Toothache Plant

The red-and-yellow buttons of the toothache plant poke out of lush, dark-green foliage and appear rather strange-looking — the sort of thing you might see in Alice in Wonderland. If you came across it for the first time in its native Amazon, where it is known as “jambu,” you would almost certainly avoid it — its bold colors suggest a little bit (or a lot) of danger.

But inside ICE’s hydroponic garden, where we are growing the toothache plants in a highly controlled setting, you can step out of your comfort zone and try it. The buttons, stems and leaves can be eaten, and deliver a surprising, slowly revealed but long-lasting effect. Some describe it as a numbing sensation. Others find a grassy note, followed by a rush of saliva. Others simply can’t find words to explain the feeling, so resort to mumbling and drooling. It’s like a drug experience without the illegality or potential danger.

Jambu is certainly an oddity and even experienced chefs can struggle to find a use for an ingredient that has such a powerful, unusual effect on the palette. We’ve seen it more commonly used in desserts and drinks, matched perhaps with a touch of chili for heat or with something sweet. You can shred a handful of small, fresh leaves to add an interesting note to a salad. When cooked, the leaves become mild and are served as a Brazilian version of regular greens. The flowers and leaves are also commonly made into oil for use as a flavor extract.

If you’re not keen on its taste, you might be reassured that the toothache plant has numerous other uses. Toothache plant has been utilized medicinally by Asian, African and South American countries throughout history, for its antimicrobial, insecticidal, anti-inflammatory, antiviral, antimalarial, analgesic, anesthetic and vasorelaxant properties.
 
ICE Chef Instructor Jenny McCoy came up with a unique recipe using the leaves. Try if you dare. We guarantee it will create a stir.

The Greener Beast Cocktail

Servings: makes one cocktail

Ingredients:
1 ounce absinthe
1 ounce fresh lime juice
1 ounce simple syrup
2-4 ounces seltzer
1 sprig of toothache plant
A couple of cucumber slices

Preparation
·       Combine the first four ingredients, stir, and pour into a Collins glass filled with ice.
·       Garnish with cucumber slices and toothache plant.

For the full post on the ICE blog, read The Electric Toothache Buzz Button Test

 

Farm.One is Expanding across Manhattan

Growing

Farm.One has come a long way in just a few months. So much so that it’s been hard to find time to write about it. Our space at ICE is bulging at the seams, currently with nasturtiums, borage, marigolds, britton shiso, akatade, red rubin basil, pluto basil, bronze fennel, red-veined sorrel, thai basil flowers, lemon verbena, anise hyssop, and dozens of different microgreens. The ICE side of the room is flourishing too, with a constant stream of provençal herbs, lettuces, greens and exotic items for their classes.

New students exploring the @iceculinary #hydroponic #garden for the first time.

A photo posted by Robert Ramsey (@chef_robert_ramsey) on

As you’ll see at http://store.farm.one, we’ve grown over 150 varieties now in our small space.

We’ve been out and about on the bikes delivering samples of those plants to a few lucky chefs around Manhattan. Our initial growing volume was small on purpose, because we wanted to test the whole concept of growing rare produce, mostly to-order.

The quality and consistency of our product has had an amazing reception among chefs, so we were pretty confident we would make sales quickly.

On Deliveries, and Being Sold Out

We started our first customer deliveries at the beginning of September. Rick Smilow, ICE’s president, captured the moment. As planned, we deliver via bike, everything secure inside our insulated backpacks.

That first sales and deliveries seem like a long time ago now. We’re now effectively sold out of space on our little farm at ICE. That happened pretty fast. And now winter is approaching. We need more space.

Farm.One TriBeCa

With perfect timing, the opportunity to expand to a large basement space in TriBeCa has come up. It’s just a few minutes walk from ICE, in the right direction, and will give us around 10-12 times more growing space, in two separate rooms. This means we can grow a wide range of items as standard for our chef customers,, while still offering grow-to-order.

The TriBeCa space will be dedicated 100% to production, with stricter biosecurity,  custom-built areas for packing and seed management, and a new kind of experimental growing lab where we can try out advanced techniques for larger plants. Expect to see new, intriguing items in our produce catalog soon.

Our ICE space will continue to be visitable by chefs and used by ICE students and staff. Outside chefs can still browse and buy right then and there from our edible storefront. This way we can keep having a public presence while being able to expand in our production. Construction in TriBeCa is starting this week, and we expect to fully move in some time at the beginning of December. Stay tuned.

Tours and plates

Tours

If you're a chef in Manhattan, come by and tour Farm.One to taste all the varieties we're growing. We guarantee you'll experience something you've never had before. And it's really easy to book a tour now, using the button below.

Plates from this week

Micros: Beets, Arugula, Red Vein Sorrel, Mint, Basil, Thyme, Cilantro.

Micros: Beets, Arugula, Red Vein Sorrel, Mint, Basil, Thyme, Cilantro.

Mereville Lettuce. Baby Bok Choi. Shiso. Good King Henry. Samphire. Moringa. Arugula. Thai Basil. Micro Kohlrabi. Amaranth.

Mereville Lettuce. Baby Bok Choi. Shiso. Good King Henry. Samphire. Moringa. Arugula. Thai Basil. Micro Kohlrabi. Amaranth.

Red Shiso. Micro Beets.

Red Shiso. Micro Beets.

Moments from the Farm

Things are moving nicely along at Farm.One. We've installed our equipment and produce is growing beautifully. We've been lucky enough to have visitors with multiple Michelin stars to their name. But most importantly everything tastes fresh and flavorful.

Some moments from the last week:

Setting up and seeding...

Setting up and seeding...

Stems. Toothache Plant. Amaranth. Lemongrass. Sorrel. Fennel. Thai Basil. Bush Basil. Papalo. Epazote. 

Stems. Toothache Plant. Amaranth. Lemongrass. Sorrel. Fennel. Thai Basil. Bush Basil. Papalo. Epazote. 

Ten Basils. Opal. Purple Ruffles. Genovese. Thai. Cinnamon. Lemon. Lime. Bush. Pluto. Tulsi. 

Ten Basils. Opal. Purple Ruffles. Genovese. Thai. Cinnamon. Lemon. Lime. Bush. Pluto. Tulsi. 

Red Veined Sorrel. Lovage. Lavender. 

Red Veined Sorrel. Lovage. Lavender. 

Giant Mustard Greens. Chervil. Broad-leaf Thyme. Borage Flowers. 

Giant Mustard Greens. Chervil. Broad-leaf Thyme. Borage Flowers. 

David Goldstein is Farm.One's Farm Manager (and he's amazing)

I just wanted to officially welcome David to Farm.One as Farm Manager. David carefully oversees the farm, managing technology, quality and production from seed to harvest. He also works closely with staff at ICE to deliver fresh produce for the classroom (we share our space with their equipment).

Previously at Boswyck Farms, David created farm installations for commercial and non-profit clients, ran events, volunteer programs and tours.

And he's always using his MSc in Organizational Behaviour to get the plants in shape when they are leaning the wrong way.

I asked David five deep, probing questions. 

What are your favorite flavors?
Fresh basil on pizza.
Light roast coffee (black).
Garlic.

Most memorable dining experience?
Many years ago, I WWOOFed on a small family-run organic produce farm in central New Hampshire. This was a transformative experience for my pallet. Garden salad sandwich = bread, heirloom tomatoes, salad greens, thick slice of extra sharp Vermont cheddar.

Quick go-to meal at home when no one is watching?
Inspired by my neighborhood, Astoria....Seared chicken skewer from the local butcher ($1.50/skewer, marinated). Homemade tzatziki (Greek yogurt, cucumber, dill, lemon, garlic). Slice of Bulgarian sheep feta. Fresh tomatoes. Pita.

Favorite plants to grow?
Aromatics. I never get bored of the smell of live lavender and sage. The plants are slow to establish, but once they do they give back generously in fragrance and flavor.

Most difficult thing about vertical farming?
Balancing the priorities of production (offsetting the cost of rent and utilities) and innovation (exploratory research which doesn't always yield positive results).

Feel free to stalk David on LinkedIn.

Why it's time for Farm.One

When we talk about Farm.One, chefs and home cooks are excited about the chance to get fresh, rare, local produce year-round. And there's often as much fascination about "how" we grow things, as what we grow. How do plants grow indoors? What can we do to make them taste great? How do we handle nutrients? So we explain how "vertical farming" works.

For a number of years, vertical farming like this has been mostly just a concept, something you'll see a grand architect's rendering of but not much more. Just Google Image Search "vertical farming" and you get the idea.

The weird and wonderful renderings of hundreds of vertical farm concepts around the world...

The weird and wonderful renderings of hundreds of vertical farm concepts around the world...

But it's now becoming a reality.

We think the best place to continue to pioneer that new reality is here in New York. And there are three convergent trends why Farm.One makes sense, and makes sense now.

1. Local food

Demand for "local" food has grown enormously in the past ten years. By some estimates, as much as seven-fold since 2005. Some of this is down to the great work of chefs like Rene Redzepi and Dan Barber. Some of it is due to concern about food miles. Some for food security.

What's clear is that in large cities in harsh climates like New York, obtaining truly local food year-round is tough even for resourceful and well-connected top chefs, let alone home cooks. So the demand for a farm that can grow in the heart of the city is now here. We only expect this to grow over time, as people find more options in their city to buy locally.

2. LED technology

Marijuana growers have long been familiar with lighting for indoor production, but primarily using Metal Halide/HPS lights which consume a lot of power and generate a lot of heat. Until recently, the more efficient LED lights had been out of reach, and are still not an obvious choice for marijuana because of the need to sustain the plant with significant light through the flowering stage.

However for most culinary herbs and greens, the light produced by LEDs is now more than sufficient, and so it is now a realistic technology, opening up the space for vertical farming. LED technology became roughly 50% more efficient between 2012-2014, and is still improving. This is important, because it makes vertical farms financially viable and environmentally friendlier, as our primary power usage is in lighting. We expect this trend to continue over the next few years, as do firms like Philips, Valoya and Lumigrow, who invest heavily in horticultural LED development.

3. An easy "no" to GMO and pesticides

Genetic modification of the plants that we eat continues to be a contentious, poorly-understood and worrying topic for many people. A major concern is that we simply don't know what the long-term effects of GMO crop prevalence and GMO crop consumption may be. 

Worryingly, much of the focus in GMO development is around making edible crops resistant to pesticide, allowing farmers to spray greater quantities of or stronger pesticides on their crops to combat bugs. The obvious side-effect is that we may end up consuming more pesticides than before — not a happy picture.

Because of these concerns, demand specifically for certified non-GMO foods is expected to increase at a compound annual growth rate of around 15% per year between 2014-2019

The fantastic thing about a vertical farm is that because of the contained environment, with a careful pest-management program, no pesticides have to be used whatsoever. Which means no pesticides in the food, and what's more, an ability to grow crops that are more flavorful, because we don't have to select "hardy" varieties that have been bred or manipulated for their ability to resist pests.

A direct connection to the customer

You may have heard of existing vertical or urban farms and equipment-makers, like FarmedHere, Gotham Greens, Verticulture, AeroFarms, Ecopia, Green Sense Farms, Sky Vegetables, Freight Farms, CropBox, Growtainer or others. It's great to be joining an industry where there are already smart people working on the problem. And having tried much of the produce, I can thankfully say I normally find their plants to be fresher and longer-lasting than other typical produce.

Much of the press surrounding vertical farms often focuses on the size of the farm, and you'll usually hear how one or the other is "the largest vertical farm" or similar. Often much of the produce is destined for the supermarket. That's great - but Farm.One's approach is very different to these large-scale operations. We're focusing on being able to provide to chefs what they can't find anywhere else. We think that's about agility and a continual conversation rather than growing large batches of the same crop. We want that direct connection to our customer, so we're trying to grow as near as possible to the place our plants are eaten. We think that calls for a different way of growing:

  • To grow for rarity and delight.
  • To grow for flavor and nutrition.
  • To grow a stone’s throw from where we eat.
  • To grow pure; GMO, contaminant and pesticide-free.
  • To grow plants with the same care that we plate dishes.
  • To grow for chefs, on-demand, year-round.

So over time we'll be talking more about how we do things, what we're growing, and what that means for you. This is the beginning of that conversation. Thanks for supporting Farm.One in this first step.