Kohlrabi, the German turnip that is low in calories and high in potassium, is a hearty vegatable that can grow almost anywhere--including in the imagination of the artist. Hiromi Papers, Inc imports some lovely decorative papers that underscore the versatility of vegatables. Above is the bulbous root sliced really, really thin (and suitable for framing!) that would look nice decorating the walls at Dirt Candy, the excellent vegetarian restaurant in New York's East Village.
— Morning fog weaves its way through colorful rows of vegetables, herbs and flowers as staff and apprentices gather at the center of the garden at Esalen Institute. It's 7 a.m. The freshly awakened faces sit calmly in a circle for a morning meditation, listening to the Pacific Ocean until the sound of chimes lets meandering minds know it's time to tend to the day's harvest.
Bins of chard, arugula, parsley, radishes and carrots are picked, washed and delivered to the back door of the kitchen, roughly 1,250 feet from the field.
Long before farm-to-table became a slogan of sustainability, it was being practiced here. Esalen Institute's Farm and Garden, on the Big Sur cliffs, has been growing food sustainably for more than 40 years. Through land stewardship, the alternative education center sows, harvests, consumes and composts the produce grown on the 5 acres that make up its farm.
The Farm and Garden works with the kitchen at Esalen to prepare menus based on what's available seasonally. The kitchen, made up of a kitchen manager, five chefs, students and volunteer interns, prepares three meals a day for the institute's community and 13,000 visitors a year, using produce picked fresh daily by the Farm and Garden and from local growers. Particularly popular is the kale salad — the Farm and Garden harvested 10,800 bunches of the hardy green last year.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the institute, which opened in 1962, devoted to the exploration of human potential. The nonprofit organization is a community and retreat center highlighting personal growth and social change.
Esalen, along with Green Gulch Farm Zen Center in Muir Beach, Calif., and the UC Santa Cruz Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems (CASFS), started practicing community-supported agriculture in the late '60s and early '70s and has upheld a simple and sustainable way of growing food that others, in the midst of the farm-to-table trend, see as a model.
In 2009, the Farm and Garden began developing a more formalized educational program in hopes of teaching people who will go on to spread the practice through their own growing and activism.
"Part of our mission is to educate the people that come here about sustainable agriculture and the value of locally grown food," says Esalen Farm and Garden manager Shirley Ward. When hiring staff, Ward, who has been part of the Esalen community for more than 10 years, says she seeks candidates with a background not only in organic farming but in teaching too.
She hired garden supervisor Christopher La Rose, who met those qualifications, a little over a year ago. La Rose, a New York native, has a background in social work in addition to farming experience earned by apprenticing and then teaching at UC Santa Cruz's extension program.
It was through CASFS that La Rose took a liking to the teachings of English master gardener Alan Chadwick. "He's sort of the father of the organic agriculture movement in California in a lot of ways because he ended up touching all these people's lives in the '60s, '70s and into the early '80s who went on to start all these highly regarded farms," La Rose says.
Chadwick was hired by UC Santa Cruz in 1967 to start a student garden project. The failed Shakespearean actor captivated students with his integration of storytelling, poetry and philosophy. "He knew a lot about mythology, so he would start talking about the technique of growing roses and then he would tie it into a Greek myth and the history of rose cultivation in the world," La Rose says. "He was a real synthesizer in a lot of different disciplines."
Chadwick practiced "French intensive biodynamic" gardening methods that included using compost, creating raised beds and limiting weed competition by placing plants close together. Biodynamics — agriculture as a self-sustaining system without the use of chemical fertilizers or pesticides under the "influence of the cosmos" — informed Chadwick's practices and teachings, which La Rose believes has, in many ways, carried over to Esalen's Farm and Garden through the hands that work the soil. "I think that's what we think about here too, the interrelatedness of plants, people and nature," La Rose says.
The Farm and Garden is a place where growing isn't just for food but for people too. "We're not just farming, we're also dealing with human emotions and communication strategies, trying to really model a more holistic idea about gardening and farming where it's not just about the plants and it's not just about working hard; it's about us taking care of each other too," he says.
Through hands-on experiences, the Farm and Garden uses horticulture as a therapy to reconnect nature and visitors, who experience what regulars laughingly call "nature deficit disorder" in their day-to-day lives. "It's exciting to see adults who have been eating broccoli all their lives come to the garden to cut broccoli and reveal: 'I've never touched a broccoli plant in my life!'" Ward says with a chuckle.
After visitors experience their own harvest at the institute, Ward hopes they will go home and start growing some of their own vegetables and herbs. Introducing new ways to educate is the Farm and Garden's way of reaching the largest possible audience. Setting up a potted-plant garden, for example, would show visitors that growing one's own food is doable, even if only a few kale plants, lettuces and herbs such as parsley and basil.
The Esalen Farm and Garden, in conjunction with the kitchen, offers a daily changing, seasonal menu just by default — there isn't much choice.
When a student experiences a revelation just by running his or her hands through soil, La Rose understands the feeling. "These are our most basic needs that we're dealing with on a day-to-day basis. Everybody needs to eat; it's at the root of all human experience."
We can't decide whether to love or hate this new development. Sprinkles, the uber-frosted California-based cupcake company with outposts around the U.S., will open its first cupcake ATM at the company's flagship store in Beverly Hills this month. Called "cupcake automats" three more locations are slated to open in Manhattan this summer. The machines will dispense several varieties of cupcakes, including a version for dogs, to be restocked daily.
Company founder Candance Nelson told The Daily News she got the idea when "powerful after-hours cravings struck during pregnancy." She told the newspaper, "I thought there has to be a way, and so the idea of 24-hour Sprinkles was born."
But the company's chosen test markets for these dispensers have the lowest per-capita body fat composition in the U.S. The fashion and film crowds on the coasts are not likely to frequent these particular ATMs--24 hour veggie-juice dispensers make more sense for that lot. Might we offer Disneyworld as a more receptive crowd for this wacky gimmick?
Adding prebiotic ingredients to infant formula helps colonize the newborn's gut with a stable population of beneficial bacteria, and probiotics enhance immunity in formula-fed infants, two University of Illinois studies report.
"The beneficial bacteria that live in a baby's intestine are all-important to an infant's health, growth, and ability to fight off infections," said Kelly Tappenden, a U of I professor of nutrition and gastrointestinal physiology. "Breast-fed babies acquire this protection naturally. Formula-fed infants get sick more easily because the bacteria in their gut are always changing."
The idea is to make formula more like breast milk by promoting the sorts of intestinal bacteria that live in breast-fed babies' intestines, she added.
Prebiotics are carbohydrates that resist digestion by human enzymes and stimulate the growth and activity of beneficial bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract.
Probiotics are actual live bacteria that are beneficial to intestinal health, she said.
Infants have a special need for stimulation of their gut microbiota because they are born with a sterile intestine, Tappenden said.
"A strong, robust population of microbes in the gut provides colonization resistance, and pathogens can't invade and infect an infant who has that resistance as easily," she added.
The researchers compared the effects of feeding pre- and probiotics with infants fed breast milk and control formulas. They also compared the enhanced formulas' effects in both vaginally and Caesarean-delivered babies.
"The probiotic formula significantly enhanced immunity in formula-fed infants," Tappenden said.
Also, babies delivered by C-section had an especially improved immune response, an important finding because C-section babies are a more vulnerable group, she said.
Why? "Babies delivered naturally are exposed to the mother's bacteria as they travel through the birth canal, and they develop a healthier population of gut bacteria as a result. Babies delivered by C-section enter a sterile environment, and their gut microbiota is quite different," Tappenden noted.
In the probiotics study, scientists at five sites divided 172 healthy six-week-old infants into two formula-fed groups and a breast-fed group. Beginning at six weeks of age, the formula-fed groups received either a control formula or a formula that contained the beneficial bacteria Bifidobacterium animalis subspecies lactis (Bb12) for a six-week period. The infants receiving the probiotic formula had increased concentrations of secretory, anti-rotavirus, and anti-poliovirus-specific immunoglobulin A (IgA).
Fecal samples from babies receiving the probiotic formula revealed significantly heightened immunity, especially among Caesarian-delivered infants, Tappenden said.
Infants who consumed the formula containing the prebiotic ingredients also benefited. In that study, 139 healthy babies were divided into three groups. Breast-fed infants were compared with babies fed either a control formula or a formula supplemented with galacto- and fructo-oligosaccharides for six weeks.
Oligosaccharides, found in breast milk, contribute to the healthy population of bacteria found in the guts of breast-fed infants.
When fecal samples were tested, babies fed the prebiotic formula showed modest improvement in the number of beneficial bacteria and decreases in the types of bacteria that are often associated with illness.
The Atlantic checked in recently with Marion Nestle, professor of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University, and the author of Food Politics, Safe Food, What to Eat, and Pet Food Politics.
The Atlantic: What is the importance of size in our portions? What is the best way to judge portions when going out to dinner?
Marion Nestle: Easy. Large portions make you eat more. If I could teach just one thing about nutrition, it would be this: Larger portions have more calories. Funny? Portion size is anything but obvious. Research repeatedly confirms that larger food servings not only provide more calories but also have two other effects. They encourage people to eat more and to underestimate how much they are eating.
A few years ago, I asked Lisa Young, who teaches our department's introductory nutrition course, to ask her students to guess the number of calories in an eight-ounce Coke and a 64-ounce Double Gulp -- yes, such things exist. She did not expect beginning students to know the exact numbers, but did expect them to do the math. To her surprise, the average multiplier turned out to be three, not eight. How come? Students said that 800 calories in a drink was impossible. No, it is not, as menu labels now reveal.
How to deal with the portion size problem? Use small plates and cups in the dining hall. When eating out, order appetizers, not entrees. Order the small size, or share large portions with friends.
The system is stacked against you and it's up to you to figure out how to cope with it. Small sizes, for example, usually cost relatively more.
For a long time, I've wanted restaurant owners to give a price break for smaller portions. No luck. They say this would put them out of business. We need to make it easier for people to choose smaller portions, which means changes in public policy.