Soil. The Other Black Gold.

Soil Erosion in Kansas

Soil Erosion in Kansas

When we think about natural resource depletion, most of us think fossil fuels, fresh water, or helium. Few would imagine our planet ever running out of topsoil. Yet according to a recent Cornell University study, that’s precisely what’s happening—at a rate of 10 to 40 percent a year, one of our most precious resources is being depleted.

Topsoil, as defined by Science Dictionary, is the upper portion of soil, usually dark-colored and rich in organic material. On average, our planet is covered with less than three feet of this vital compound. Without it, agriculture would cease to exist, and fish and algae, which depend on the transfer of top-soil-specific nutrients via rainwater, could face extinction. And because topsoil acts as a sponge, flooding would be more pervasive and destructive.

More topsoil facts:

  • 37,000 square miles of cropland is lost every year to soil erosion.
  • Over the last 40 years, erosion has resulted in a 30 percent reduction in the world’s arable soil.
  • Air-borne dust, which is increased by erosion, acts not only as an abrasive and air pollutant, but also as a vector for over 20 infectious diseases.
  • To replenish but a single inch of topsoil takes approximately one hundred years.

Indeed, such sobering statistics have led Cornell Professor of Ecology David Pimentel to call soil erosion “second only to population as the biggest environmental problem the world faces.” Modern agriculture, residential construction, deforestation, overgrazing, and mining all share some of the blame.  Clearly, a change is needed—but what?

In terms of agricultural practices at least, a consensus does seem to be emerging. Tilling, once the industry-standard for controlling weeds, is now being reexamined. When we till, we leave soil exposed to wind and rain, the two biggest causes of erosion. Planting cover crops also reduces erosion; so too can leaving straw from previous harvests. Geotextiles, permeable fabrics used for reinforcement and protection, are yet another option.

Organic farming methods can also help. Pesticides and herbicides sap the soil of vital nutrients, leading to poor water retention and shallow root growth. A healthy, vibrant soil, with a diverse and thriving biology, is much more resistant to the forces of erosion. Only by focusing on soil biology, says Blue Moon Acres’ owner Jim Lyons, do we see decreased disease, greater sustainability, and improved nutrient levels—the cornerstones of erosion prevention. “Erosion is really just a symptom of a problem,” Lyons says.

Professor John Crawford of the University of Sydney takes it a step further. He recommends “…getting carbon back in the soil…” by adding manure and even considering “…using human waste from cities as fertilizer, instead of just flushing it all out to sea.” He also suggests developing pricing mechanisms that take into account the environmental and health costs of destructive agricultural and distribution practices. “Farmers need to be appropriately rewarded for regenerating the environment and producing food that supports a healthier society.”

The endangerment of topsoil is a crisis of the highest order, one that could well imperil both our species and our planet. Though the path towards soil sustainability is a trying one, it is nevertheless within our reach. The question is, will we rise to the challenge?

 

By | September 27th, 2013|News, Uncategorized|0 Comments

The Chefs’ Bookshelf- Part 2

The Chefs' Bookshelf

 

The Chefs’ Bookshelf
Cookbook Recommendations from Blue Moon’s Favorite Chefs: Part 2

Max HansenMax Hansen
Chef and Owner, Max Hansen Catering, Max Hansen Carversville Grocery, Bucks CountyPlenty
Recommended Cookbooks: Plenty (Yotem Ottolenghi) and Seven Fires: Grilling the Argentine Way (Francis Mallmann)
As a committed carnivore, Seven Fires is Max’s absolute favorite with its “amazing meat cookery.” Plenty, a vegetarian cookbook, Max references frequently as well- “it popped back into my consciousness yesterday in about 10 ways!” Seven Fires is South American-top chef Francis Mallmann’s ode to the art of cooking over fire. Mallmann details seven different approaches to grilling, sharing unpretentious recipes with a true love of his craft. On the other end of the spectrum, Plenty, by Israeli-born and London-based Ottolenghi, showcases the authors’ love of ingredients, with vegetarian dishes featuring fresh flavors and combinations.

 

Aaron FittermanAaron Fitterman
Executive Chef, Aretsky’s Patroon, New YorkCharchuterie
Recommended Cookbook: Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing (
Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn)
Chef Aaron recommends Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing as a “great book that takes the craft of charcuterie and makes it very accessible.” Charcuterie is a culinary specialty, originally referring to creating products such as salami and sausages, that refers to the art of preserving foods with beauty and taste, using a range of preparations such as salting, smoking, and drying. Ruhlman and Polcyn expand the term to mean things preserved or prepared ahead of time. The cookbook provides 125 recipes, opening the world of charcuterie to both professionals and home cooks.

Joe Monnich
Executive Chef, The Dandelion, Philadelphia
Recommended Cookbook: Forgotten Skills of Cooking: The Time-Honored Ways are the Best – Over 700 Recipes Show You Why (Darina Allen)Forgotten Skills
ChefJoeMonnichChef Joe had to spend some time considering this question, as he spends a good part of his income on cookbooks. After careful consideration—not just of his favorite, but also if he is ready to share it with everyone—Joe recommends Darina Allen’s Forgotten Skills of Cooking. Allen is the founder and chef instructor of the Ballymaloe Cooking School in Ireland, and passes along basic cooking skills that may have skipped a generation or two in this 600-page tome. Between the recipes, Forgotten Skills of Cooking is about the joys of working for our food, relating to nature, and celebrating with friends and family. “She has a true connection with food. Her philosophy and ideals are what have influenced me on what true cooking is. This book is not just a cook book, it’s a textbook.”

 

rustic italianChris Oravec
Executive Chef, Domani Star, Bucks County
Recommended Cookbook: Rustic Italian Food; Il viaggio di Vetri: A Culinary Journey (both by Marc Vetri)
Chef Chris recommends Philadelphian Marc Vetri’s cookbooks, Rustic Italian Food and Il viaggio di Vetri. Il viaggio di Vetri is part memoir and part cookbook, covering Vetri’s 18 months of culinary education in Italy, with recipes celebrating meals with family and friends. In Rustic Italian Food, Vetri provides a precision how-to for a wide range of classic Italian dishes, advocating a back-to-the-basics approach to cooking. Chef Chris says that Vetri is “certainly a great chef but more importantly he does things simply, without much fuss and lets the food speak for itself.”

By | September 20th, 2013|News|0 Comments

Relocalization’s Triumph

1003801_10151897491604579_1738258731_nPick up a menu at Triumph Brewery New Hope and you’ll notice something special: it’s all local.

That’s right.

For just under a year now, the upscale brew-pub has been committed to sourcing exclusively from local farms, wholesalers, distilleries, and vineyards. It’s the kind of quixotic experiment you privately shake your head at—until it succeeds.

“When we first began,” General Manager Paul Foglia says, “we were unsure about availability, so we only did half the menu local. Once we realized the simplicity of it, and that it was doable, we moved forward.”

A big part of this transition was Zone 7, a natural foods wholesaler based in Lawerenceville, New Jersey. Zone 7’s vast purchasing power and enormous inventory enabled Triumph to consolidate their orders, expand their menus, and keep from pulling their hair out in the process. It certainly didn’t hurt that the product was of markedly better quality—shorter traveling distances and more conscientious growing practices, after all, make for more appealing dishes.

And ultimately it was the quality that sealed the deal for Foglia et al.

“It was never our intention to jump on a bandwagon; we wanted to separate ourselves from other restaurants in Bucks County and New Hope, to showcase what these great farmers and purveyors have in the area.”

River and Glen, Rushland Ridge, Alba Vineyard, Dad’s Hat, and Blue Moon Acres are just a few of these purveyors. River and Glen supplies meat and seafood; Dad’s Hat provides rye whiskey; Alba and Rushland Ridge, local wine. (Dad’s Hat also donates spent barrels, in which Triumph ages select beers, the barrels lending overtones of smoke and caramel to the brews.) Moreover, Buck’s County-based Freedom Fuel uses Triumph’s spent fryer oil to make soaps and degreasers which Triumph then uses to keep its kitchen spic and span. (Freedom also uses fryer oil to make biodiesel which we at Blue Moon use to power our farm equipment!)

Virtuous though all this may sound, relocalization is not without downsides. The wintertime can be especially problematic: with produce limited to root vegetables, chefs’ creativities’ are put to the test. Even at the height of summer, menus must be updated daily to reflect an ever-changing availability.

Says Executive Chef Tony Sauppe, “The biggest challenge is guessing how much product I’m going to go through in a week for an entire menu. You don’t want to waste product, but you need enough to get you through the following week.”

Despite the challenges, both Sauppe and Paul agree that relocalization is the way to go.

“I never ever want to go back to a regular menu,” Sauppe says. “Never want to not do a local-style menu. It just makes so much sense.”

Bucks County, it seems, agrees.

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By | September 13th, 2013|News|0 Comments

The Chefs’ Bookshelf- Part 1

The Chefs' Bookshelf

On Monday night I asked 20 different chefs for cookbook recommendations. By Tuesday morning I had received more than 10 recommendations. I was shocked and incredibly excited. Getting answers from chefs, when you aren’t in a kitchen with them, can be difficult. So it seemed that I had stumbled upon the perfect question, with answers we all are curious to hear.

Below you will find the first three recommendations from our favorite chefs. I’ll reveal more recommendations monthly, so be sure to check back in.

I hope you find these recommendations- and the insight behind them- worthwhile.

 

The Chefs’ Bookshelf
Cookbook Recommendations from Blue Moon’s Favorite Chefs: Part 1

 

 

John MelfiJohn Melfi
Chef de Cuisine, Blue Duck Tavern, Washington, DC

Modernist Cuisine

 

Recommended Cookbook: Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking (Nathan Myhrvold, Chris Young, Maxime Bilet)

Chef John just says that this cookbook/encyclopedia/guide to the science of contemporary cooking is “unbelievable.” Modernist Cuisine is a six-volume guide covering history and fundamentals, techniques and equipment, animals and plants, ingredients and preparation, plated dish recipes– everything the modern chef needs to know.

 

 

 

Sylva SenatSylva Senat
Executive Chef, The Saint James, Ardmore, PA

 

yes chef

 

Recommended Cookbook: Yes, Chef: A Memoir (Marcus Samuelson)

Chef Sylva is just starting in on this cookbook/memoir, which was recommended to him by his chef friend Travis Sparks of Seed to Plate Catering in North Carolina. The book is “intriguing” so far, with mentions and pictures of Acquavit and Mercer Kitchen, where Sylva starred as a chef in New York.

 

 

 

Junior BorgesJunior Borges
Executive Chef, Amali, New York City

Recommended Cookbook: Origin: The Food of Ben Shewry (Ben Shewry)

Origin
This is a “beautiful cookbook,” “full of stories and amazing recipes.” The author, Ben Shewry, is chef at the award-winning Australian restaurant Attica. Shewry is known for his foraging, and using what the earth provides without depleting its resources. Chef Junior recommends Origin as a storytelling book about Shewry’s family, how to forage, and how to appreciate nature.

 

 

By | September 6th, 2013|News|0 Comments

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