefine health, not as something internal—atomized and individualized and pharmaceuticalized and medicalized—but as something that is shared and external. Anything you do to improve your water quality, air quality or your local environmental health means that the benefits are enjoyed not only organic connections
by you but by anybody you share the air or water quality with. So you have this aggregative strength that is extremely powerful.” It is the unique artistry with which she approaches her work that has drawn significant attention and created such an impact. For example, she spent several days conducting consultations for the Environmental Health Clinic aboard an “office” constructed of plastic water bottles and floating on New York’s East River. The office contained a table, on which was placed her laptop computer, and two chairs for herself and her consultees. “The East River is a very good place to talk about water quality issues,” Jeremijenko said. “Such field offices allow you to draw immediate
roundabout, for its function, depends on each providing this habitat. Her bath pleasures one of us making our own micro decision in became identified with the pleasures of the that context, deciding whether it’s safe to go, frogs and salamanders bathing and splashing with our own property and lives at stake. We around and enjoying the natural wastewater actually see greater responsibility and fewer through a shared environmental context.” accidents than with a red-light intersection. Another novel prescription given to a numSo, as a working icon of social movement, the ber of impatients is the use of robotic geese. traffic roundabout is pretty powerful because These are remote-controlled goose robots that it’s familiar and because it allows us to look enable participants (robotic-goose drivers, for other similar social organizational paths, also known as “goosers”) to interrelate with social movement paths.” actual geese in urban contexts. The robotic goose interface allows people to approach Environmental Rx real geese, follow them closely and interact in a variety of ways that would not otherwise be It was while operating her field office in possible. The interface permits participants to Belgium that Jeremijenko evolved one of her “talk to” the geese, issuing utterances through more unique prescriptions. “In Belgium there the robotic interface, delivering prerecorded
visceral evidence of what we can do for and to the environment.” She created another “field office” set up right in the middle of a traffic roundabout in Belgium. “A roundabout is a very immersive context in which to talk about air quality and vehicular emissions, but it’s also an extremely good working example, an icon of social movement,” she said. “If you compare a traffic circle roundabout with a traffic light intersection, in the traffic light intersection you have delegated your capacity to make a decision about whether it’s safe to go, to some remote authority somewhere else. So even though it’s your body, your car, your life, your danger, you can’t make that decision to go. Whereas a
was a woman who felt tremendously guilty about the baths that she had taken,” Natalie related. “The woman knew her baths were a waste of water, but she liked them and they were luxurious and she needed them. But she found them hard to justify in the context of a kind of puritanical environmentalism. She cared about the environment and was actually quite educated and even knew all the costs involved. “So we developed a system in which every time she finished a bath it emptied into a biodiversity hotspot, populated with frog eggs and salamander, to create a habitat for the local amphibians. The bath water was filtered through geotextiles and replenished the pond,
8 organic connections
goose “words,” which are vocal sounds from real geese. Each utterance through the goose robot triggers a camera in the robot’s head to capture two to four seconds of video, recording the responses of the actual biological geese. These video samples upload to a public database that the participants can annotate— for example, “The goose was telling me to go away,” or “He was saying hi.” A further prescription of the clinic is titled “NoPark” and is a low-growth garden (mosses and grasses) set up in what would normally be a no-parking zone within the city. NoParks infiltrate/absorb stormwater runoff while providing a durable, low-maintenance surface cover and are
situated to intercept water running over the impervious urban surfaces, capturing the oily runoff from the road before it is carried into the river. They also reduce the number of standing water pools that are left for days and are the perfect breeding ground for mosquitoes. In this way, the NoParks may reduce the need for widespread fumigation to combat West Nile virus in New York City. Cross Species Adventure Club
In addition to the clinic, Jeremijenko is conducting other activities to directly involve people in healing the environment. One is called the Cross Species Adventure Club. “The Cross Species Adventure Club is sort of like a supper club,” she said. “We use the diners or adventurers to explore food that is deliciously nutritious to both humans and non-humans, and to understand that the very problem is not just how to design food so that we reduce the distribution cost or the emissions or the water use, but how to design food systems that radically improve environmental health and augment biodiversity.” Cross Species
out many species. “By biting into the marshmallow, your lips are now inoculated with the substance,” Jeremijenko said. “Next time you kiss a frog you’re also inoculating him!” Along the same lines, Jeremijenko is creating a Cross Species Cookbook, which contains similar recipes as well as items that are intended to be fed directly to fish and animals only. One example is an algae-based extract, very nutritious for fish, shaped into what appears to be a fishing lure. “It’s nutritionally appropriate so that many people feeding the fish could augment the fish
designing a healthy intensified system that can support much larger populations of fish.” Amphibious Architecture
Another of Jeremijenko’s current aquatic projects is called Amphibious Architecture, designed in collaboration with architects David Benjamin and Soo-in Yang, directors of the Living Architecture Lab at Columbia University. This consists of visual interfaces floating on the water’s surface, recently installed in two locations along the East and the Bronx rivers in New York. Each interface is a network of floating interactive buoys housing a range of sensors below water and an array of light-emitting diodes (LEDs) above water. The sensors monitor water quality and the presence of fish, while the lights respond to the sensors, creating feedback loops between humans and fish in their shared environment. A second interface allows people to textmessage the fish and receive real-time information about the river, contributing toward the collective display of human interest in the aquatic environment. The aim of the project is to simultaneously spark a larger public interest
Anything you do to improve your water
quality, air quality or your local environmental health means that the benefits are enjoyed not only by you but by anybody you share the air or water quality with. Adventure Club dinners are held at locations such as the Bronx River Art Center and the Eyebeam Art + Technology Center. An example of the cuisine served at the club is nano water buffalo ice cream. “Water buffalo milk has higher protein, lower fat and more nutrients than traditional cow’s milk,” Jeremijenko pointed out. “It also has a smaller land area requirement, which would allow us to reclaim wetlands that have been taken for pasture. In water buffalo ice cream we use a process in which the crystals are nanosized—hence the name nano. The resultant product is really creamy; it’s the most delicious ice cream you ever tasted in your life.” Also served at Cross Species Adventure Club functions are wet marshmallow kisses. The marshmallows have been inoculated with a harmless purple substance produced by wetland soil bacteria. When the substance is applied to the skin of frogs and salamanders, it protects them from a widespread fungus that is currently wiping 10 o r g a n i c c o n n e c t i o n s
population,” Jeremijenko explained. “Thus the nutritional resources that we have ourselves depleted by the kind of hard-edged world and other things that we’ve built can be potentially restored.” The “lure” also contains a chelating agent common to shrimp and oyster shells that binds to the heavy metals and PCBs which are today being ingested by fish. The fish can then pass these elements in such a way that they settle to the silt, removing them from bioavailability. In the end it means that the fish that humans eat will be free of these poisons. “By improving the fish’s health, we’re improving our own health,” Jeremijenko said. “I’m demonstrating that the collective effect of many people feeding the fish is not necessarily negative; it can be positive. It can in fact increase fish populations as well as improve our own health. It also points to a new form of fish farming, which is about not enclosing fish in little boxes as in agriculture but remediating our local environment, augmenting the nutritional resources, and
and dialogue about our local waterways. If you’re anywhere near the New York area, come by Jeremijenko’s exhibit at the Neuberger Museum of Art. On display are a number of items mentioned in this article, including the fishing lure and the Cross Species Adventure Club dining table. There is also a snail rollercoaster, a rhinoceros beetle wrestling exhibit, and a “fish restaurant” in which patrons feed the fish, not eat them, and much more besides. Natalie Jeremijenko shows us things in ways that many of us might never have imagined and which bring us up close and personal with our natural connections. We very much look forward to the many surprises she is sure to have in store in the future. For more information on the Environmental Health Clinic, visit www.environmentalhealthclinic.net. See Natalie,s Amphibious Architecture at www.amphibiousarchitecture.net.
Farmer Bob Wilt Soil biology, nutrition and taste
Bob Wilt has a lot of faith in the taste of his Sunset Valley Organics blueberries. He should, for over time he has discovered an amazing fact. “If I can get some of my berries into somebody’s mouth, 90 percent of the time I’ll have a new customer,” Bob told Organic Connections. “In addition to selling through stores and over the Internet, we have a stand from which we sell to the local people. The funny thing is, we are the most expensive berries in the area but we have people who will come in and buy two pounds three times a week. And it isn’t because of my bright smiley face; it’s because those berries taste good.” Such taste is not at all commonplace today. Produce is grown from soil devoid of nutrition, forced to life with harsh chemical fertilizers and “protected” with toxic pesticides. The lack of taste in supermarket produce is a reflection of the lack of nutrients. Bob didn’t always have such stellar produce. In fact, it took nine years for him to make the journey from conventional farming to a practice known as Biological Farm Management. Beyond the USDA requirements for organic certification, these methods begin deep in the soil and concentrate on producing plants rich in nutrients. The result is produce so tasty that top chefs such as Wolfgang Puck, Alice Waters, Rick Bayless, Suzanne Goin and a host of others value it highly for use in their restaurants.
his farm, and he turned to the person he thought could help: the salesman who sold him the chemicals he used for fertilizer. “Basically he’ll sell you everything off the shelf,” Bob said. “We started using more nitrates. We added more potassium in the form of potassium chloride, and we also began using more harsh herbicides, like one called gramoxone—where you sprayed today, everything was dead tomorrow. “Our fields became very manicured and very clean. In fact they were too clean. But appearance wasn’t good enough—we wanted more yield. We began applying heavier quantities of fertilizers and were also putting on extra nitrates. The more we put on, the more it seemed we needed and the amounts got really high.” The chemicals didn’t stop there. In 1998 Bob’s plants started suffering from fungal diseases and he lost 40 percent of his crop. To solve the problem, his salesman had him implement a fungicide program in which he had to rotate four or five different fungicides so that none would build up.
From Dead to Alive
Bob didn’t start out to be anything other than what his family had been. Raised on the very land he is farming now, he graduated from Oregon State University and started farming on his own in 1970. In the nineties he decided he wanted to improve organic connections
For a while it seemed to work. “We kept the fungal diseases away,” Bob remarked. But after three years Bob realized that despite everything he was doing he wasn’t raising his yield at all—in fact it was quite the opposite. “In April 2001—I remember this just like it was yesterday—I went out and looked at my berries,” he said. “I saw that maybe the best fruit-bearing limbs I had were 6 inches long rather than 18 or 20 inches. And instead of the 10 to 15 buds to the limb that I should have had, I might have had 2, at best 3. Well, you can do the math pretty fast. You can figure out you’re going backwards.” Finding Answers
Bob now knew that his adopted methods weren’t being effective. He began asking around and found that there was a soil biologist named Elaine Ingham in nearby Corvallis, who had at one time been on staff at Oregon State University but now had her
biology. We were putting things on that were Bob said. “It is a way better product—like absolute poison. One basic principle a lot of turning a Volkswagen into a Porsche. In the growers don’t understand is that you’ve got to end, we had a very powerful compost tea. If have biological organisms in the ground be- you are going to play the game, you want the cause they’re the stomach for the plant. They best tools you can get your hands on.” do the digesting. Biology will process minerThe compost tea also assists in keeping als in a form that the plant can use. Without away fungal diseases. In the spring he applies those minerals, you’ve got a plant but it’s not it to the soil, and for the remainder of the seahealthy. It’s empty. And that’s a lot of what’s son he applies it directly to the leaves every 10 wrong with our food today: it’s empty.” to 14 days. Shortly after Bob started down his natural The Changes farming path, he attended a seminar put on by a medical doctor and one of the pioThat very year, Bob started adding a natural neers of Biological Farm Management, Dr. liquid solution called compost tea to his soil Arden Andersen (see Organic Connections, to supply it with nutrients. He also quit using July–August 2008). Dr. Andersen convinced herbicides and began using fish fertilizer in Bob that if you grow nutrient-dense crops, place of the chemical nitrates. people will come. Bob ended up attending a He saw results right away. “That year was number of Dr. Andersen’s seminars and had kind of tough weatherwise,” Bob noted. him out to his farm several times. “Growers around here had a 20 percent loss— According to Dr. Andersen, “Nutrient but I held my own. That was enough to say density means the quantity of nutrient let’s try this again.” per quantity of food. Typically, the USDA
You’re aiming for a higher percent of dissolved solids in the plant—a higher percentage of complex carbohydrates, sugars and proteins. These are the elements that correlate directly with increased flavor, increased nutrition, increased
shelf life, and increased pest and disease resistance. —Dan Kittredge, Executive Director, Real Food Campaign (www.realfoodcampaign.org) own laboratory. One day Bob walked into Ingham’s office—and that was the move that changed his farm, and his life. “Because of the condition of my farm, I felt that I had to learn what I was doing wrong in a short period of time,” Bob recounted. “I made several visits to this biologist, and after nine hours of consultation we both agreed that I had graduated Soil Biology 101. “I found out that I was killing off the soil 12 o r g a n i c c o n n e c t i o n s
Bob continued with the practices he had learned and began adding to them. He realized he would need a very good compost, and spent the next four years developing it. Interestingly, he found that one of the best additives to his soil came about as a result of a compost he provided for a friend’s worm farm. “I would trade him my compost, which he wanted to use as a food stock for his worm farm, and in return I got his worm castings,”
analyzes how many milligrams or how many micrograms of nutrient there are per 100 grams of food. With nutrient density, we want to increase the amount of nutrients—calcium, magnesium, selenium, chromium, iodine, whatever there might be—per 100 grams of that food. If you eat an apple and it is highly nutritious, highly nutrient dense, you get a lot more nutrients out of that single apple than if
Testament to the Taste higher the brix measurement went. Hence, he concentrated on doing that and still does to this day. And as the brix has gone up, so has One story demonstrates the flavor difference in Bob’s blueberries almost better than the flavor. “The average brix measurement for fresh any other. Several years ago, Bob went into berries is generally between 10 and 12,” Bob partnership with a packer who obtained explained. “Ours tend to begin around 15, business from a large grocery store chain for but this last year we had one variety that was their southwest district. Consumers were so averaging around 16 and another variety amazed that they began e-mailing the stores called Jersey that had numbers between 19 to say what an incredible taste the berries had, which led to a second year of sales. and 21. It gave us an average of a 20 brix.” A change came in the third year, however. The correlation between nutrition and great taste is no longer just theory. Third- “This last year, 2009, the berry price really party independent testing was conducted on plummeted,” Bob related. “There were a lot of regular supermarket fare as well as organic berries available, so conventional berries took berries from other growers. The results a huge dive. Well, this store chain decided can be found on Sunset Valley Organics’ that since conventional berries were so cheap website, which show that nutrients in Bob’s they were just going to go with conventional berries generally range higher—sometimes and wouldn’t be interested in organic.
you pick up another apple which has half that nutrient density.” This gave Bob a bright idea for competing with other blueberry growers. “Knowing that blueberries were going to be overplanted, we had to have some sort of a plan that made our berries unique,” he said. “Why would somebody want to buy my blueberries instead of everybody else’s? Well, when we started going down the road of plant nutrition we discovered that nutrition is all about vitamins and minerals. So we decided we wanted to be noted for good nutritional blueberries. And if you have good nutritious blueberries, you have flavor too.” Through listening to Dr. Andersen and from his own research, Bob discovered the use on his fruit of a measurement called “brix.” Brix is a scale that relates to the nutrients the fruit has absorbed. “We have found out that the higher the brix in the berries, the more nutrition, flavor and sugar they have. Those are all extremely positive things if you’re trying to sell your berries to a consumer. That’s good stuff, a win-win for everybody; it’s a win for the consumer and it’s a win for the guy growing the berries.” “You’re aiming for a higher percent of dissolved solids in the plant—a higher percentage of complex carbohydrates, sugars and proteins,” says Dan Kittredge, executive director of the Real Food Campaign and an experienced organic farmer himself. “These are the elements that correlate directly with increased flavor, increased nutrition, increased shelf life, and increased pest and disease resistance.” Bob also found that the more efficiently he was able to get minerals into his berries, the 14 o r g a n i c c o n n e c t i o n s
significantly—than other blueberries grown with different farming methods. The steps that Bob employs have actually taken him “beyond organic.” “If I talk to anybody, I’ll tell them I’m a biological farmer,” he said. “I just get paid to call myself an organic farmer. If you’re a good true biological farmer, you’re going one to two levels above what most organic farmers do because you’re so involved in what’s good for the soil, in what the nutrition of the soil is or the life of the soil.” The nutrient-dense plants and Bob’s new farming methods have also meant being able to do away with insecticides and herbicides. The wrong sorts of insects generally don’t bother his plants, and so far funguses have been a thing of the past.
“About six weeks went by and they had gotten so many e-mails from their customers demanding a return of the flavorful berries that the company came back and we negotiated a price. It was a lower price than what we had been getting, but as it worked out we sold our whole grade A crop to them at 50 cents over the market. If you have good, sweet fruit, people will come.” For Bob, the journey is far from over. “It’s a story that’s going to go on as long as I can run my farm,” Bob concluded. “And that’s a good thing. There’s a lot more I’d like to do.” To find out more about Sunset Valley Organics and their amazingly tasty blueberries, visit their website at www.sunsetvalleyorganics.com.
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Published on Aug 29, 2010
The magazine of Peter Gillham's Natural Vitality. Covering issues of health, food, environment, agriculture and green design