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Saturday, May 23, 2020
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Suggestions for your senses,
every Saturday at 9 a.m.
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Good morning.

This week, we stargaze with the Night Sky app, make seed pots with a handy device from Manufactum, talk food waste with Tabitha Stroup of Terroir in a Jar, sign up for Dr. Bessel van der Kolk’s virtual trauma research conference, and breathe in the scent of fresh rain.

On our At a Distance podcast, we speak with The Daily Beast editor-at-large Molly Jong-Fast, anthropologist Nina Jablonski, and preventive medicine specialist Dr. David Katz.

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See
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Starry Night
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Courtesy iCandi Apps
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The limbo of the pandemic looms on, and as our feeds fill up with more hot takes and navel-gazing observations about life in the time of Covid-19, we’re opting to look beyond the horizon, and up into the sky, for a wider perspective—with a little help from a handy app to guide us. Night Sky is the Google Maps of stargazing apps, offering a planetarium-like experience in the palm of your hand, with features that allow you to identify, search, and explore stars, constellations, and planets, and even track satellites. The app will also notify you when the weather is ideal for stargazing, as well as send you alerts about future astronomical events, so you don’t miss out on a rare asteroid shower or comet sighting. It’s an ideal companion for exploring the wonders of space, and a welcome resource for armchair travels.

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Touch
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Seed Pots of Hope
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Courtesy Manufactum
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Seed pots, much like baking staples such as yeast and flour, have been in higher demand in quarantine times, as many people—in some demonstration of productive homebound self-sufficiency—take newfound interest in baking their own breads and growing herbs or gardens. Conveniently, you can easily make your own seed pots from cardboard egg cartons or newspapers, and these helpful little molds from Manufactum make the task a bit smoother and more consistent. The two-part presses are made from solid-waxed beechwood, and are as pleasing to hold in the hand as a small pepper mill. So efficient and simple, the refreshingly humble tool is practically future-proof.

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Taste
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Food Loops
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Courtesy Terroir in a Jar
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Thirty to forty percent of perfectly good, fresh produce grown in the U.S. goes to waste each year simply due to bruising or ripening that most markets deem unacceptable for sale. That astounding figure has only increased during the pandemic, as widespread closures of restaurants, schools, and businesses have led farmers to dump their surpluses of eggs, milk, and potatoes—all this as needy families line up in growing numbers at food banks across the country. Tabitha Stroup, a former chef and restaurant veteran of nearly 20 years, tells us how she’s working to help close the loop and boost local independent farms in California’s Pajaro Valley with Terroir in a Jar, a company with a serious mission to reduce food waste and put profits back into the hands of growers. 

You’ve worn many hats in the food industry. Can you tell us a bit about your journey?

I’ll just give you the Reader’s Digest version. I started cooking in 1991, in Santa Cruz, went to Cordon Bleu in the mid-nineties and through that, helped open up a couple restaurants. I got bored with that and got into the wine world, got my Level 1 sommelier certification, and became the caterer to the wineries of our AVA (American Viticultural Area) in the Santa Cruz Mountains, and specialized in it. Within that time frame, I got my Level 1 cheese mongering certification and was teaching at the Cheese School of San Francisco as well, because I needed something new to keep me going. 

I was realizing that there were no products out there in the market that represented our community, let alone anyone else’s community, to go out and be a pairing ambassador for the region. In 2011, I started Friend in Cheeses Jam Co., which is a national brand now, utilizing all that we grow here on the Central Coast—we create products that I call “jars of possibilities.” When you open up a jar, it can go twelve different directions, and you’re only limited by your own imagination.

What led you to then start Terroir in a Jar?

Last year, my former business partner and I were thinking, Okay, farmers are the lowest common denominator of our food chain, right? They get the lowest amount of money, the least amount of respect, take on the most physical abuse in a job, and [receive] usually the least return, compared to the mass agricultural index—I’m talking about the small, local, family-run, organic farmer. They’ll bring me, Friend in Cheeses Jam Co., their unsellable produce to make into preserves. Let’s say they have one hundred pounds of strawberries to offload, and I’ll buy those for either fifty cents to a dollar a pound. So the end of their financial journey, with that one hundred pounds, ends with me at fifty to a hundred bucks. Well, hmm, that’s fucked. So I thought, Could I take that same hundred pounds and make more money for me and the farmer? How could I do that?

The economics of farming seem pretty backwards—especially given the time it takes to grow something, and the necessity of what they grow. 

I started contacting my farm partners and just posed it to them: What if you just give me that one hundred pounds, I make it into shelf-stable products that are legal to sell to the public, and sell back to you to distribute wholesale? This way, the farmer has the ability for a complete recoup. So with that same one hundred pounds of strawberries I would have bought to make Friend in Cheeses jam, I instead take that and make preserves, jams, jellies, hot sauce, or whatever suits the produce they’re selling, and sell it back to them. All of a sudden, their profitability on that “unsellable” produce has jumped three thousand percent with a product that has a three-year shelf life. 

Unlike other private labels that do this sort of thing, we’re also a full-service product for the farmer: I have a marketing person and graphic designers that will help get their labels together with all the legal federal requirements and die-cuts for the labels, and meet with local markets and grocery stores to find an outlet. They can also include them in their C.S.A. boxes, at farmer’s markets, and, during the off months, still have some offerings in their C.S.A. pantry. We’re a certified green kitchen, as well, which is part of the bonus of working with us: For all of our food waste, we have farm partners that we text when the buckets are full. They pick them up, feed livestock with it, or throw it into their compost to grow more food.

What’s the end goal for Terroir in a Jar?

That the majority of small agricultural regions in this country have an outlet to not only monetize from waste, but to be able to diversify offerings to their community, be able to raise profits, and become stronger farms. And then, to have a national training program for disadvantaged human beings that have taken a trip or stumbled in life, and get them back into the world with beautiful food, teaching them about paying it forward and all that good stuff. And, of course, to get the amount of food waste down. I mean, it’s just ridiculous.

What changes would you like to see in our food and agricultural systems at large?

First and foremost, legislation. We are losing such a grip with our current administration. For example, the USDA, which monitors our meatpacking plants and livestock farming. Just a few weeks ago, the President signed [a declaration] that all laws and good manufacturing practices instilled in USDA packing plants are no longer laws but suggestions. Nobody’s going to follow a suggestion, especially if the suggestion costs more. Profits are already so hard to come by in the food industry and, unfortunately, so many Americans are conditioned to want to pay less for food than they would a pair of kicks, a fresh set of nails, or a haircut: It’s a Happy Meal mentality. 

Fresh, responsibly grown fruits and vegetables may be more expensive, but it’s an investment that goes into yourself, your body. We have this skewed reality of how we should be fed, who should feed us, and what its value is. We’re flipped on our backs, because everyone wants to go grocery shopping at the big boxes during this pandemic, but here in California, the farmer’s markets are open. [I’d rather be] in an open-air market, keeping my dollars in my backyard, which in turn makes my local schools, roads, and communities better.

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Hear
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Body and Mind
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Courtesy Dr. Bessel van der Kolk
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With #StayHome campaigns driving home the importance of social distancing while the race to find a vaccine continues, professionals are expressing concerns about our mental health in this era of prolonged isolation. As post-traumatic stress expert Dr. Bessel van der Kolk, author of the book The Body Keeps Score (currently No. 1 on The New York Times paperback nonfiction best-seller list), said on Ep. 2 of our At a Distance podcast, now is as good a time as any to start a meditation practice or new exercise routine to calm your autonomic nervous system. Maintaining control of our bodies at a moment like this, explains van der Kolk, is crucial “because we are our bodies. In our culture, we see our bodies as an appendage, but our body needs to eat, sleep, and run, and though it’s not celebrated as such, we actually have a brain in order to take care of our bodies.” Van der Kolk will further delve into this topic next weekend at “Psychological Trauma in the Age of Coronavirus: The Interplay of Neuroscience, Embodiment, and the Regulation of the Self,” a virtual conference he's hosting with the Trauma Research Foundation—a healthy reminder that learning about self-care is a lifelong journey.

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Smell
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Rain Check
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Photo: Andrew Zuckerman
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April showers bring May flowers, as the age-old saying goes—and with both comes the scent of freshly dampened soil that we come to associate strongly with spring. This distinctively earthy scent is more than just wet dirt, and scientists have known of geosmin, the chemical compound to which we attribute the smell of fresh rain, since the 1960s. But recent research reveals its role in nature’s grand algorithm: According to New Atlas, geosmin is produced by certain bacteria from the genus Streptomyces as a way to attract a specific arthropod, called a springtail, which helps spread its spores. Researchers suggest that this selective advantage evolved over time to create a symbiotic relationship between bacteria and the arthropods, similar to what birds and bees are to flowers, making it a “500-million-year-old example of chemical communication.” If you love the smell of fresh rain as much as we do, but remain largely stuck indoors right now, D.S. & Durga’s Big Sur After Rain fragrance, available as a hand soap and a hand-sanitizer spray (the candle option, sadly, is sold out, at least for the moment), offers a close-to-the-real-thing alternative in a bottle.

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Until next week...

Today’s email was written by Aileen Kwun.

Editor: Spencer Bailey
Creative Director: Andrew Zuckerman
Producer: Mike Lala
Copy Editor: Mimi Hannon

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The Slowdown | 508 West 26th Street, 7A | New York, NY 10001 | United States

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