What to Order on a Korean Menu: Go for the Soups – WSJ

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POT LUCK | Jogaetang (spicy clam soup) at Dancen in Chicago. Photo: Sam Horine

By

Matt Rodbard

Feb. 2, 2016 4:22 p.m. ET

BEVERLY KIM GREW UP outside Chicago eating in the traditional Korean way—a far cry from the towering platters of grilled beef and rice bowls that have come to define Korean food in the U.S. “We had at least two pots of soup firing on the stove at all times,” said the James Beard Award-nominated chef-owner of Parachute, a restaurant serving Korean and Korean-influenced dishes in the city’s Avondale neighborhood. “Broth is the foundation for everything I know.”

Americans’ relationship with Korean food has hit an exciting fork in the road, which I write about in my new book, “Koreatown: A Cookbook.” Many flock to Koreatowns across the country in search of the ever-popular Korean barbecue—hunks of tender short rib sizzled on tabletop grills and wrapped in lettuce leaves—and rightly so. Yet other, more ambitious eaters have started to seek out Korea’s deep bench of delicious soups and stews packed with unexpected flavors and textures that extend well beyond the sourness and funk of kimchi, the fermented vegetables that are another signature of this cuisine.

I’ve found Korean cooking in expected places—the big Koreatowns in L.A. and New York—but also in Duluth, Ga., Western Michigan and the kitchens of celebrated (and not explicitly Asian) restaurants like State Bird Provisions in San Francisco and Le Bernardin in Manhattan. The common starting point? More often than not, a simmering stock.

“You can taste the history,” said Deuki Hong one day while minding a hulking stockpot of mellow ox bone broth called seolleongtang in his midtown Manhattan apartment. Mr. Hong, the chef of New York’s Kang Ho Dong Baekjeong, is my “Koreatown” co-author, and he wasn’t just talking about how the bones in the pot were releasing their creamy marrow through hours and hours of bubbling and boiling.

There’s a context to consider: Korea is a very cold place. Think Minneapolis or Helsinki cold. The winters are long and cruel. The mountainous terrain provides limited space for cattle grazing and hog raising; Korea’s meat prices are among the world’s highest. Add to that a long history of war, occupation and impoverishment, but also an abundance of fresh, clean water. Bodies needed warmth, meat had to stretch. You might say Koreans had no choice but to become the soup and stew masters of Asia.

Yes, I’m ranking Korea’s soups higher than Vietnam’s pho and Japan’s ramen.

Through deep assessment and countless evenings spent hunched over a roaring pot of jjigae—a spicy stew loaded with meat, seafood, vegetables or all three—I’ve come to the conclusion that Korean soups can be broken roughly into two categories: graceful broths and intense, umami-rich flavor bombs.

In the more delicate category, kongnamul guk is a soup of soybean sprouts boiled quickly in a light beef or anchovy broth. Another example: miyeok guk, a briny, nutrient-rich soup of seaweed and beef brisket sometimes called “happy birthday soup” because it’s eaten by nursing mothers and by Koreans celebrating their birth.

One of my favorites, jogaetang, a bowl of clear anchovy broth gets a little heat from jalapeños and substance from clams. This light and highly satisfying soup often appears at pojangmachas, late-night Korean taverns, where it’s served on a portable butane burner and washed down with beer and soju, the ubiquitous Korean firewater.

The more muscular side of Korea’s soup and stew canon plays its own cultural role. While many Americans go for a dollar pizza slice or a heap of greasy diner bacon to quell a hangover, Koreans turn to soup. In fact, haejangguk—a bracing bowl of tender ox-spine meat, coagulated blood cubes and beef broth—bears the name “hangover soup.”

This latter category does contain some acquired tastes. Ms. Kim recalls her mother’s beloved cheonggukjang jjigae, made with ripe fermented soybeans and sometimes called “dead body soup.” “My mom was really self-conscious about how our house smelled, and she would boil [the soup] on the grill outside,” she said. “But it’s really quite incredible and reminds me of a nutty cheese.”

‘Koreans had no choice but to become Asia’s soup masters.’

This group includes plenty of highly accessible crowd-pleasers, too. Kimchi jjigae, the great utility dish of Korean cooking—a piquant stew full of Napa-cabbage kimchi, the fermented soybean and red-pepper paste gochujang and rich pork belly—often arrives at the table boiling. (If you’re going to eat a lot of Korean soup, you must perfect a blowing-on-the-spoon technique.) My favorite kimchi jjigae contains the fizzy and deeply funky kimchi called mukeunji, aged for well over a year. Seek it out.

Another hearty bowl I’ll travel a long way for is gamjatang, which literally means “potato soup.” It’s so much more than that. While chunks of potato play their part, meaty pork necks, cooked to the point of falling off the bone, provide further ballast, and floral wild sesame seeds add their perfume. “It reminds me of a Oaxacan mole,” said Los Angeles Times restaurant critic Jonathan Gold when we shared a large bowl at Ham Ji Park, a restaurant specializing in pork in L.A.’s sprawling Koreatown.

I think gamjatang has great crossover appeal for Korean food fans looking outside the lettuce wrap. As does another favorite: kalbijjim, beef short ribs stewed low and slow in a balanced blend of light soy sauce, sake, mirin, apple-and-Asian-pear purée and garlic. “This is one of the dishes that every Korean mom has a recipe for,” said Mr. Hong, calling it the “Korean coq au vin.” His uses a slow cooker, a fully Americanized approach to preparing a traditional Korean dish. “It’s one of those special-occasion stews, like if you were accepted to college or family was visiting from far away,” he added.

In Korean culture, soups and stews not only cure sickness and recalibrate the body after a long night of bar hopping; they’re the stuff of celebrations. At every meal and any time of day, they command the center of the table. The next time you look at a Korean menu, read on past the barbecue section and survey the vast spread of soups and stews—those mentioned here and many others—that lie beyond. Or prepare one of the recipes on this page, while the weather outside is as cold as Korea in February.

—The Korean ingredients in all of these recipes can be purchased at Asian markets or online at crazykoreanshopping.com

Why the Amish Don’t Get Sick: Things You Can Learn From Them

Why the Amish Don’t Get Sick: Things You Can Learn From Them

why-the-amish-don't-get-sick

<img class=”aligncenter wp-image-1849″ alt=”why-the-amish-don’t-get-sick” src=”http://www.lahealthyliving.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/why-the-amish-dont-get-sick.jpg” width=”800″ height=”419″ />

When we think of Amish people we think of a simple life, free of modern advancements. Most of us view them as foolish for not using the advantages of convenient technology and even look down on them for not conforming to the norms of mainstream society. But if we look at the statistics, the Amish are much healthier than the rest of America. They virtually have no cancer, no autism, and rarely get sick. What are they doing different from the rest of America? Let’s look at some of the things they are doing different (here).

Why the Amish Don’t Get Sick

The Amish have chosen the traditional wisdom of our ancestors over our “modern” way of living. They live by the practices of past generations.

1. The Amish Don’t Get Vaccinated.

Did you know that Amish people rarely have any learning disabilities or autism. There have been only 3 cases of autism among the amish in which the kids got vaccinated (here). Instead of crediting their lack of autism to the absence of vaccines, mainstream society credits it to a superior gene that the Amish possess. In spite of constant pressure from the government, the Amish still refuse to vaccinate. You can read more about the dangers of vaccines – here.
Vaccine-nation: Poisoning the Population, One Shot at a Time

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2. The Amish Eat Organic, Locally Grown Food.

The Amish not only avoid prepackaged and processed food, they actually grow all of their food using organic farming methods. They raise their own animals; their food is natural and gmo free. It’s important to note that they eat seasonal food during the harvest months, and save the rest by canning and fermenting. Seasonal fruits and vegetables are nutritionally higher in value. They are filled with anti-oxidants that are of great benefit to our health. Anti-oxidants fight free radicals, which helps you stay healthy and young. Thus, the lack of ADHD, food allergies and asthma can be undeniably contributed to their diet.

3. The Amish Eat Plenty of Healthy Fats.

The Amish have a very low obesity rate despite their high fat diet. Their eating habits by all means are not low fat. They eat plenty of butter, meat, eggs, raw dairy. Foods like butter and raw grass fed dairy contains a lot of fat soluble vitamins such as A, E and K2. It’s important to note that Vitamin K2 is very insufficient in modern diets. All that low fat nonsense has depleted our bodies from these essential nutrients. Vitamin K2 is particularly important as it is involved in calcium metabolism. Vitamin K insufficiency leads to many diseases such as cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, and even cancer.

4. The Amish People are Physically Active.

Compared to the overall 31 % obesity rate in America, the Amish only have a 3 percent obesity rate. Since they don’t use cars, or any modern technologies, their level of physical activity is very high: men averaged 18,000 steps a day and women 14,000. They walk a lot and are truly involved in physical labor which reflects in their extremely low rate of cardiovascular diseases. Accodring to David R. Bassett, Ph.D., FACSM, a professor at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, “The Amish were able to show us just how far we’ve fallen in the last 150 years or so in terms of the amount of physical activity we typically perform. Their lifestyle indicates that physical activity played a critical role in keeping our ancestors fit and healthy.”

5. The Amish Live Stress Free Lives

Stress is probably the number one culprit to our health problems. When you are stressed, your cortisol levels get elevated which is extremely dangerous for your health in the long run. Health problems associated with stress include heart disease, adrenal fatigue, hormonal imbalances, high blood sugar levels, elevated cholesterol and obesity.

The Amish live in a stress free community. They live slow paced, patient lifestyles. They don’t compete with each other; they created a egalitarian community for themselves where their lifestyles are based on equality, cooperation and harmony.

The Amish live the same way they lived 300 years ago and we can definitely can learn some lessons from them. They live toxic, free self sustainable lives. They are not plagued with various diseases and they are much healthier than the rest of America.

PAID ENDORSEMENT DISCLOSURE: In order for me to support my blogging activities, I may receive monetary compensation or other types of remuneration for my endorsement, recommendation, testimonial and/or link to any products or services from this blog.

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5 foods that would be affected by the trans fat ban | MNN – Mother Nature Network

5 foods that would be affected by the trans fat ban

Fresh baked cookies
The Food and Drug Administration’s announcement today (Nov. 7) that trans fats could be phased out means that some popular food products may need to be reformulated in the future to comply with the law.
The FDA said it has taken steps to move trans fat out of its current category of food ingredients that are “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS). If trans fat are not GRAS, they would become illegal food additives, unless food companies can prove that they are not harmful to health, which would be a challenge, Michael R. Taylor, the FDA’s deputy commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine, told the New York Times.

Before the decision is finalized, the FDA is seeking public comment for 60 days to hear from the food industry and other experts to determine how long it would take food manufacturers to phase out trans fats, and how the change would impact small businesses.

Trans fats are produced when hydrogen is added to vegetable oil to make it more solid, and companies began adding the ingredient to processed food in the 1950s to lengthen the shelf-life and flavor stability of their products, the FDA said. [3 Tips for Eating Less Trans Fat]
Since 2006, food companies have been required to list trans fat on their labels, a law that pressured many manufactures to reduce trans fat in their products. In fact, the average American today consumes about 1 gram of trans fat daily, down from 4.6 grams in 2003, according to the FDA. U.S. dietary guidelines recommend that people keep trans fat consumption as low as possible.

However, trans fats can still be found in some processed foods, and is listed on the ingredients label as partially hydrogenated oil. Here’s a list of some popular trans fat holdouts that may be affected by the FDA proposal:

According to a recent study published in the journal Preventing Chronic Disease, declines in trans fat in microwave popcorn have been particularly slow compared to some other food products. In 2011, popcorn products had an average of nearly 4 grams of trans fat per serving, the study found.

Some popcorn brands have eliminated trans fat, but others still contain up to 5 grams of trans fat per serving, according to the Centers for Science in the Public Interest.

Cookies and crackers:

Still, Tallmadge noted “a lot of trans fats are out of the marketplace,” thanks to the requirement that trans fat be listed on food labels.

Refrigerated dough, like cookie and biscuit dough, and ready-made pie crust can make dessert-making easy, but consumers should be wary of trans fat in the products. Some brands of refrigerated dough and ready-made pie crusts or mixes can contain between 2 and 3 grams of trans fat, according to the CSPI.

Trans fat in margarines has also declined slowly in recent years, according to the Preventing Chronic Disease study. The study found that margarine and spread products contained, on average, about 2 grams of trans fat per serving in 2011.

Some coffee creamers contain trans fat, according to the FDA. In a 2008 study by CSPI, some coffee creamers were found to have between 0.1 and 0.7 grams of trans fat.

Products that contain less than 0.5 grams of trans fat can be labeled as containing 0 grams, the FDA says. So consumers should look at ingredient labels and try to avoid creamers that list partially hydrogenated soy or canola oil, the CSPI

This story was originally written for LiveScience and has been republished with permission here. Copyright 2013 LiveScience, a TechMediaNetwork company.

How to Build a Straw Bale Garden – Modern Farmer

How to Build a Straw Bale Garden

When I moved into my new Philadelphia rowhouse, I was determined to grow the vegetable garden that had eluded me all those years in a cramped Manhattan apartment. But reality struck with the first thrust of my shovel: my soil — a cocktail of concrete shards and construction debris mixed with a bit of sand and dirt — was useless.

Faced with the expense (OK, and effort) of building raised beds, I decided instead to go cheap and easy: a straw bale garden. So I called up Joel Karsten, author of Straw Bale Gardens, and lead authority on all things straw.

Karsten argues that straw is an ideal “container” for growing vegetables. “The hollow tubes are designed by Mother Nature to suck up and hold moisture,” he told me. And as the insides of the bales decompose, they provide a rich medium for vegetable growth.

You can put together a straw bale garden right on your lawn, your driveway (oh yes, your neighbors will love you) or anywhere that gets at least six to eight hours of sun. It’s especially good for growers who live in northern climes with shorter growing seasons — the bales heat up much quicker than soil, stimulating early-season root growth.

Here’s the method that has made Karsten the go-to guru for straw bale gardening:

step 1 resized

1. Source your straw

You can toss the dice like I did and purchase straw bales from your local garden center, but it’s best to source them direct from the farm. If you want to garden organically, the person at the garden center won’t likely know how the straw was grown. To help connect farmers with growers, Karsten has set up a user-generated marketplace, but it’s still too small to be useful to most gardeners. Remember, straw is easiest to come by in the fall. If you arrange your straw bale garden before the winter, you’ll be all set to plant when springtime comes.

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2. Position your bales

Before you set up your bales, lay down landscape fabric to prevent weeds from growing up through the bales. Arrange the bales side by side in rows, with their cut sides up. The strings that bind the bales should run across the sides, not across the planting surface. The strings will help keep the shape of the bales as they start to soften and decompose.

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3. Condition the bales

Two weeks before you plant, you have to get the bales cooking. This means wetting and fertilizing the bales for roughly 10 days to start composting the inner straw. For the first six days, put down 3 cups of organic fertilizer per bale every other day, and water the bales to push the fertilizer down and thoroughly saturate the straw. On the off days, simply water the bales. (Tip: try to ignore the neighbors staring suspiciously from their windows.) Days 7 through 9, lay down 1.5 cups of organic fertilizer each day and water. Day 10 put down 3 cups with phosphorus and potassium (bone or fish meal mixed with 50% wood ash works like a charm).

If you stick your finger into your bales, they’ll be hot and moist. You’ll start to see some “peppering” — black soil-like clumps that signal the beginning of the composting that will continue through the growing season. If mushrooms sprout up, rejoice — they won’t harm your plants; it means the straw is decomposing as it should.

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4. Build a trellis and greenhouse in one

One of the coolest things about straw bale gardening is that it combines the best of container gardening with vertical gardening. Karsten recommends erecting seven-foot-tall posts at the end of each row of bales, and running wire between them at intervals of 10 inches from the tops of the bales. As your seeds sprout, you can use the bottom wire to drape a plastic tarp to create an instant greenhouse for those chilly early-season nights. And as the plants begin to grow, the wire works like a vertical trellis, supporting your cucumbers, squash and assorted viney vegetables.

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5. Time to plant

If you’re planting seedlings, use your trowel to separate the straw in the shape of a hole and add some sterile planting mix to help cover the exposed roots. If you’re planting seeds, then cover the bales with a one to two-inch layer of planting mix and sew into this seedbed. As the seeds germinate, they’ll grow roots down into the bale itself. While you’re at it, plant some annual flowers into the sides of the bales, or some herbs — it’s otherwise underutilized growing space, and will make the garden a whole lot lovelier.

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6. Look, ma — no weeding

If you lay a soaker hose over your bales, you’ve pretty much eliminated all your work until harvest. That’s because your “soil” doesn’t contain weed seeds. There’s one caveat, though — if you didn’t get your straw from a farmer (guilty as charged), there’s a chance your straw (or, worse, hay that was sold as straw) contains its own seed. If your bales start to sprout what looks like grass, you can beat back the Chia pet effect by washing the sprouts with diluted vinegar. If you don’t mind the look though, the grass shouldn’t harm your plants, and will likely die off from the heat produced by the bale’s decomposition.

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7. The harvest after the harvest

When the harvest season ends, the bales will be soft, saggy and gray — but that’s exactly what you want. Because when you pile the straw together and leave it to compost over winter, you’ll have a mound of beautiful compost to fill all your pots and planters in the spring.

Nicole Cotroneo Jolly (@nicolecotroneo) is a journalist, filmmaker and founder of How Does it Grow?a series of food education videos that trace our food back from the fork to the field.

Plants and AnimalsGardenGardeningHow ToStraw Bale Gardening

Space Farming: The Final Frontier – Modern Farmer

Space Farming: The Final Frontier – Modern Farmer

NASA looks to grow fresh veggies, 230 miles above the Earth

By Jesse Hirsch on September 10, 2013

Photographs by Stephen Allen

Last year, an astronaut named Don Pettit began an unusual writing project on NASA’s website. Called “Diary of a Space Zucchini,” the blog took the perspective of an actual zucchini plant on the International Space Station (ISS). Entries were insightful and strange, poignant and poetic.

“I sprouted, thrust into this world without anyone consulting me,” wrote Pettit in the now-defunct blog. “I am utilitarian, hearty vegetative matter that can thrive under harsh conditions. I am zucchini — and I am in space.”

An unorthodox use of our tax dollars, but before you snicker, consider this: That little plant could be the key to our future. If — as some doomsday scientists predict — we eventually exhaust the Earth’s livability, space farming will prove vital to the survival of our species. Around the world, governments and private companies are doing research on how we are going to grow food on space stations, in spaceships, even on Mars. The Mars Society is testing a greenhouse in a remote corner of Utah, researchers at the University of Gelph in Ontario are looking at long-term crops like soybeans and barley and Purdue University scientists are marshaling vertical garden design for space conditions. Perhaps most importantly, though, later this year NASA will be producing its own food in orbit for the first time ever.

And if space farming still seems like a pipe dream, the zucchini also served a more tangible purpose. It kept Pettit and his crewmates sane.

You Can Eat It, Too

Growing food in space helps solve one of the biggest issues in space travel: the price of eating. It costs roughly $10,000 a pound to send food to the ISS, according to Howard Levine, project scientist for NASA’s International Space Station and Spacecraft Processing Directorate. There’s a premium on densely caloric foods with long shelf lives. Supply shuttles carry such limited fresh produce that Gioia Massa, a postdoctoral fellow at NASA, says astronauts devour it almost immediately.

Levine and Massa are part of the team developing the Vegetable Production System (VEGGIE) program, set to hit the ISS later this year. This December, NASA plans to launch a set of Kevlar pillow-packs, filled with a material akin to kitty litter, functioning as planters for six romaine lettuce plants. The burgundy-hued lettuce (NASA favors the “Outredgeous” strain) will be grown under bright-pink LED lights, ready to harvest after just 28 days.

NASA has a long history of testing plant growth in space, but the goals have been largely academic. Experiments have included figuring out the effects of zero-gravity on plant growth, testing quick-grow sprouts on shuttle missions and assessing the viability of different kinds of artificial light. But VEGGIE is NASA’s first attempt to grow produce that could actually sustain space travelers.

NASA’s space lettuce will<br /> be rigorously evaluated.1
NASA’s Nicole Dufour (left) and Gioia Massa perform prelaunch testing<br /> on lettuce sprouts, under LED grow lights.2
Microbiologist Mary Hummerick performs lettuce testing.3
A set of<br /> test sprouts growing in pillow-packs.4
Inside the main Vegetable Production System program testing lab at Kennedy Space Center.5

  • 1NASA’s space lettuce will
    be rigorously evaluated.
  • 2NASA’s Nicole Dufour (left) and Gioia Massa perform prelaunch testing
    on lettuce sprouts, under LED grow lights.
  • 3Microbiologist Mary Hummerick performs lettuce testing.
  • 4A set of
    test sprouts growing in pillow-packs.
  • 5Inside the main Vegetable Production System program testing lab at Kennedy Space Center.

Naturally, the dream is to create a regenerative growth system, so food could be continually grown on the space station — or, potentially, on moon colonies or Mars. The Outredgeous lettuce is slated as a first-phase vegetable, quick to grow and loaded with antioxidants (a potential antidote for cosmic radiation). Later veggies may include radishes, snap peas and a special strain of tomato, designed to take up minimal space.

Plant size is a vital calculation in determining what to grow on the space station, where every square foot is carefully allotted. Harvest time is also of extreme importance; the program wants to maximize growth cycles within each crew’s (on average) six-month stay.

4 Other Mars Food Missions

  1. 1The Mars Desert Research Station The MDRS is a program of the Mars Society, a mixed group of scientists and space enthusiasts. In the remote territory near Hanksville, Utah, researchers have attempted to simulate conditions on Mars, including a greenhouse to grow their own food. The science of growing is still rudimentary at MDRS; the goal is to gauge effects on participants’ overall well-being.
  2. 2University of Guelph Unlike VEGGIE, this Canadian program is looking seriously into long-term crops like soybeans and barley.
  3. 3Purdue University Dr. Cary Mitchell of Purdue believes that farming in space is all about the vertical, similar to urban farming advocates here on Earth. Mitchell, a major proponent of LEDs, has been working for years on vertical farming initiatives that can be repurposed for space living.
  4. 4South Pole Using indoor greenhouses, Dr. Gene Giacomelli has spearheaded research on Antarctica, intended to replicate conditions in space. Sponsored by the National Science Foundation, this testing evaluates psychological benefits to South Pole residents, with the thinking that space conditions are similarly isolating.

Leafy greens are ideal, ready to be consumed as soon as they’re plucked from the soil. Potatoes or sweet potatoes, not very good raw, fall into what Massa calls “midterm level” — plants NASA may test further down the line. The most outlandish crops would be wheat and rice, taking longer to grow and requiring bulky milling equipment. Clearly, plants that need processing make less attractive candidates for space travel.

Levine says NASA has tested strains of quick-growing dwarf wheat on past space missions. But growing this kind of crop on a large scale, with the intention of providing long-term sustenance, is still a ways off. “At this point, the break-even cost is far too high for serious bioregenerative agriculture,” Levine says. “Six heads of lettuce make a nice supplement to the crew’s diet, but isn’t going to feed them for the long-term.”

A Garden for Major Tom

But the plants aren’t just for eating — they act as a form of emotional sustenance called horticultural therapy. It’s based on the simple idea that plant care is a balm for the human psyche. According to the Horticultural Society of New York, which has practiced this therapy with Rikers Island inmates since 1989, the list of gains is long: “stress reduction, mood improvement, alleviation of depression, social growth, physical and mental rehabilitation” and general wellness.

Naturally, these benefits are highly prized in space, where even the sturdiest astronauts may be pushed to their limits. “It can be pretty harsh out there, confined to a small metal box,” says Levine. “Caring for a plant every day provides vital psychological relief, giving astronauts a small remembrance of Earth.”

During this six-month stay Pettit brought the space zucchini up with “two new crewmates” — broccoli and sunflower plants — as a personal project. He didn’t have fancy equipment, and only a little soil.

He gave the plants sun by shuttling them between space station windows, and grew them in a plastic bag, feeding them a liquid made from composted food scraps. The crew never tried eating the plants; Pettit jokes it would have felt like cannibalism.

“We considered them crew members,” he says. “It was delightful to have those plants around, to feel the little hairs on a leaf tickle your nose, to see that sunflower in full bloom. It changed our whole experience.”

Massa thinks VEGGIE could promise similar psychic gains to space station astronauts. For one thing, there’s the splash of color provided by the sanguine plants, chromatic relief in a sea of whites and beiges. The program’s second phase will include flowering zinnias, for even more visual vibrancy.

Not to mention, caring for plants can conjure up unknowable associative memories. A childhood harvest, perhaps, or a forgotten summer stroll through the garden. “These are the intangibles,” says Massa. “Will the astronaut nurture each plant like a pet? Will he stumble on a forgotten memory?”

Waiting Is the Hardest Part

The first batch of space-ready lettuce is something of a tease for the NASA crew — once harvested, it will be frozen and stored away for testing back on Earth. No one is allowed to eat anything before the plants are thoroughly vetted for cosmic microbes.

Where’s the Beef in Space?

  • In 1982, the Kids’ Whole Future Catalog made some surprisingly accurate speculation on the future of space farming. In addition to growing plants hydroponically and composting waste, the book suggested astronauts may soon raise space rabbits as a meat source. Far-fetched? Maybe not. Researchers all over the world have spent years studying the most viable proteins for space missions. In choosing the right animal, the biggest concerns are size and waste creation; naturally, scientists in Japan and Mexico have studied edible space insects. Also in Japan, experiments on closed-loop life support systems have recently been performed on small goats. Neither bugs nor goats have yet been launched into space, but Russian crews have performed extensive experiments on one potential food source: the Japanese quail. Crews have sent quail eggs up for study since 1979, with the first ones actually hatching in 1990. Since then, Russian cosmonauts have nurtured baby quails from birth, hand-feeding them and studying their adaptive abilities. The downside? “The cosmonauts grew attached and had trouble killing them,” according to Dr. Gioia Massa of NASA.

These space germs are often fairly benign, akin to the natural bacteria that build up in any moist root bank. Russian crews are allowed to consume vegetables grown on their side of the space station, but microbe standards are strict and unwavering on U.S. space missions. Massa says NASA’s surgeons set these levels based simply on quantity, without regard for “good” or “bad” germs. After the first lettuce harvest is tested, she hopes for reevaluation of the microbial standards, with specific dispensations for agriculture.

But once that hurdle is cleared, Massa has high hopes for the program. Her team has been testing the system in NASA labs since 2011, working out the bugs and evaluating the technology. The growth chambers themselves, created by the Wisconsin company Orbital Technologies Corporation (ORBITEC), are lightweight and easily stored, with relatively simple watering and lighting systems. Each unit requires little space, but could easily be replicated on a large scale. And unlike its clunky, power-draining predecessors, the whole setup requires about as much energy as a desktop computer. “It’s really an ingenious little system,” she says.

As space travel becomes increasing a public-private partnership, NASA is not alone in testing out food programs. “We can’t afford to keep shipping water, oxygen and Kraft dinner to the moon indefinitely,” says Mike Dixon, one of the foremost researchers on grow-your-own-space-food. Dixon is a professor at the University of Guelph in Ontario, and his program is looking at the viability of longer-term crops, like soybeans. Other efforts are focusing on vertical farming design; some researchers are replicating Mars-like conditions on Earth, like the South Pole.

For Massa, this is the realization of a decades-old dream. As a teenager in Florida, she was both a member of her local Future Farmers of America chapter and — like many kids of the ’80s — a space superfan. Her career path was shaped early by a teacher of hers who attended a NASA educational program called “Energize the Green Machine,” speculating on the future of space farming.

Now, after devoting a life to getting here, Massa is on the brink of space farming’s launch.

She mulls over the implications. “Do I think this could hold the keys to our future?” she asks, then pauses. “Yes, I suppose I do.”

Diary of a Space Zucchini

Don Pettit’s Space Zucchini had two friends in space, Broccoli and Sunflower. They loved to pal around. As you can tell, the astronaut’s relationship to his budding garden was quite intimate. From the blog:

March 26: I have new leaves! I am no longer naked to the cosmos. They are not as big as before however they are just as green. Broccoli and Sunflower have leaves as well and are vibrant. We all have happy roots. This is a hard (sic) to explain to a non-plant, but I am feeling very zucchini now.

June 6
: Last night we observed a little black spot on the Sun…Gardener and his crewmates observed the little black spot move across the Sun through a special filter. Sunflower, Broccoli, and I can look directly at the sun with no filter. We all were smiling.

June 9
: Great news; I have a baby brother sprout! Gardener just showed me baby Zuc. He is strong and healthy and ready to move from the sprouter into his own aeroponic bag. While Broccoli and Sunflower are great companions, there is nothing quite like having a zucchini to zucchini conversation.

June 17: 
Excitement is in the air. Gardener said we will soon be returning to Earth. Our part of the mission is nearly complete and the new crew will take over for us. I am a bit worried about Broccoli, Sunflower, and me. If Gardener leaves, who will take care of us? And what about little Zuc? He is now a big sprout and ready to branch out on his