Harvard SEAS lecture, 11/15/10, Dan Barber, part 2

[Whoo-hoo! Part 2!]

After biochar and lobster charcoal, Dan talked about the Stone Farms greenhouses. The Northeast is on the same latitude as Spain and southern Italy. Yes, it is colder here but we get the same amount of sunshine. During the colder seasons, their greenhouses are filled with sun-determinate plants instead of temperature-determinate plants (like tomatoes or mango). It’s something I’ve thought about but never *really* thought about. It makes me think that I should search for some plant ideas for my little container garden at home. Also required of their winter salad greens? What they grow must be able to go from seed to maturity in 6 to 8 weeks. The water in the greenhouses are kept warm by the heat given off from their composting. They also seep compost soil in water to create a “compost tea” which is used to water plants. The “compost tea” discourages bacterial growth on the plants. (Stone Farms cooks their compost to appropriate temperatures to kill off anything bad in the soil. They have a large machine for it, and the machine can also turn the compost over to provide even heating. This is not a cheap endeavor!)

The natural heat from composting? Blue Hill has been experimenting with cooking food, like potatoes, in a compost (don’t worry, the potatoes for eating are sealed in a bag).

So, big deal, right? Compost and biochar and selective gardening, it’s all going to taste the same right? Well, *no*. Stone Farms, again with the crazy data compiling, measures the Brix levels in their produce. what is Brix? In the food industry, it’s a way to measure the approximate amount of sugars in fruits, vegetables, juices, wine, soft drinks. The higher the Brix level, the higher the sugar/sweetness concentration. The farm has been breaking common Brix levels every year. Let’s take carrots as an example. The Northeast naturally produces some of the sweetest carrots. Why? Freezing temperatures for carrot plants to convert their starches into sugar for survival. Stone Farms has been able to measure 13.8 on the Brix scale. Out of curiosity, they measured the Brix level of good quality organic carrots not from their farm. The measurement? 0.0 on the Brix scale. Not sweet carrots at all.

Dan again emphasized that the farm and the restaurant were seeking out the best tasting ingredients that were raised right. So you might think that Dan is very pro-heirloom tomatoes. It’s all the rage these days in farmer markets, heirloom plants. Dan sounded kind of “meh” on them. He showed slides entitled “Magic Mountain Tomato” and showed us the unnamed hybrid tomatoes that the farm and restaurant were getting from Cornell University.

Probably one of the slightly weird food experiments at Stone Farms is “hazelnut celtuce.” The experiment started with carrots, actually. They tried seeing if they could infuse the aroma of hazelnuts into carrots by using residue hazelnuts in the soil. It failed because the cell walls of carrots are too thick. They tried again with celtuce (which is a type of lettuce) which has thinner cell walls. The answer was yes, the aroma can be absorbed.

Dan ended the lecture with a blurb on the Angiogenesis Foundation. The foundation is a non-profit organization that strives to reduce diseases by restoring balance to blood vessel growth. Somewhere in there is the idea that foods can battle cancer. Dan believes that food through the Stone Farms’ sustainable methods are more nutritious than their supermarket counterparts, and therefore more likely to have greater value to fighting against sickness.

It was a very fascinating lecture from a scientific and nutritional standpoint, and it appealed more to me than I originally thought it would. In my own personal food quest, I have realized that while I eat pretty decently (I don’t eat too much junk), I’m eating things that should or could have more nutritional value. It’s hard to think that “yes, there is such a thing as good fat with a nutritional purpose.” It’s a departure from what I’ve heard growing up. I’m starting small – I’m moving from store bought milk to grass-fed raw farm milk. This is hard to do in the state of Massachusetts when you don’t have regular access to a car, and the state forbids the selling of raw milk in stores or via buying clubs. However, I’ve discovered that raw milk freezes/defrosts pretty well and I have a full-size freezer, so I’m hopeful about my efforts. Plus, I can’t hate the idea of helping my local economy when I can.

Anyway, only one lecture left this semester! I’m looking forward to it!

~Mikan

Part 1 here: https://awesomesauceeats.wordpress.com/2010/11/16/harvard-seas-lecture-111510-dan-barber/

And related links for your curiosity:

http://www.bluehillfarm.com/food/blue-hill-stone-barns

http://www.stonebarnscenter.org/

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One thought on “Harvard SEAS lecture, 11/15/10, Dan Barber, part 2

  1. Pingback: Harvard SEAS lecture, 11/15/10, Dan Barber « Awesomesauce Eats

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