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What if…Biodiversity became the main measure of healthy human food systems?

January 11, 2024
An AI generated image

For the last few months we have been participating in the Musae S+T+ARTS Residency. We are one of ten artists in this program, and for the first half of the residency have been asked to follow “Design Futures Art-Driven (DFA) methodology” in the process of developing a future scenario related to food and technology. 

In this project we are actively encouraged to use generative AI tools, so this is the first time Genomic Gastronomy has experimented with AI image generation, using DALL-E in Chat GPT 4. While we also played around with ChatGPT for text generation in earlier phases, we decided to write our own script for the final submission, because the prompt engineering for text was more trouble than it was worth for the lengths of text we were generating. We had fun experimenting with image generation and tested out several different tones and aesthetics to tell our stories within stories. 

Below you can see and read the scenario we presented in December to mark the halfway point of the project. Our next step is to take this scenario as inspiration for creating an artwork that will be shown in Barcelona in April. 

The Scenario

In 2033 the buzzword in every part of the food system is biodiversity. Attempts earlier in the 21st century for food systems to be chemical free or carbon neutral, had limited uptake and impact. 

After the quite radical Maximizing Biodiversity legislation was approved by the European Commission in 2028, the increase in agricultural and wild biodiversity has had a big impact on the food system, with tangible and measurable changes and impacts, both good and bad.

Meet the Journalist 

A journalist named Max travels around Europe to write an article. His assignment is to describe how various stakeholders in the food system are adapting to the new EU agricultural rules which tie payments to demonstrated increases in agricultural and wild biodiversity.

From radical fringe groups in remote areas, to the largest ag-tech corporations, everyone is looking for ways to make kitchens, farms, and rural landscapes more biodiverse.

He is particularly interested in talking to the farmers and citizens that feel left behind by the new focus, and the network of regenerative farmers and food producers who work to heal agricultural landscapes. On his journey he will interview four people and attend two events. Below is a map of his journey.


Stop 1:

Where: Portugal Who: Inês What: Food Forest Technician.

His first stop was Portugal where he interviewed Inês – a pioneer in optimizing emerging technologies for biodiversity & environmental healing; transforming neglected landscapes into thriving ecosystems through a unique blend of traditional wisdom and cutting-edge technology. With a background as a certified drone technician, Ines has evolved into a visionary farmer and environmentalist, fusing traditional agricultural practices with modern technology and community engagement.

“I started out as a certified drone technician but now I consider myself a pioneer farmer, especially for the coastal landscapes of northern Portugal. In the early 2010s, I was working with satellites, sensors and drones. At the time, the obvious application for these technologies was in the military, but I soon saw a different opportunity. 

I had inherited a neglected plot of land, so I began using technology to help me grow and monitor trees, plants and medicinal herbs. I thought it would be fun to mix traditional wisdom, modern technology, and community involvement to boost the biodiversity of our local food system.

I used drones to take multi-spectral images in order to assess the health of the landscape. 

I developed an algorithm for helping with the complex task of timing and coordination when planting and harvesting a food forest. The land is now a thriving food forest where we cultivate crops. I grow 200 species: all adapted to the changing climate conditions of the region. 

Recently, I built bespoke technologies to measure the ecosystem services this landscape provides. This includes sensors for soil, water and carbon storage. 

Now I’m even using an AI-enabled audio ecology monitoring system, to track biodiversity. 

The data these tools collect and process is used to qualify for financial incentives, so I can afford to hire local people to do the delicate harvesting that robots can’t achieve.” Inês Santos


Stop 2:

Where: Netherlands Who: Katerina What: Teacher

Max’s Second stop was in the Netherlands, where he Interviewed Katerina – a visionary in education who has pioneered a curriculum that prioritizes hands-on experiences and outdoor learning in the local community. She believes that more humans should farm and work with food, whilst her country is famous for automating everything.

“I run an alternative school called the Resilient Century Academy (RCA). It’s located in the heart of the most densely populated country and technologically automated food economy in Europe. 

While students in other schools are learning about prompt engineering and AI management, we have developed a curriculum that maximizes the amount of time that students spend outside in the neighborhood, working with their hands and each other. Classes on farming, upcycling and mending are core to our program.

Up until recently our low-tech and socially-minded approach to learning didn’t raise any eyebrows in the historically tolerant Dutch education system, but our stated goal of creating a generation of leaders who are radically resilient and know how to survive—even if the complex digital infrastructure and machinery of our lives breaks down—has ignited heated debates about the economy, sustainable farming, education, and the environment in the press.

The thing that really got us in trouble was when we refused to serve analogue meat and dairy substitutes and automated greenhouse vegetables in our vegetarian, student-run cafeteria. Now my school is under attack by parents, politicians, and especially industry lawyers who represent the automated horticulture industry centered around Westland and alternative meat industry based in Wageningen. Both industries sell internationally, and it doesn’t look good when Dutch schools refuse to serve their products.” Katerina Baas



Stop 4:

Where: Germany who: Public plant breeders What: A conference for public plant breeders

Max’s Fourth stop was to attend a conference for public plant breeders in Germany. With a schism unfolding the conference was more eventful that Max had anticipated but gave him some insight that friendly disagreements or competition in the open leads to more and better outcomes than work that is done out of public view.

Max writes:

Yesterday I traveled to Berlin to attend the annual Cultivar Collector Conference (CCC). When I arrived, the door was blocked by protesters holding “NO CRISPR IN MY KITCHEN” posters. I flashed my journalist pass and snuck in a side door. 

A colleague at the snackbar waved me over: “Did you hear?” she asked, “The Cultivar Collector Community has split into two camps and everyone’s going crazy.” 

Over the last year, a deep ideological divide had pitted the cultivar fetishists community against itself. On one side, the “retainers” were zealously preserving heirloom varieties, shunning any form of contemporary genetic engineering; while at the other extreme, the “retrainers” began embracing cutting-edge technologies like CRISPR, transgenesis and spray-on gene editing to create new, open source cultivars. Both groups claim to be the protectors of agricultural biodiversity, so I interviewed members of each to better understand their perspectives. 

The CCC niche group of public plant breeders and seed savers arose as a reaction to corporations and governments who put restrictions on plant breeding and seeds. These “restrainers,” as CCC members call them, use proprietary corporate licenses, strict regulation or onerous paperwork to control and privatize biological material. 

It became clear that whether CCC attendees saw the future as high-tech or low-tech, they could all agree on a botanical future that was free, open and more biodiverse.


Stop 5:

Where: Poland who: Aleksander What: Farmer

Max’s fifth stop was in Poland, where he spoke to Alexander – a potatoe farmer grappling with the complexities and challenges of adapting to evolving agricultural practices, while questioning the implications of these changes on his own identity and autonomy. The more Aleksander’s farm adapts to new requirements the less he’s sure what he is even farming. 

“I used to grow baking potatoes and soy for animal feed. Now my potatoes get processed into starch which is used to make vegan cheese sold in the cities. To be honest I have never eaten vegan cheese myself, and I am not so sure that I want to. 

I get annual payments to let my soy fields re-wild and become part of a natural habitat corridor. My biggest source of income is spreading basalt on my fields to soak up atmospheric carbon. It is just some minerals that a truck drops off once a week that end up washing into the ocean, and have nothing to do with me or my land. 

I enjoy listening to the songs of the species of birds that are returning each year, but I don’t feel like much of a farmer or like I have any freedom to make decisions for myself. 

My wife doesn’t like to see how the changes to our farm have made me less of an independent man and it sometimes feels like I am just taking orders from a computer or policymaker very far away. 

Sometimes it feels like these systems value a single insect or bird more than a human farmer.” Alexander Piotrowski.


Stop 6:

Where: Serbia Who: representatives from 4 different food perspectives What: A talk show about the future of flavour.

During Max’s sixth stop he explored the Future of Food in Belgrade, Stepping into the dynamic arena of The Future of Food talk show where Four distinct perspectives vied to shape the discourse on the evolving culinary landscape.

Max notes that it seems food is a playground for new possibilities and hybridities, but also a battleground of polarized identity politics.

Here are some highlights Max captured from the 4 different perspectives.

Gaian Gastronomy: “We want to reinvent food as a catalyst for environmental rejuvenation.” This visionary approach seeks to transform food into a force for environmental renewal, envisioning a gastronomic future deeply intertwined with sustainable practices.”

Alternative Proteins: “We wish the EU would be more supportive. Our automated indoor protein factories are optimized for efficiency and use less land & energy.” Advocates for a future where protein production is revolutionized through technology, emphasizing efficiency, and resource conservation.”

Whole Meat Nationalism: “We want meat-heavy, simple food just like grandma cooked and grandpa ate.” A nostalgic nod to tradition, this perspective champions the preservation of meat-centric, time-honored recipes, rooted in the simplicity and flavors of the past.”

Cottage Industrial Ecology: “Zero Waste, Infinite Flavor. AI supply chains update every 20 minutes, and all outputs are inputs for the next recipe.” Embracing a holistic, zero-waste approach, this perspective harmonizes traditional cottage industry values with cutting-edge AI, promising an endless array of flavors while minimizing environmental impact.”


Stop 7:

Where: Italy Who: Elena What: A philosopher

For Max’s sixth stop he visited Elena in Italy – The visionary behind the concept of “Air-Gapped Agriculture.” Elena believes that the ways we grow and eat today creates patterns which will resonate for at least 100 years.

“I had never worked as a farmer, but when the European Commision refused to ban the use of Glyphosate in agriculture—the herbicide known for being carcinogenic—I really became radicalized. I wanted to grow my own healthy food on my own land. But I knew that if this herbicide was going to be used for another decade, I had to put some space between my land, and farms that use Glyphosate. 

After thinking about this for some time, I wrote an essay called “Air-Gapped Agriculture.” It describes farms that put distance between themselves and any exposure to chemicals and microplastics from industrial agricultural. So that’s what I did! I built a movement in the watershed where I live, where we began air-gapping our land and  focusing on the “taste of place” in this bioregion.

Now my goal is working with others in Italy to transition as much arable land as possible towards agroecological systems that are less susceptible to exploitation or extraction.  While some Air-Gapped Agriculture practitioners embrace traditional methods, others experiment with AI and environmental DNA analysis to monitor biodiversity. This has led to philosophical divisions within the movement.” Elena Greco.


That concludes the December Musae presentation. While there is not a visual consistency throughout, we had fun experimenting with AI image generation to create different styles, colours and tones. As you may have noticed, there are multiple glitches (three arms, and other surreal anatomies) and lots of typos and nonsense letters. As seen with the “biodvesrse farmer” and multiple other typos, the AI is not able to handle text very well within image generation. We are not sure what direction it will take just yet, but now it is time to move beyond the experimentation phase and start to develop an artwork. There are many potential threads to pick up and weave together for the exhibition in Barcelona in April.

Rodmell Food Forest site visit: autumn rose hip ketchup.

November 13, 2023

At the end of September I went to visit my local food forest in Rodmell, East Sussex, UK to do some field research as part of the studio’s Food Forest Flavours x Minimum Viable Protein (FFF x MVP) project. 

The project explores harmonising the rhythms, flavours, and culinary possibilities of two complimentary but differently optimised farming typologies. 1 – Alternative proteins (MVPs) – systems that take a full technology-based approach to food production (think Plant-based meatballs, lab-grown burgers) and 2  –  Food forest flavours (FFFs) – the seasonal flavours of agroforestry projects that take years to establish and emphasise biodiversity, resilience and regeneration – (think fruits, leafy greens and wild herbs.)

I found Rodmell Food Forest to be a layered woodland habitat of tree canopies (like apple), bushes and shrubbery (like berry and rose) intertwined with beds of leafy greens, root vegetables and medicinal herbs and spices covering around 1 Acre. The layering and companion planting is key to creating the sustainable, self-regenerating cycle that mimics the forest ecosystem.

I met the head gardener pottering around the greenhouses who told me it had been growing for about 10 years. Growing entirely edible and medicinal plants all year round it is open to visitors every Wednesday who are free to explore, and procure the seasonal foods. Although it was late afternoon when I arrived, cars still seemed to be parking up to come and pick specific foods as though it was a local norm and they knew where in the garden to find it. Much the same as knowing which supermarket aisle to find your tuna – !

1: Procurement and recipe:

As Food forests create very different flavours throughout the year and across their lifetimes I was keen to capture a snapshot of the Rodmell Food forest flavours on the day of my visit from which to cook a condiment that would complement a minimum viable protein dish. 

I was looking to procure foods for a ketchup made entirely from ingredients I found with a focus on substitution leading to flavour experimentation – using the forest foods to guide the recipe. 

Before the visit I wondered what advice artificial intelligence would have for pairing flavour compounds between MVP’s and Forest foods, so I asked chat GPT for a ketchup recipe made from food forest foods in Sussex in September –  this is what it gave me. 

I wanted to see if I could gather those ingredients and if not – what substitutes I could find. Instead of vinegar, I found Rhubarb for the tart taste. Instead of tomatoes, I used rose hip. Instead of sugar, I found some sweet aniseed herbs called Sweet cicely, and lovage. Instead of garlic and onion (there were none left) I found celeriac for a peppery/sweet body of taste.

2: The Cook

To cook the Ketchup, I used the recipe that Chat GPT had given me as guidance.

I wanted to understand what kind of condiment ketchup would become if the traditional vinegar and sugar were absent and substituted with herbs and fruits of the forest, so I cooked up 2 batches to compare. 1 – using only the ingredients picked from the Rodmell that day, 2 – including shop-bought honey and vinegar – which is more in line with the traditional recipe and taste of ketchup. 

Ingredients:

  • 1 x cup rosehips
  • 1 x apple
  • ½ cup blackberries
  • 1 tablespoon oregano marjoram
  • ½ cup Sweet Cicely
  • ¼ cup Lovage
  • ½ cup celeriac leaves
  • ½ cup of water
  • ¼ cup vinegar
  • 4cl honey

The outcome:

The result was a complex, layered condiment with all the flavours of forest fruits and herbs. The fruitiness gave it a nod to pickled chutneys and jams or Umeboshi pickled plums, yet batch 2 also had the distinct acidic sweet flavour of ketchup.

Overall I would say batch 2 (adding vinegar and honey) was more successful in stepping in for a traditional ketchup condiment with the acidic punchyness that cuts through oily meats and MVPs. Batch 1 on the other hand –  although still tart due to the rhubarb, had a more fruity puree-like flavour. 

Both would be very at home on an MVP Charcuterie board bringing a complimentary forest tang to the earthy, fatty flavours of cultured meats, mushrooms and fermented soy and bean products. 

Sandor Katz Workshop (Trondheim)

November 25, 2022

The following field report was written by our newest collaborator Liz Dom a South African artist who currently resides in Trondheim, Norway and is helping the Center for Genomic Gastronomy produce the upcoming exhibition MEAT MORE MEAT LESS at TKM in February, 2023.

On September 8, 2022, a group of very excited fermenters and soon-to-be fermenters gathered at Jossa Mat og Drikke, described as “the little sister” of Michelin star Restaurant Credo, in Lilleby to learn from the undisputed master, Sandor Katz.

Katz started the workshop with a brief introduction to fermentation, where and how it appears (surprise! almost everywhere, in most foods) and why there’s a fermentation revival brewing. In the last century, as most eaters became increasingly distanced from most aspects of food production, so our traditions of sharing fermentation know-how generation on generation declined. However, a new generation, facing an imminent climate disaster, has turned to fermentation as a means of building resilience into—and relocalizing—food production and consumption.

Norway has a long history of fermentation, especially with regards to beer brewing, with use of the farmhouse yeast, kveik, from Western Norway – in fact, three prominent beer brewers were seated at my table. These three brewers were in their mid-thirties and an example of who is leading the fermentation resurgance. Many guests at Jossa that evening already had a fairly advanced knowledge of fermentation processes, asking complex questions. They want to reconnect with fermentation’s ability is a way to prolong shelf-life and increase nutritional value during very hard, cold winter months.

As the workshop progressed, Katz reminded us that Norwegian home architecture provides excellent fermentation conditions, like that of the cool, dry cellar, where sauerkraut  can easily last up to three years without the need for refrigeration.

So what can you ferment in Norway? Katz says anything, really, but certain vegetables just make a little bit more sense and will last longer. Cabbage and caraway are two traditional favorites, but root vegetables generally also fare well fermented, such as beets, carrots, rutabaga, onions and ginger, all locally grown.

Ketelbroek Food Forest Site Visit

December 16, 2021

From November 21-26, 2021, we visited the Veluwe region of the Netherlands for our first research trip for our STARTS4Water residency in collaboration with V2_. During the week we explored the local culinary scene, biked the Hoge Veluwe National Park, and visited regional museums which cover the topics of geology, biology, and water. A highlight of the trip was our visit to the Ketelbroek food forest with Wouter van Eck.

KETELBROEK FOOD FOREST: OVERVIEW

The Ketelbroek food forest is located in Groesbeek, a little south of the Veluwe region in the Gelderland province. The Food Forest was started in 2009 by Wouter van Eck and Pieter Jansen and now contains 32 food-producing species of plants on its 2.5 hectares (6 acres) of land. 

Surrounded by monocropped fields containing plants like corn for animal feed and rye, Ketelbroek food forest has a significant visual impact and ecosystem service impact. About a kilometer away, there is a heavily managed natural preserve, so the location of the food forest, situated between these two different landscapes (agricultural field and forest preserve), has made studying the biodiversity and water retention impacts of the food forest possible.

 

For example, the food forest has equivalent or higher counts of nesting birds, butterflies, and ground beetles. In 2016 when heavy rains struck, the food forest absorbed water and avoided major flooding while the neighboring fields were inundated and suffered greatly. During a drought in 2018, the surrounding fields were completely brown or required heavy watering while the food forest remained stable. Additionally, the food forest fixes more carbon annually than a field of crops on the same size plot.

FOOD FOREST PLANNING & MANAGEMENT

Wouter, our kind and knowledgeable host at the food forest likes to let the food forest manage itself as much as possible. He explained on a pre-visit video call that the goal was to let the forest behave, grow and cycle like any other “natural forest” would. The food forest is a “polyculture of perennial, woody species” that uses ecological principles to avoid the need for external inputs like fertilizer or pesticides. 

During our conversation, it became clear that the hard work Wouter does for the food forest probably happens before planting and/or outside of the food forest itself. Ketelbroek is a USDA hardiness zone 7a, meaning it gets fairly cold in the winter. To create a resilient forest, Wouter sourced plants and trees from various geographies—worldwide—that have similar climates to the Netherlands. In fact, out of 32 species, only two (chestnut and stinging nettles) are native to the area. The rest are either commonly grown non-natives, or specially selected varieties that thrive in Ketelbroek’s conditions. 

Although at first the forest appears to be sprouting in all directions, the construction plan of the food forest has been meticulously considered. Indeed, nothing – or almost – is placed randomly. While the hedges act as windbreaks and bird sanctuaries, the second row of trees, generally smaller, benefit from this protection from the wind but also from the shade created by the first row of trees. This way, each tree is given a spot that fulfills all its needs.

AGRICULTURAL BIODIVERSITY, DATABASES OF TASTE & LAZY FARMING

The selection of trees includes fruit trees like peach, pawpaw, Japanese plums, and kaki, and nut trees like chestnut, hazelnut, walnut, heartnut, and hickory. Other edibles include gooseberry, Nanking cherry, and Siberian peatree. 

As our visit was in November, the food forest was somewhat dormant, re-energizing itself for spring, however even on that cold rainy day, we were able to taste a special Russian variety of kaki (persimmon), tongue-tingling sichuan peppers off the tree, and the caramel-like treat known as pheasant berry. Wouter partners with a chef on a project called “Botanical Gastronomy” to experiment in the kitchen with the unusual varieties (in the Netherlands) of plants grown in the food forest.

Wouter shared with us an inspiring moment he faced during his first years of working on the food forest: a caterpillar invasion. After considering using Green Soap (an non-toxic product originally made out of hemp oil for household cleaning) to get rid off them, he finally decided not to do anything, as his instinct of “lazy farmer” (as he likes to call himself) was telling him to do. A few weeks later, Wouter happily found out that the caterpillars were gone, eaten by a new species of bird who decided to nest in the food forest. “Sometimes, you should just let nature do it”. 

While the Ketelbroek food forest contributes to biodiversity, water retention (draught/flood tolerance), carbon fixing, and food production, it has also been used to push for policy changes and funding that legitimize this form of agriculture under Dutch law, and to normalize this in the “Green Deal” initiative in Europe.

THE LONG VIEW

Food forestry can require a kind of long-term thinking that most of us struggle with. Wouter will plant fast-growing trees to provide vegetation and maintain soil health for other trees that grow slower. For example, tree species that will live for only 10 or 20 years surround a Korean Pine Nut sapling that will grow slowly, living somewhere around 1200 years—carrying on the food forest long after we’re gone.

IMAGE from: How to Plant a Food Forest

ANTI-SMOG GUNS TO FIGHT AIR POLLUTION IN NEW DELHI

December 10, 2021

In order to improve the national capital’s air quality, the Delhi government has recently decided to install anti-smog guns at major construction sites and key intersections across the city.
An anti-smog gun sprays tiny droplets of atomized (high-pressured) water into the air, creating artificial mist. Those small water droplets stick to pollutants transported by air and bring them to the ground. Anti-smog guns can spray water up to a height of 50 meters to settle dust particles and PM 2.5, a fine particulate matter that can be very harmful for people’s health if present in the air at high levels. In fact, the value registered at Anand Vihar, a railway station in East Delhi was 380, being 15 times higher than the safe maximum of the World Health Organization.

The introduction of these mist cannons across the city sparked debate among several parties.
Although the manufacturer, Cloud Tech, claims that the anti-smog gun can clear up to 95% of the pollutants in the air, Greenpeace argues that the introduction of these water cannons is just a distraction from the real causes of air pollution in Delhi. Moreover, they come with a huge toll on the environment as each water cannon blasts about 100 liters of water every minute.

D. Saha, scientist at the CPCB (Central Pollution Control Board) also pointed out that such mist cannons are not effective for very fine particles and that the limited radius of 25 to 50 meters in which the anti-smog gun sprays water is very underwhelming compared to the scale of the situation: “This system can’t be applied in an area like Delhi, it can only work in a confined area like a stadium and not in open areas. Even to control dust, it would take at least 50,000 such machines to control bigger particles in the air across Delhi, which has an area of 1,484 square kilometres.”

Although gentrification has been singled out for many years as the cause of poor air quality in India’s largest cities, Delhi’s municipality also started pointing out agricultural practices as another source of air pollution. Farmers tend to burn their agricultural waste in order to clear cropland, which also contributes to the stuffy haze crowding up in the air.

Even though opinions are divided as to the cause of this pollution, everyone agrees that air quality is the poorest in winter. Air pollution in winter remains in place for much longer and therefore is breathed in at a higher rate than during the summer. Indeed, cold air is denser and moves slower than warm air, which means that cold air traps the pollution coming from open fires, car exhausts, crop burning, industrial emissions and construction dust but also doesn’t whisk it away.

In February we will host a Guided Smog Smelling meditation session in Delhi as part of our research project Smog Tasting. This event will be part of a festival organized by KHOJ called “Does the Blue Sky Lie?: Testimonies of Air’s Toxicities”.
The purpose of Guided Smog Smelling is to activate our bodies, lungs and sense of smell and to experience, with intention, the unique atmospheric moment we are living through. As this performance will be situated next to a site that has anti-smog guns, we are interested to learn from participants whether they change -or not- the flavor of the site.

Image credits: The Times of India

Drought in Waterland

November 29, 2021

PART 1: WATER MANAGEMENT IN TIMES OF DROUGHT

On November 18th, we had the chance to chat with Ebbing van Tuinen from the Dutch engineering firm Witteveen+Bos. W+B mission is to advise governments and other stakeholders on how to become more climate resilient, include more biodiversity and sustainable energy provisions in their upcoming projects.

Ebbing is responsible for Water Management projects, from implementing fish ladders in the Dutch waterscape to allow fish migration, to designing future plans for water management in rural areas.

This discussion took place in the context of a new research project we are working on, Drought in Waterland, that is situated in the Veluwe region (NL). The Veluwe region “can be seen as a sand box in which water retention is low.” Our aim for this project is to explore how green infrastructure and technologies (agroforestry, food forestry) can be used to intervene in the regional water cycle and food production.

Ebbing told us that although the summers will become dryer in the future, annual rainfalls are expected to stay the same in the Netherlands and the water retention under the Veluwe area will possibly even increase. This was an interesting counterpoint knowing that global forecasts predict meteorological drought as a result of global warming. The challenge here is to retain water in order to be able to use it when and where we need it in order to maintain safety and agricultural productivity.

Ebbing introduced us to one of the potential answers to the challenge of rainwater and fresh water management that he has worked on: the Panorama Waterland project. It aims to find eternal sources of clean drinking water in the Sallandse Heuvelrug region. Part of this transition is changing how the landscape is used, and especially how agriculture is practiced, both to retain water but also to minimize chemical inputs and run off from the farms into the water. One of the unanswered questions we had was about the current crop / animal mix and how this might change under a no-chemical input transition. Will farmers plant the same crops and change their processes, or will a new species mix be required? Nature inclusive farming can be pursued in many ways, but food forestry seems like a fairly complex transition that so far only happens on a very small scale in the Netherlands. There are many drivers of change, and steps for making change in agroecological systems, and we need to keep returning to what attracts ourselves and others to the food forestry and agroforestry, as well as the very real limits and challenges to that model. 

As a low-lying and flood-prone country, the Netherlands is at the front line in fighting against the rise of sea level and the Dutch have become experts in protecting their lands against floods. But they are now confronted with an additional challenge : drought and fresh water shortages. 

Vitens, the leading water distribution company in the Netherlands, is now facing another extremely dry year and has decided to team up with landscape architects to create a new spatial concept with water retention at its core. This also means that the concerned lands will be pesticide-free to ensure groundwater safety, which might cause anxiety for farmers who would have to adapt to a whole new farming system.

Do we need new ways of farming that are more suited for water retention friendly forms of agriculture?

Panorama Waterland as a catalyst for agriculture and energy transition, IABR

Collaboration seems like the way to go in terms of finding resilient strategies for rainwater retention and groundwater use. We need to find a better balance between human activities and the natural environment. There are many individuals, groups and institutions working on these topics in the Netherlands including the Louis Bolk institute and the Wageningen University and Research.

PART 2: VELUWE WATERBOARD

A few organisations work around this topic and we had the chance to exchange with Teun Spek, who works for the Veluwe Waterboard, responsible for water management and groundwater system in this area. Teun was born in the Veluwe and for the last 8 years, he has been trying to understand the Veluwe by taking actual measurements in the fields rather than relying only on predictive models. 

According to Teum the market for biological products is slow-growing in the Netherlands, and so there is little financial incentive for farmers who may not be able to sell their food at the higher price which is required as they move away from chemical inputs. Additionally, food forest projects tend to be very small and successful ones connect up with fine dining restaurants to have a stable income. It sounded like many flavours of non-industrial farming need to supplement their income with education, health or other initiatives in order to stay in business. 

One of the main drivers of change and transition to fossil-fuel free farming is the farmers themselves. Policymakers have tools to help farmers who want to make a change, much more than being able to entice or convince older farmers, many who have been farming the same way for 20 years, and may feel they don’t have enough time or desire to make a transition. Therefore it is quite important to engage younger farmers who are energetic to make a change, especially that they can see in their lifetime. For example,  going from high-input to circular agriculture takes a very long time, up to 5 to 7 years to get nourished soil back, and in this time very little income may be coming in to sustain the farm. 

One tool the Waterboard can use to help farmers with that transition is buying land and  re-selling it at a discounted price—but with a set of constraints (no chemicals, bring the water level up,…). Although the Waterboard is often confronted to the reluctance of the old generation of farmers, the new generation is more willing to change their practice and more and more farmers are going for that transition, from dairy to health and horticulture farms. This also means re-orienting the perceived consumers of one’s work. In the past many Dutch farms were optimized for intensity, efficiency and export. However, a more circular farm economy will have shorter loops, and the eaters may be much closer to where the food is produced. 

“In the Veluwe, there is an unbalance in nutrients. We need to bring a bigger diversity, reintroduce old varieties of grains and crops, as well as more integration between people and the forest. In history, there was more connection between farming and people in the Veluwe, when we didn’t have artificial nitrogen. People went to work in forests where they would use the bark of oaks for leather production.”

In painting a picture of the past, present and future of farming in the Veluwe Teun spoke of many kinds of difference and diversity including soil types, plants and habitat. He started to articulate one model of land use where places in the Veluwe that have shallow clay & iron deposits could be used as food sheds for birds, so that game birds could eat in these richer areas.

This leaves us plenty of space to think about new kinds of more resilient and nature inclusive land use and farming practices. Unlike organic certification, which has become very defined and prescriptive, nature inclusive farming is still in a more early open stage. We chatted about the 4 levels that have started to be articulated- from the most basic level of adding habitat on farms in the form of hedges—to much more intensive interventions and transitions. Over time, these may become more defined, but for now Nature Inclusive farming is at a stage where many experiments can be conducted, but where it can be somewhat difficult to measure or communicate to technical audiences (policymakers and distant consumers). 

Some local initiatives are already in place to provide new insights in the field of sustainable and climate-friendly soil management such as soil passports and Grain Happiness, we know the way to go.

“If you have water, you can do something.”

Nature-Inclusive farming in the Netherlands, betweenforestsandfarms.com

What Can I Make With This Smoke-Tainted Wheat?

April 9, 2021

How do wildfires affect the smell, taste and texture of bread? Wildfire Loaf is a multi-year research project to taste-test and genetically sequence sourdough starters made from smoke-tainted wheat. Climate change is increasing the number and severity of wildfires and this has direct implications for the ways that food products are farmed, assessed, processed and eaten. As we make connections across scales—from the microbial to the planetary—we are asking: what is the future of this iconic and commodified ingredient?

There are many varieties of wheat: hard, soft, red, white, and durum. As we search for wheat affected by wildfires, the one of the first questions we ask is ‘What can I make with this smoke-tainted wheat?’ Our aim is to experiment with making bread, using traditional leavening processes, from this abnormal/new-normal/smoke-tainted wheat. Here’s the reference guide we made for ourselves.

WHEAT GLOSSARY

For the glossary below we’ve focused on wheat classifications common in the United States and in trade terminology. The broader concepts we outline (Winter, Spring, Hard, Soft, White, and Red) are used around the world, but of course there are many other varieties and sub-varieties. “Winter” and “Spring” refer to both the season (and relatedly) the distinct cultivar or variety of the crop that is planted. “Hard” and “Soft” refer to the ease of milling and protein content, hard is protein-rich and more difficult to mill while soft has less protein and is easier to grind into a smooth texture. “White” and “Red” refer to the color, protein and flavors; red typically contains more protein, meaning stronger gluten and has a nuttier, almost bitter flavor, and white varieties are known to have less gluten and feature milder flavors.

This interactive map by US Wheat Associates shows where varieties are grown. 

If you want to bake bread, it’s best to reach for the hard stuff. Hard wheats are high in gluten and offer impressive stretchiness.

Hard Red Winter, Hard Red Spring, Hard White

HARD RED WINTER (THE VERSATILE WHEAT)

EXCELLENT FOR: rustic breads, hard rolls, croissants, flatbreads, some Asian noodles and general purpose flours

TEXTURE: elastic, chewy

EXAMPLE OF A LOCATION WHERE IT IS FARMED: The Great Plains and Northern parts of the United States, with pockets in the Pacific Northwest and Central California


HARD RED SPRING (THE FANCIEST WHEAT) 

EXCELLENT FOR: hearth breads, rolls, croissants, bagels and pizza dough, and flour blends

TEXTURE: tensile, stretchy

EXAMPLE OF A LOCATION WHERE IT IS FARMED: Upper central region of the United States and lower central region of Canada


HARD WHITE (THE SMOOTH WHEAT)

EXCELLENT FOR: tortillas, pan loafs, flatbreads, and some noodles

TEXTURE:  fine, smooth

EXAMPLE OF A LOCATION WHERE IT IS FARMED: Central California and The Great Plains in the United States

And then there’s durum, the hardest of all wheats with the highest gluten content.

Durum

DURUM (THE HARDEST WHEAT, A.K.A. THE PASTA WHEAT) 

EXCELLENT FOR: Excellent for: premium pastas, couscous, and Mediterranean-style breads

TEXTURE: snappy

EXAMPLE OF A LOCATION WHERE IT IS FARMED: Specifically, North Dakota and Central California in the United States

If you want to bake cakes, crackers, or some Asian style noodles, it’s best to reach for the soft stuff. Soft wheats are lower in gluten and have reduced stretchiness.

Soft Red Winter, Soft White

SOFT RED WINTER (THE LOW-COST WHEAT) 

EXCELLENT FOR: cookies, crackers, cakes, blends for baguettes and other bread products

TEXTURE: fine, soft

EXAMPLE OF A LOCATION WHERE IT IS FARMED: Midwest and eastern regions of the United States


SOFT WHITE (THE LOW-MOISTURE WHEAT) 

EXCELLENT FOR: Asian-style noodles, cakes, pastries, and snacks

TEXTURE: crumbly, meltaway

EXAMPLE OF A LOCATION WHERE IT IS FARMED: Pacific Northwest region of the United States


SOURCES

US Wheat Associates: Wheat Classes

Master Class: Essential Guide To Wheat

Wildfire vs. Wheat

How do wildfires affect the smell, taste and texture of bread? Wildfire Loaf is an ongoing research project to taste-test and genetically sequence sourdough starters made from smoke-tainted wheat. Climate change is increasing the number and severity of wildfires and this has direct implications for the ways that food products are farmed, assessed, processed and eaten. As we make connections across scales—from the microbial to the planetary—we are asking: what is the future of this iconic and commodified ingredient?

Wildfires impact many landscapes including the agricultural lands that are used to grow wheat. For the WILDFIRE LOAF project we are particularly interested in locations and moments where wildfires on or near wheat fields have impacted the crop, either by direct burning or through smoke taint. Wheat is graded before it is sold based on a number of factors, smoke taint being one of them. If increased fires will increase the number of crops with smoke taint, then value will decrease.

We have recently contacted the USDA to start the process of locating samples of smoke-tainted wheat to begin our testing and research into sequencing their microbial communities.

What is the ecology of fire? There are many types of fire that affect agricultural lands. The delineation is simple: a wildfire or brush fire is unplanned, unwanted, and uncontrolled. An agricultural burn is planned, wanted, and controlled.

Where are there wildfires? We are using this NASA Fire Map to track wildfires around the globe over time. 

FIRMS Map for March 7th 2021; NASA

Where is wheat grown? We are using a variety of resources to track wheat production in different regions of the world. As new wildfires arise on agricultural land, we look for local tools to aid our research.

—In the US, we are using this interactive map

—For the European Union, we are using this data browser

—For global production we are referring to this export map and this international trade database.

Global Wheat Cultivation. Darker colors indicate areas where more wheat is grown. Map based on You, L., U. Wood-Sichra, S. Fritz, Z. Guo, L. See, and J. Koo. 2014. Spatial Production Allocation Model  (SPAM), 2005 Beta Version, from IFPRI (Harvest Choice).

Obtaining smoke tainted wheat will likely be a difficult task considering that most smoke tainted crops are considered waste. For this logistical reason, our investigation will start in locations where wheat and fire overlap with places that we live or where we have an established network of contacts. As we progress we may try to learn more about and include sites that we are less familiar with.

RECENT WILDFIRES

We need to find wheat affected by wildfires to conduct our experiments. We’re looking into these three recent wildfires that have impacted the harvest of wheat starting in 2018: 

A. Oregon, United States: The 2018 Substation Fire

Over 50,000 acres were charred, destroying an estimated $5 million worth of soft white wheat just a few weeks into harvest season. Ripe wheat burns hot and fast because it’s dried out to less than 10% moisture this time of year before it’s harvested. Each crop takes two years to grow. This damaged 3% of Oregon’s $186 million wheat crop in 2018. 

  1. CAUSE OF FIRE: this fire was man made
  2. WHEAT VARIETY AFFECTED: Soft White Winter
  3. USE: This variety used to make ramen noodles, steamed breads and flatbreads. 
  4. MAP: Wheat Map
  5. REGIONAL INDUSTRY ASSOCIATION: Oregon Wheat Industry

Wildfire affected wheat. KGW News

B. Oise, France: The July 2019 Fire

More than 500 acres of wheat burned in this wildfire in the midst of harvest season. France is the European Union’s largest grain producer and exporter. Oise is the fifth largest producing department of soft wheat in France. The 2019/20 harvest of soft wheat fell 21% due to weather woes due to heavy rains in autumn and a drought in spring that caused sowing difficulties.

  1. CAUSE OF FIRE: a heatwave started this fire
  2. WHEAT VARIETY AFFECTED: Soft White
  3. USE: This variety is mostly used to make breads and crackers.
  4. MAP: Wheat Map
  5. REGIONAL INDUSTRY ASSOCIATION: French Wheat Industry

French firemen extinguish a fire in a burning field of wheat during harvest season in Anneux, France, July 22,2019. REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol

C. Perth, Australia: The February 2021 Wooroloo Fire

In early February, over 26,000 acres burned north east of the Perth central business district in the Wooroloo bushfire. It spread to several Shires in the wheatbelt including: Mundaring, Chittering, Northam and the City of Swan. Scientists have recently started researching the vast diversity of microbes, bacteria and fungi that are present in smoke plumes. This is difficult research to conduct as you need to know everything that fueled the fire, how long it burned, how severely it burned, and then find a way to capture samples. We’re just beginning to understand how smoke taint may be touchable and tastable.

  1. CAUSE OF FIRE: extreme heat started this brushfire
  2. WHEAT VARIETY AFFECTED: This region grows Australian Hard, Australian Premium White, Australian Standard Noodle, and Australian Standard White wheats.
  3. USE: These varieties are used to make breads, noodles, steamed and flat breads.
  4. MAP: Wheat Map
  5. REGIONAL INDUSTRY ASSOCIATION: Australian Wheat Industry

Fire crews control bushfires as they approach properties in Perth, Australia, on February 2nd. Photograph: Paul Kane/Getty

OPEN INQUIRIES

Often our research turns up more questions than answers. Here are a few we are starting to look into:

1. What happens to wheat that has been smoke tainted or worse yet burned? How is it analyzed and graded?

2. Can smoke-tainted wheat still be used to make bread that is safe to eat?

3. What happens to agricultural lands ravaged by wildfire and how are they restored for farming? How long does this process take?

4. How far away are affected agricultural lands? How far from a fire does wheat need to be grown to not be smoke tainted?

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CURRENT & UPCOMING

November 18, 2021 - December 12, 2021
Grafill, risography exhibition, Oslo, NO
October 24 - November 21, 2019
ClimATE, Aalto University, Espoo, FI.
March 1, 2018
Climate Fiction PT
October 21 - 29, 2017
Dutch Design Week: Embassy of Food
October 19 - 21, 2017
Experiencing Food (Lisbon)
Nov. 5 - Apr. 2, 2016
2116: Forecast of the Next Century
Nov. 5th, 2016
KiKK Festival Workshop