It’s Friday at Gingerhill Farm, and our kitchen staff has come together at 7:30 am to talk about food. Thursday evening prior, we celebrated the advent of Spring and the Full Moon by gathering with community for a farm tour, a farm-to-fork dinner, and dancing to music under the stars.
Those of us that work and live at Gingerhill meet regularly to discuss our passion projects. Recent topics include how to live zero-waste, how to go green, how to practice regenerative agriculture, and how to prepare farm-to-fork meals that are healthy for people and the planet.
We are devoted to creating ethical and healthful farm-to-fork meals to nourish a greater ecosophic community.
Imagine the care that went into preparing dinner on Thursday:
First we purchased Ahi, shining with the opal iridescence of the ocean, fresh off the boat from a local fisherman. We made the verdant papaya enzyme-rich salad with fruit picked that day from a tree that lives just outside the kitchen. We milled green bananas from the farm into flour and added cabbage from our garden for the okonomiyaki.
Farm-to-fork is a grounding and humbling pursuit. It is a great honor and responsibility, for those who participate are saying Yes to developing an ethical practice that goes well beyond sustainable agriculture. Farm-to-fork is a pledge to genuinely devote yourself to caring for the earth and for the people.
One way we are working on this is by always improving our kitchen program and considering ways to represent more local and seasonal ingredients in a healthy way. A long term goal we are currently working on is becoming more food sovereign. We are discussing ways to transition from cultivated annual varieties to including more wild and perennial vegetables in farm and diet. Here are a few reasons why:
Cultivated vegetables are delicious but extremely fickle.
Annual vegetables, even those that are non-GMO and hail from sustainable farms, are delicate and sensitive. Without a loving and attentive gardener to seed, feed, and water them, they would likely surrender to the elements or face insurmountable competition from wild and feral plants.
The processes of selective breeding alter the genomes of cultivated food. The deciding force driving the evolution of these species is man’s desire alone. Cultivated crops are lower in fiber, nutritional value, phytochemicals, and antioxidants. That means that these plants provide less protection from disease, inflammation and pathogens (1).
The distinction becomes apparent in the taste of a plant. Notice how cultivated lettuces such as iceberg and romaine are mild and watery in taste and faint in color. Wild greens such as dandelion and nettle are vibrant in color and flavor. Their distinct bitterness is an indicator that the plant is rich in antioxidants and medicine. Author and wild food expert, Sunny Savage writes,
“Our industrialized society has moved away from many of the strong flavors found in wild food plants, but those flavors were once coveted by all of our ancestors for their prophylactic qualities, having both powerful medicinal and preventative health qualities. Micronutrient deficiencies now rank among the top twenty risk factors for morbidity and impaired quality of life worldwide, and occur in both high and low income countries.” (2)
A diet that depends on cultivated annuals is a modern experiment.
It is no secret that modern western diets have abandoned the pursuit of genetically diverse food. In fact, the average North American only eats about 30 different species of plant in a year.
The hybridization of brassica oleracea, or wild mustard, has resulted in the creation of vegetables that may seem very diverse but are actually the same species of plant. Arugula, broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, collard greens, kale, kohlrabi and mustard are cultivars of the same species: brassica oleracea.
Producers intentionally breed hybridized plants to produce desirable traits. Unfortunately, doing so renders the plants incapable of natural genetic evolution. Hybridized seeds may develop through open-pollination, but these second generation hybrid seeds are not true to the parent plant. If you plant the second generation seeds, the third and proceeding generations will lose vigor and resemblance to the predecessor plants. Eventually the crop may stop producing seeds altogether.
Some cultivated fruits and vegetables are sterile. Have you ever noticed how some hybrid fruits and vegetables do not contain seeds? Seedless grapes may be convenient to eat, but they are sterile in nature. How might this influence the fertility of a human eating a diet high in modified, cultivated foods?
Many cultivated greens contain natural toxins.
Plants are rooted beings, so they have adapted by producing natural pesticides as a form of self-defense. Oxalic acid is a mycotoxin produced by the fungus aspergillus and the common yeast candida. Oxalic acid forms in some plants as a defense against predation. It has the ability to bind to minerals and metals to form oxalates.
Humans are susceptible to the bioaccumulation of oxalates in the body, which can cause a whole range of issues. These include, but aren to limited to, kidney stones and heavy metal poisoning. Consider this article where a mummy found in Chile had a very large oxalate stone in the kidney (3). Oxalate toxicity has afflicted humans for a very long time, but proper cooking techniques can help reduce exposure to toxins naturally found in plants. Sally Norton warns us that healthy foods can be harmful when they are not prepared properly:
“Oxalate and oxalic acid crystals are so durable they’re used by paleontologists to figure out what people were eating way back when, because the traces of the oxalate crystals, the shapes of those crystals, can be or are thought to be pretty particular to each plant type.” (4)
Many of the answers to our dietary dilemmas exist in the akashic records of the hearth of our ancestors.
Our hunter-gatherer predecessors and the indigenous tribal people of today can identify and utilize an average of 120 wild species per cultural group (5). And they know the importance of properly preparing these plants to render them safe for human consumption. Food processing was a central focus of hunter-gatherers. They knew how to cook, soak, ferment, leach, or dilute plants that would otherwise be toxic.
Another reason to reconsider that raw kale smoothie: brassicas, when raw, are goitrogenic plants. Goitrogens cause swelling of the thyroid by interfering with iodine uptake in the thyroid gland. When the thyroid receives insufficient iodine, it cannot produce sufficient levels of thyroid hormones T4 and T3. A shortage of these hormones alerts the hypothalamus to produce TSH-releasing hormone, which then triggers the pituitary gland to produce more TSH. The thyroid responds to TSH by making more hormones. When the thyroid becomes stressed and is unable to keep up with the demand for hormones, it swells to grow bigger to try to keep pace with the exponential workload.
To minimize oxalic acid and goitrogens in the diet:
- Combine foods that are high in oxalic acid with calcium-rich foods such as grass-fed yogurt and butter. Calcium binds to soluble forms of oxalic acid to make it insoluble.
- Blanch foods high in oxalates before cooking and discard the cooking water.
- Fermentation and cooking do not remove oxalic acid because it is water soluble.
- Choose young greens from low stress and disease-free plants.
- Choose foods that are most similar to their wild predecessor. For example, you can forage for the wild mustard plant brassica oleracea. Savoy cabbage, on the other hand, is very different from wild mustard.
- You should also blanch or steam goitrogenic foods.
- Supplement with natural sources of iodine such as wild seaweed.
- For healing the thyroid, avoid goitrogenic foods entirely.
Eat your vegetables, but focus on variety, quality, and proper preparation. Consider ways to incorporate more diversity in the diet. Farm-to-fork at Gingerhill is growing to include forage-to-fork because wild ingredients are healthier for people and for the earth. We’ll be learning and sharing more about how to become food sovereign, and we hope that you will come join us for a meal. We gather for community meals Monday through Friday with Lunch at 1 p.m. and dinner at 6 p.m.
Next week, I will write about how to identify wild greens that you can go out and forage to diversify your diet. You may be surprised by the plant diversity that is thriving just outside the door or at the edge of the garden. Until then, be careful of what you call a weed, and go greener.
- Haines, Arthur ( 2017). A New Path: To transcend the great forgetting through incorporating ancestral practices into contemporary living. Bass Harbor, ME: V.F. Thomas Co.
- Savage, Sunny (2015).Wild Food Plants of Hawai`i. Maui, HI: Author.
- Zareen, Bharucha. 2010. “The Roles and Values of Wild Foods in agricultural Systems.” Philosophical Transactions of The Royal Society B. Biological Sciences 365 (1554): 2913-26