Rewild The Uplands?

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Int2.jpgIntelligence Squared has an app that allows you to listen to their debates and lectures at your own convenience, on your phone or wherever, whenever you choose. If, like us, you have found the rewilding debate interesting, this is one you will want to listen to:

THE BATTLE FOR THE COUNTRYSIDE: BRITAIN SHOULD REWILD ITS UPLANDS

Imagine if swathes of the British countryside were allowed to be wild once again, if trees and rare plants could flourish and beavers, boars and white-tailed eagles could retake their place in the ecosystem. That’s the goal of the growing numbers of nature-lovers who support the idea of rewilding Britain’s uplands. We tend to think of these uplands as ‘wild’ and ‘natural’. But in fact, as the rewilders point out, they are entirely man-made, the result of clearances by man to make way for millions of sheep whose grazing over the last 200 years has rendered the land bare. Continue reading

Dairy, Feed & Food

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Yesterday, in our continued quest to consider the future of a family dairy farm, we visited what must be the largest such farm in central Costa Rica. At 7,545 feet above sea level overlooking the valley from the northern slope, it may also be the highest.

BrealeyGoats.jpgIt has eight times the land and double the cows compared to where we are based, 10 miles north and about 1,000 feet lower in altitude. That farm also has dairy goats. More on other implications of the visit later. Here, a quick note on feed. We had noticed on the dairy where we live that pineapple is part of the diet of the cows.

BrealeyCheese.jpgThe dairy manager had explained that this is an important part of the nutritional mix. Despite our surprise we had not asked more about it. Yesterday we did, and the answer was another surprise. Milk production rises 10% or more with the pineapple added to the feed. The animals are healthier because of the fiber content of the fruit, compared to cows eating grains such as corn or soy. Plus, the methane bi-product is significantly decreased. Food produced in a dairy making this dietary change represents one small step toward reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

In the type of coincidence I never expect, but always enjoy, this article was near the top of my news feed today. Thanks to Judith Lewis Mernit and colleagues at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies for take my yesterday’s lesson and adding some important detail:

How Eating Seaweed Can Help Cows to Belch Less Methane

Emissions from the nearly 1.5 billion cattle on earth are a major source of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas. Now, researchers in California and elsewhere are experimenting with seaweed as a dietary additive for cows that can dramatically cut their methane production.

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Holstein cows feeding at a dairy farm in Merced, California. MARMADUKE ST. JOHN / ALAMY

The spring morning temperature in landlocked northern California warns of an incipient scorcher, but the small herd of piebald dairy cows that live here are too curious to care. Upon the approach of an unfamiliar human, they canter out of their barn into the already punishing sun, nosing each other aside to angle their heads over the fence. Some are black-and-white, others brown; all sport a pair of numbered yellow ear tags. Some are more assertive than others. One manages to stretch her long neck out far enough to lick the entire length of my forearm.

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Scientist Ermias Kebreab has studied how to reduce cow methane emissions for more than a decade. GREGORY URQUIAGA/UC DAVIS

“That’s Ginger,” explains their keeper, 27-year-old Breanna Roque. A graduate student in animal science at the University of California, Davis, Roque monitors everything from the animals’ food rations to the somatic cells in their milk — indicators of inflammation or stress. “The interns named her. She’s our superstar.” Continue reading

Other Farms Of The Future

170822-mms-a1-hoegaarden-event-brooklyn-08824.jpgYou can click on any of these photos to go to their source, and they are inserted here because the article that brought this farm (?), this company, this phenomenon to my attention did not have any images. It was good to have only the New Yorker words to start with because, like all good writing, it forced me to imagine what this might look like. However, my imagination fell short.

Out of the Ordinary

Farm+One.jpegFarm.One is New York City’s grower of rare herbs, edible flowers and microgreens for some of the best restaurants in the city. Our Edible Bar and Tasting Plates make these fresh, exciting ingredients available for the first time in an event setting. Guests can discover botanical ingredients for the first time, with the expert guidance of our farm team. Taste ingredients on their own, or paired with cocktails and other beverages, for a colorful, flavorful and aromatic experience like no other.

VS_Inspiration_at_Farm.One-9124This short piece by Anna Russell below continues our stream of thought about the farm of the future, and takes it into very unexpected territory. Hydroponics and urban farming have been featured many times in these pages over the years so that is not what has our attention. It is the mixing of art and agriculture that gets us thinking outside the box:

Tribeca’s Hydroponic Underground

Chic stems and tender greens thrive deep below Worth Street on the rolling shelves of Farm.One.

170822-mms-a1-hoegaarden-event-brooklyn-08817.jpgHydroponics are a slippery slope. You might find yourself, one Sunday morning, at a Santa Monica farmers’ market, loitering among the apples, say. You come across a bunch of papalo, a leafy herb native to central Mexico, and toss it in your mouth (your tastes are expansive; a papalo leaf is nothing to you) and wham!: a brand-new flavor. Suddenly, you’re up at all hours, watching vertical-farming videos on YouTube, ordering seed packets from eBay, buying rhizomes—rhizomes!—and worrying about spider mites. You get some fennel crowns and a pouch of parasitic wasps, and you’re on your way. Continue reading

A Mom’s Pride & Joy, Heirloom Berries

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Heirloom berries growing outside the White home. Credit John Taggart for The New York Times

Pondering the future of a heritage dairy in Costa Rica is our 2018 summer pastime. The future of a heritage berry is a welcome distraction. With more moms like Jeanne Lindsay and more sons like Richard Stevens Jr. we can trust that the uniquely North American flavor produced on this farm is in good hands. Thanks to Rachel Wharton:

What Will The Small Family Dairy Of The Future Look Like?

Milk.jpgOur current work, better described as the pleasure of learning, is thinking through how an old fashioned dairy farm retains relevance in Costa Rica in the future. When we saw a book like this one to the left, authored by someone we have linked to plenty, we had to dive in. We listened to the author first and then found this item we had missed in the salt a couple months ago:

NPR’s Lulu Garcia-Navarro sat down with author Mark Kurlansky to discuss his new book, Milk!A 10,000-Year Food Fracas, and unpack some of the controversies surrounding what he calls “the most over-argued food in history.”

Humans, it turns out, are unique in their preference for the dairy drink. “In nature, we aren’t meant to have milk past weaning,” Kurlansky says.

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A man pours milk into a can in India’s Mayong village in 2015. India is the world’s largest producer and consumer of milk.
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But because of a genetic aberration, many humans can process the sugars found in milk and dairy products well into adulthood.

And while that makes some of us unique among mammals, it doesn’t mean that all humans have those genes. “It’s still only something like 40 percent of the human population that can drink milk past the age of two,” Kurlansky told NPR.

The genetic change is primarily found in white, northern European populations and their descendants. And although it may be Eurocentric to say that all humans can enjoy dairy in the same way, it hasn’t stopped milk from becoming a global industry. Continue reading

Helping Plants Make Their Own Nitrogen

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Poplar trees at the Snoqualmie River in Washington State. The river is fed mostly by snow melt and is extremely low in nitrogen, yet the trees thrive thanks to endophytes. Sharon Doty

Thanks to our friends at the salt, and National Public Radio (USA) for this:

Microbial Magic Could Help Slash Your Dinner’s Carbon Footprint

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Endophytes are microbes that live inside plants — the ones tagged with a fluorescent dye in this image are found in poplars. The microbes gather nitrogen from the air, turning it into a form plants can use, a process called nitrogen fixation. Researchers are looking at how these microbes could be used to help crops like rice and corn make their own fertilizer.
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If you’re interested in sustainability, you’ve probably thought about how to reduce your carbon footprint, from how you fuel your car to how you heat your home. But what about carbon emissions from growing the food you eat?

Most of the crops in the United States are grown using chemical fertilizer – a lot of it: American farmers used over 24 billion pounds of nitrogen fertilizer in 2011. And making nitrogen fertilizer requires fossil fuels like natural gas or coal. Continue reading

Agroecology, A Guiding Principle For Food Entrepreneurship

Ryan Donnell for The New York Times

Our attention has been on food entrepreneurship recently, and here we continue the thread. With agroecology, a new word and robust concept, we have new food for thought. And for that we thank one of our favorite food writers, who we have relied since the first year of this platform. Many of the food stories we have linked to over the years have been authored by him. A year ago we linked to this story, which marked the first time we noted him as an activist. We expect, after reading Bringing Farming Back to Nature, which he co-authored with Daniel Moss, that he has found his new calling:

Workers in a paddy field in the state of Andhra Pradesh, India. Credit Noah Seelam/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Farming the land as if nature doesn’t matter has been the model for much of the Western world’s food production system for at least the past 75 years. The results haven’t been pretty: depleted soil, chemically fouled waters, true family farms all but eliminated, a worsening of public health and more. But an approach that combines innovation and tradition has emerged, one that could transform the way we grow food. It’s called agroecology, and it places ecological science at the center of agriculture. It’s a scrappy movement that’s taking off globally. Continue reading

Butterflies Bear Bucolic Benefits

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Milkweed was first mentioned in these pages  so long ago I had forgotten their importance to Monarch butterflies, a seemingly perennial topic for our contributors. So thanks to Margaret Renkl for keeping that tradition going in her Monday op-ed, and reminding us in the process that while it is not all good news out there, it is also not all bad news:

Monarchs in My Garden, at Last

NASHVILLE — I was pretty proud of myself the spring I planted my first organic garden. It was the mid-1980s, and I was a first-year graduate student in creative writing, a program entirely unrelated to horticultural mastery. But I had taken a college course in environmental biology, and I knew the basics: The more chemicals you use in a garden, the more chemicals you’ll need in the garden. It’s a self-perpetuating cycle, more reliable than the seasons.

At my house, companion planting — marigolds in between the broccoli, tomato vines encircling the spinach — would repel bugs the natural way. Any lingering pests would be dispatched by beneficial insects like ladybugs and praying mantises. One evening I watched happily as cabbage white butterflies flitted over silvery broccoli leaves. Those little white butterflies pausing in the gloaming on the water-beaded broccoli made for a tableau of bucolic harmony. Continue reading

Make Your Opinion Known About New Labeling For GMOs

 

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The USDA has released several options for what the labels might look like.
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If the questions and concerns surrounding GMOs are of interest to you, then in the next six weeks you have a unique window of opportunity. Until July 3 you are invited to share your opinion with the folks responsible for these label design options to the right. Thanks to our friends at the salt (National Public Radio, USA) for bringing this to our attention:

USDA Unveils Prototypes For GMO Food Labels, And They’re … Confusing

Foods that contains genetically modified ingredients will soon have a special label.

We recently got the first glimpse of what that label might look like, when the U.S. Department of Agriculture released its proposed guidelines.

This is the product of a decades-long fight between anti-GMO campaigners and Big Agriculture companies, which left neither side completely satisfied, as NPR has reported.

After Congress passed a bill in 2016 requiring labels on foods containing GMO ingredients, the USDA launched a long process to figure out the specifics. When it asked for feedback, it received 112,000 responses from consumers, farmers and manufacturers, among others.

The result? Continue reading

Avocados & Epic Journeys

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Maggie Marsek / Getty / Katie Martin / The Atlantic

The Atlantic’s partnering with specialists in content that would not qualify as the magazine’s historically typical fare, we think, is good for all concerned. The folks at Gastropodcast certainly qualify, we also think, and have thought so, more than once:

Peak Avocado Is Yet to Come

How the fatty green fruit went from near-extinction to a worldwide boom

AvocadoAvocados are on a roll. More precisely, they’re on toast—a lot of toast. Last summer, BritishVogue reported that more than 3 million new photos of whole, sliced, and toast-topping avocados are uploaded to Instagram every day. Continue reading

Meatless Monday Economics Info Session

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It is Monday, a good time to revisit the “meatless” movement, the one where you take one small step at a time to a better diet. Thanks to Bibi van der Zee and colleagues at the Guardian for arranging this guide to all the good reasons to reduce or eliminate meat from the diet:

What is the true cost of eating meat?

As concerns over the huge impact on the environment, human health and animal welfare grow, what future is there for the meat industry

What are the economics of meat?

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Cattle in the Brazilian Amazon. Photograph: Rodrigo Baleia

Food and farming is one of the biggest economic sectors in the world. We are no longer in the 14th century, when as much as 76% of the population worked in agriculture – but farming still employs more than 26% of all workers globally. And that does not include the people who work along the meat supply chain: the slaughterers, packagers, retailers and chefs.

In 2016, the world’s meat production was estimated at 317m metric tons, and that is expected to continue to grow. Figures for the value of the global meat industry vary wildly from $90bn to as much as $741bn. Continue reading

Six Centuries Of Herding

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James Rebanks’s family has worked on the land in Cumbria for six hundred years. Photographs by Gregor Schmatz for The New Yorker

Sam Knight gives a view in on a form of life as lived for six centuries, as is today:

The Tweeting of the Lambs: A Day in the Life of a Modern Shepherd

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Photographs by Gregor Schmatz for The New Yorker

The hills of Cumbria, in northern England, are known as fells. They are among the wettest, coldest, and windiest places where sheep are farmed outdoors year-round. The weather is rotten, more or less, from October to May. So by lambing season—a three-week period, usually after Easter, when the ewes give birth, and there are triumphs and miscarriages, adoptions and accidents, gambolling and suckling—the flock, the shepherd, and the land itself are already worn out. “You’re just about fucked,” James Rebanks told me. “The whole thing is designed so you are just about to break.”

On Twitter, Rebanks is the Herdwick Shepherd. A little more than a hundred and nine thousand people, most of them trapped in office environments or riding public transportation, follow his account for gorgeous, wide-skied pictures of his flock, and for his evocations of the English countryside. In 2015, Rebanks’s memoir, “The Shepherd’s Life,” became an international best-seller, and he was compared to the nineteenth-century rural poet John Clare. Clare, the son of illiterate laborers from Northamptonshire, wrote about the land from within it; Rebanks’s writing has a similarly involved quality. Continue reading

Gleaners Harvesting Properly

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Illustration by Tom Bachtell

I have been enjoying short essays and posts by Charles Bethea in the last year or so in a way that I can explain with a simple metric. I always find myself wanting to learn more about something I was intrigued by in what he wrote. That is a sign of one kind of excellent writing, interesting enough to make me hungry to learn more, but concise enough that I feel satisfied if I do not have time to explore further.

Case in point below, and fortunately I had time to find out about one of the gleaners he mentioned. I chose the one in Atlanta, since I have spent much of the last year there. I have pasted a couple screen shots from their website into the excerpt of Mr. Bethea’s essay below, in case you want to click out and see a live example. It is about time that I share my appreciation for his writing, and no better a way to do it than with this:

The Robin Hoods of Food Waste

A society of gleaners (not to be confused with dumpster divers) learn the rules of harvesting food in unusual places.

CJ1Two dozen gleaners—not to be confused with foragers or dumpster divers—showed up for the second annual International Gleaners Symposium, held recently at the Georgia Institute of Technology, in Atlanta. They were there to discuss the finer points of gathering neglected foodstuffs from roadsides, back yards, and other nonpublic places, and then donating them to the hungry.

CJ2.jpgThe gleaners sat in a classroom, drinking coffee and eating store-bought grapes. They were awaiting remarks from Ashley Pruitt, a local lawyer specializing in civil litigation, who had volunteered to explain the surprising number of ways that one can run afoul of the law while picking unharvested fruits and nuts for homeless shelters and food banks, as more than four hundred volunteer groups in the United States now do.

CJ3“A few weeks ago, I didn’t even know protection for food donation was a thing,” Pruitt, who wore a silk scarf around her neck, said before she began. “But I’ve been studying the case law. ”

One attendee, Jennifer Jans, described herself as an “outreach raccoon” for Hidden Harvest, a gleaning outfit in Ottawa. “We rescue fruit and nuts, largely from yards,” she said. “People will sign up their trees. Maybe they don’t want to harvest them, or they have too much fruit.” She listed some commonly gleaned Ottawan comestibles: “cherries, pears, black walnuts, and the rare apricot tree.” Also, “lots and lots of crab apples, which I whine about, even though they’re nutritious and delicious.” Continue reading

Legume’s Lost Legacy, Found

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Rancho Gordo’s heirloom beans look like gems in a jewelry case. The company sells half a million pounds of them a year.Illustration by Cari Vander Yacht

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“My favorite bean is always the last one I ate,” Steve Sando says.Illustration by Cari Vander Yacht

If you only had read the first sentence in this story, you might move right on to something more promising.

Look at the author and look at the title, both familiar to those visiting this platform over the years, and it is certain not to disappoint. It is about this man to the right, and his culinary/cultural mission:

The Hunt for Mexico’s Heirloom Beans

Rare varieties discovered by Rancho Gordo’s Steve Sando have turned the humble legume into a gourmet food.

By Burkhard Bilger

The best meal of my life, or at least the most memorable, came from a can. I was thirteen at the time and living in France, so that may have had something to do with it. But I credit the beans. My older sisters and I were at a hippie camp in the Alps that summer, not far from the Italian border. My parents had stashed us there while they went home to Oklahoma to check on our house, which they’d rented to some graduate students while my father was on sabbatical. The camp was the cheapest one they could find, and they seemed to have done next to no research before signing us up. My mother just loved the name: Jeunesse du Soleil Levant, Youth of the Rising Sun. Continue reading

Sweet Potato Origin Story

 

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A chromolithograph of Christopher Columbus arriving at the Caribbean. Credit Louis Prang and Company/Getty Images

Thanks to Carl Zimmer for this 1493-ish story:

All by Itself, the Humble Sweet Potato Colonized the World

Many botanists argued that humans must have carried the valuable staple to the Pacific from South America, a hidden chapter in human history. Not so, according to a new study.

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The distribution of the sweet potato plant has baffled scientists. How could the plant arise from a wild ancestor in the Americas and wind up on islands across the Pacific? Credit Karsten Moran for The New York Times

Of all the plants that humanity has turned into crops, none is more puzzling than the sweet potato. Indigenous people of Central and South America grew it on farms for generations, and Europeans discovered it when Christopher Columbus arrived in the Caribbean.

In the 18th century, however, Captain Cook stumbled across sweet potatoes again — over 4,000 miles away, on remote Polynesian islands. European explorers later found them elsewhere in the Pacific, from Hawaii to New Guinea.

The distribution of the plant baffled scientists. How could sweet potatoes arise from a wild ancestor and then wind up scattered across such a wide range? Was it possible that unknown explorers carried it from South America to countless Pacific islands? Continue reading

MA’O’s Marvelous Mission

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If we had come upon the website with no introduction maybe it would have looked like just another pretty organic farm in a tropical paradise.

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But there are people involved, and it is a pleasant surprise to learn from Dakota Kim’s story Youth Farm In Hawaii Is Growing Food And Leaders how those people bring that place further to life. There is a mission worth reading about:

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Cheryse Sana, farm co-manager, cuts a banana blossom off a tree at MA’O Organic Farms. Dakota Kim

A tight circle of teenagers is deep in conversation — not about movies or apps, but about … vegetables.

It’s 7 a.m. at MA’O Organic Farms, part of 24 acres nestled in an emerald mountain-ringed valley just two miles from Oahu’s west shore. Under a hot sun that bathes this idyllic breadbasket, college-aged farmers harvest tons of mangoes, bananas, mizuna (mustard greens) and taro every month for the island of Oahu.

The farm’s atmosphere bubbles with enthusiastic lightheartedness, its college interns quipping across the rows that they can beat their neighbors’ harvesting speed. But a calm falls over the group as they move from joking around to talking more seriously. A circle forms under an open pavilion, and a young woman speaks. Continue reading

Humans Still Best Machines In The Berry Patch

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Credit: Dan Charles/NPR

Thanks to Dan Charles and his salt colleagues at National Public Radio (USA) for this look at one of machine-learning’s agricultural challenges:

Robots Are Trying To Pick Strawberries. So Far, They’re Not Very Good At It

Robots have taken over many of America’s factories. They can explore the depths of the ocean, and other planets. They can play ping-pong.

But can they pick a strawberry?

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The strawberry-picking robot enters a field near Duette, Fla.
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“You kind of learn, when you get into this — it’s really hard to match what humans can do,” says Bob Pitzer, an expert on robots and co-founder of a company called Harvest CROO Robotics. (CROO is an acronym. It stands for Computerized Robotic Optimized Obtainer.)

Any 4-year old can pick a strawberry, but machines, for all their artificial intelligence, can’t seem to figure it out. Pitzer says the hardest thing for them is just finding the fruit. The berries hide behind leaves in unpredictable places. Continue reading

Pomology, Diet & Trade

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More than half of the fresh fruit and almost a third of the fresh vegetables Americans buy now come from other countries. Credit Jens Mortensen for The New York Times; Styled by Mariana Vera

David Karp, no not that David Karp, is in our distant memory recalled as The Fruit Detective, and we had lost track of him until today. Thankfully, he is still pomologizing:

Most of America’s Fruit Is Now Imported. Is That a Bad Thing?

It’s obvious to anyone who visits an American supermarket in winter — past displays brimming with Chilean grapes, Mexican berries and Vietnamese dragon fruit — that foreign farms supply much of our produce.

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Although local, seasonal and farm-to-table are watchwords for many consumers, globalization has triumphed in the produce aisle. Credit Jens Mortensen for The New York Times

Imports have increased steadily for decades, but the extent of the change may be surprising: More than half of the fresh fruit and almost a third of the fresh vegetables Americans buy now come from other countries.

Although local, seasonal and farm-to-table are watchwords for many consumers, globalization has triumphed in the produce aisle. And despite the protectionist “America First” message coming from the Trump administration, the growth in imports appears likely to continue.

So this is an apt moment to examine how the shift happened, and what it portends — good or ill — for American consumers and farmers.

“I had no idea that more than half our fruit is imported, and it shocks me that this has happened so quickly,” said Michael Pollan, a professor of journalism at the University of California, Berkeley, whose best-selling books have analyzed the tensions between local and global food systems. Continue reading

The Pests That Make Cacao Productive

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Forcipomyia spp. pollinating a cacao flower. Goodman Cacao Estate, Killaloe, Australia, 2017. Credit: Samantha J. Forbes

This 12-minute primer on Soundcloud gives a reason to appreciate these otherwise very annoying pests:

Chocolate: Brought To You By Bugs

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Forcipomyia spp. SEM image. Goodman Cacao Estate, Killaloe, Australia, 2017. Credit: Samantha J. Forbes

Chocolate starts as a beautiful yellow and cream-colored blossom, with blushes of pink and magenta. The flowers, sprouting straight from the bark of the cacao tree, are no bigger than a dime—and they’re pollinated by something much smaller: a barely visible fly related to biting no-see-ums, or midges. Continue reading

Big Time Culinary Hydroponics

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At Farm.One, a hydroponic garden in TriBeCa, red-veined sorrel is prepared for a delivery. Credit Sarah Blesener for The New York Times

We have posted on urban farming and related topics numerous times since 2011, and hydroponics as its own topic of interest plenty of times as well. Culinary and/or gastronomic topics as related to agriculture are a magnitude of order more represented in these pages. Finally, they are combined for us in one amazing article, thanks to Alyson Krueger. If you only have time to look at the photos, those alone are worth the click:

Herbs From the Underground

Farm.One just opened an indoor rare herb and flower garden in a TriBeCa basement, and many prominent chefs are flocking to it.

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Katherine Chester, a farm hand at Farm.One, harvests for a morning delivery. Credit Sarah Blesener for The New York Times

In the basement of a loft-style building in TriBeCa that houses a vet, a dog swimming pool, an eye-and-ear infirmary, and a two-Michelin-starred restaurant, there is a working farm.

Farm.One is a hydroponic facility, which means that the plants do not grow in soil. Many of these farms are located indoors, in controlled environments, with artificial lighting.

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Amazon neon cherry dianthus and neon rose magic dianthus. Credit Sarah Blesener for The New York Times

The new two-room space, which opened in November in a former cycling studio for high-altitude training and an old storage area, is only 1200 square feet. There is no fresh air or natural light; there is not even a window. Yet the venue can grow around 580 varieties of rare herbs and flowers (200 at a time) that supply New York’s top restaurants. Le TurtleLe CoucouMission Chinese Food, and The Pool get regular deliveries from Farm.One, sometimes several times a week. Continue reading