The Local Food Report: warm, lush

Arthur Teubner lives in Truro. His roommates include one fig tree, one taro plant, a rosemary bush, a whole bunch of rainbow chard and spinach and arugula, and a potted banana plant. As you can see, it's very cozy in there.

The coziness has a lot to do with glass, and the sun. In the seventies, Teubner volunteered at the New Alchemy Institute in Hatchville, and he got very into the idea of incorporating growing space into living space. The Institute was a research center studying organic agriculture and aquaculture and bio-shelters, and it created an indoor eco-system called The Ark. The basic idea was to build a greenhouse for both shelter and food, and to populate it with species that would compliment and regulate each other as they grew. It was very successful, and Teubner took the idea with him.

He built his house about a decade later, with his own plans and hands and a lot of recycled materials. He designed it to sit on a south-facing slope overlooking his garden (which has since turned into a farm, First Light Organic Farm), and an orchard of fruit trees. It was an upside-down home with three floors: on top, a master bedroom and bathroom and study, in the middle a kitchen and dining room and living room, and on the bottom, an extra bedroom and an attached greenhouse. By building the greenhouse onto his home, he reasoned, he could grow warmer-climate crops or over winter native crops by regulating the temperature in conjunction with his living space. This seemed more sustainable to him than having a separate, independent structure that he would have to supply with nutrients and heat.

But that isn't even the cool part.

The cool part is that the way he did this was to incorporate the air from the greenhouse into his home. He cut power registers and ducts into the walls and ceiling of the greenhouse, so that if the sun creates excess heat, he can pull it into his home. He created heat sinks in the form of brick flooring and dark earth growing beds, and he built a row of cylindrical water columns to act as solar heat sinks. He also added a indoor fish pond that connects to an outdoor fish pond, so that the protein he raises can swim in or out depending on the weather or temperature or just what sort of an adventure it feels like taking that day. When the fish have been swimming and eating for a while, he takes the nutrient rich water from their pond to water the vegetable crops.

Finally, he planted grapes—Concords and a few other leafy varieties—along the east and west sides of the greenhouse. He trained them to grow up along the sides and over to cover the top, and in the summer, they leaf out. The greenery blocks the sun in the summer, keeping the greenhouse cool and shady. In the fall, the leaves drop, and the light is allowed back in.

There are clearly a lot of good features to this indoor growing space. For starters, when he's cooking dinner, Teubner can sneak downstairs in his socks or even bare feet and pick a whole meal's worth of chard and arugula and thyme.

He can also grow plants that normally wouldn't survive in this climate, like figs and bananas, because they spend the winter protected, inside. Lastly, and sometimes he thinks most importantly, when it is February or March on Cape Cod and the weather report says GREY for the seventy-second day straight, he has a warm, lush, almost Costa-Rican place to go. This insanity salvation, he says, is almost better than the fresh figs.

Of course, most of the year, his food production in the greenhouse focuses on leafy salad plants. The figs and grapes and whatnot come in a big September-October whoosh, and from there it's herb and cold crop time. The day I visited, last weekend, he had Swiss chard, arugula, lettuce mix, spinach, and Dinosaur kale going on. It actually looked a fair amount like what we have in our not-so-toasty, unattached greenhouse right now, except that everything was bigger, and a bit healthier, and not looking quite so desperate for heat and sun.

By the time I got home, I was trying to figure out how we could build a greenhouse onto the south side of our house and whether or not I would rather have a fig tree or a banana tree, or maybe even a lime tree, or if maybe I should just fill the beds with oregano plants. Of course, I was getting a little bit ahead of myself. In the end, I drew a lot of pictures and researched green design architects online and made myself a pot of barley and winter greens soup.

A Costa Rica Room would be nice, one day. But in the meantime, the soup turned out to be cheap, and tasty, and a very good second best.


[I am so, so sorry for the bad pun title. Hopefully Outkast will forgive me. And hopefully you will forgive me for discovering the Lala Song Player and, yet again, giving you a link with sound.]

As for the soup, it's excellent. It's adapted from a recipe I found the other day in the Feburary issue of Bon Appetit, now that I (ahem), finally got it back from my sister. Anyway, it's for a barley soup with kale, chard, spinach, fennel, lemon, and dill, which, as soon as I saw it, I knew was for me. I changed a few things, but the idea is the same. This soup is bright and light and hearty all at once, and in a much more wholesome way than the song, really and truly very fresh and very clean. There is something almost squeaky about it, in the same way that, say, lying in a mud wrap with cucumbers on your eyelids is. Best of all, it is an excellent first use for our brand new, New England grown ( ! ) barley.

2/3 cup uncooked barley
8 cups chicken broth, preferably homemade
4 cups water
sea salt
2 tablespoons butter
3 medium onions, chopped
1 teaspoon dried dill weed*
1 teaspoon dried, crushed fennel seed
1 teaspoon dried, crushed basil
freshly ground pepper to taste
1/4 cup dry white wine
8 cups Swiss chard, rinsed, coarsely chopped, and packed**
8 cups spinach, rinsed, coarsely chopped, and packed
1 cup cilantro, coarsely chopped, for garnish
4 ounces feta cheese, crumbled, for garnish
1/3 cup scallions, thinly sliced, for garnish
1 lime, cut into eights, for garnish

*The original recipe called for fresh herbs. If you're making this soup in the summertime, when fresh dill, fennel, and basil are readily available, I would certainly recommend swapping them in—1/3 cup each to replace the dried measurements.

** The original recipe also called for kale in addition to the Swiss chard and spinach. I think you could probably use any combination of winter braising greens you like—the more the merrier—with success.

Bring the barley, 4 cups of the chicken stock, the water, and 1 teaspoon of sea salt to a boil in a large, heavy-bottomed pot. Reduce the heat to low, cover the pot, and leave the barley to simmer for about 45 minutes, or until tender.

Meanwhile, pull out a skillet and heat the butter up over medium-high heat. Add the onions, stirring frequently, and cook for about five minutes. Sprinkle in the herbs, and season with salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. Continue cooking for about three more minutes, or until the onions are soft and translucent. Deglaze the pan with the wine, cook for a minute or two longer, and turn off the heat. Set the onions aside.

When the barley is tender, add the remaining stock and the onions to the pot. Add the chard and the spinach, and simmer for about six minutes, or until the greens are tender. Season the soup with salt and pepper, and pour it hot into bowls. Put the cilantro, feta, scallions, and lime wedges on the table to use as garnishes. (The cheese doesn't matter too much, and the cilantro and scallions are sort of personal decisions, but whatever you do, don't skip the lime juice. It brings out the flavors of the greens and brightens the barley and the broth.) This soup is good on day one, but even better on day two, so don't be afraid to let it sit.


Anna said...

MMMMMM this looks delicious. Unfortunately the only soup I've had lately is out of a can. I'll have to remedy that!

Elspeth said...

Anna, you will have to remedy that, and this is just the thing! It really didn't take long to make...maybe twenty minutes of hands on time. And it has been great for quick, healthy lunches.


All the best,

Bie said...

oh,this sounds so good.I will try it and think of you. Hugs biee.

Elspeth said...


It is good. And of course, we are always thinking about you! xoxo

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