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Making Up The Difference, an essay by Apprentice, Adrienne Barrett

Posted 8/2/2011 10:01am by Adrienne Barrett, Apprentice.

Making Up The Difference

an essay by Apprentice, Adrienne Barrett


At Devon Point Farm, apprentices are doing more than just learning the mechanics of farming. Apprentices are exposed to the inner workings of the farm and are taught how to make a farm not only environmentally sustainable but also economically sustainable. Whether while weeding and planting together, or having dinner-table discussions, we have open dialogues about different issues relating to farming on a daily basis. This summer we hope to share some thoughts with you through a series of essays written by Devon Point Farm apprentices.

      This past weekend while visiting a neighbor I was offered a snack. She threw wide the refrigerator door, reached into the veggie crisper, and pulled out a zip-top bag of “baby” carrots. It was then that I thought to myself, what’s the difference?  Is there any substantial variation between the nutrition that a bag of shaved-down carrot torpedoes from Sacramento can provide compared to the rainbow carrots I had gotten from our fields that morning? The answer I found was a resounding…maybe. That is to say that as with most things, the details make all the difference.

       There are a large number of factors that put Sacramento’s carrots (commercially produced and shipped) at a nutritional disadvantage to the rainbow carrots (the local, naturally-grown model). Our dear friend time can do a lot of damage, especially to vitamins B2, C, and E, so the time it takes the vegetables to get to store shelves can be very detrimental. For example, peas will lose about 75% of their vitamin C content after one week in storage. Another major source of nutrient degradation comes from damage to the plant’s cells. Vegetables (and all other plants for that matter) are made of billions of cells that are constantly producing and repackaging the building blocks of life; sugars, proteins, and fats along with trace minerals, vitamins, and other compounds. The moment the cells are broken into by a knife, a bruise, or other means, these tiny factories are exposed to the air and their nutrients leach away rapidly. This kind of damage often happens with mechanical harvesters, the jostling of refrigerator trucks, and pre-sliced convenience packages of food, but it can just as easily happen with rough handling by workers in the local model as well.

            Another component to a vegetable’s level of vitamins and minerals is the specific variety being consumed. The old adage “a horse is a horse” doesn’t apply here, and oftentimes commercial varieties of a crop are selected for maximum output and durability so that they can withstand the shipping and picking process. This also means the plants are designed and selected to grow quickly, leaving the plant less time to store away micro and macro nutrients it absorbs from the soil. In contrast, many local farms are geared towards a direct-to-consumer system, so they tend to choose vegetables that are brightly colored with unique flavors. These varieties typically have higher concentrations of minerals, vitamins, and sugars as evidenced by their strong visual and taste appeal. In addition to this, these vegetables can be picked closer to the peak of ripeness because they do not need to be shipped great distances. The price of these foods may be higher, but the cost per unit of vitamins and minerals is comparable, and the consumer doesn’t need to eat a double helping to get great nutrition.

            Besides choosing more flavorful (and therefore more nutrient dense) types of produce, small local farms such as ours often use organic growing practices. When plants don’t have the crutch of chemical pesticides to defend them from insects or nitrogen-phosphorus-potassium (NPK) fuel-based fertilizer to spur them into watery upward growth, they create much larger concentrations of a group of compounds known as phytochemicals. Well-known members of this group include beta carotene and lycopene along with many other compounds that are essential to our health. In fact, in a recent study by the European Union and Newcastle University, organic tomatoes, potatoes, cabbage and lettuce had between 20 and 40% more nutrients than their non-organic counterparts.

       So there we have it; with proper plant selection, care, and harvesting (and the fun part, rapid consumption!) that local, naturally raised rainbow carrot can knock the nutritional snot out of the pre-sliced baby-cut competition. But only if we as a web of producers and consumers care enough about each other, our families and our health to have the dedication to make healthful food happen.




About  Apprentice, Adrienne Barrett...

Adrienne     Adrienne is joining Devon Point Farm for a second season, interning part-time with us, and part-time with a local large animal veterinarian. Adrienne will be going into her Junior year at UCONN where she is in the honors program majoring in animal science. Adrienne is planning on being a veterinarian and has worked as a veterinary assistant at the Niantic Animal Hospital, and as an animal education intern at Holcomb Farm in West Granby, CT.  Adrienne grew up in Granby, CT but attended the Green Mountain Valley School, a world-class ski academy and independent high school in Waitsfield, VT. She is also a varsity rower on UCONN's crew team. Her hobbies include sailing, competitive skiing, crew, and spearfishing.