• Picks of the Week!
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    Chocolate Fantasy 2013, March 1, 7 p.m.
    Join the Arts Center, at Corvallis’ CH2M Hill Alumni Center, in celebrating 50 years of integrating art into the community through their exhibits and outreach programs for all ages! This year’s Chocolate Fantasy promises an evening of gourmet chocolatiers, music, a silent auction, wine and hors d’oeuvres. For information and to buy tickets, visit http://theartscenter.net.

     

     

    Celebrate Block 15′s 5th Anniversary, March 2, All day
    It’s been five years since the doors first opened at Block 15—they would like to thank their wonderful customers and the Corvallis community for their support, and their amazing staff for all of their hard work and dedication. Taste a couple gems from Block 15’s wild cellar and an Anniversary burger. Enjoy live music with Bon Ton Roulet (9:30pm, no cover), and complimentary Nebula Stout Brownies!

     

    Blue Skies Ahead: Ocean’s 50th Birthday Celebration at Fireworks! March 6, 4 – 11 p.m.
    The night kicks off with an Art Gallery Opening and Cosmic Rap by Artist & Permaculture Wizard Alan Kapular.  Enjoy a fabulous showcase of music, poetry & dance featuring Mahogany Driftwood, Karl Smiley, Ryan McGovern Band, and many more, and a grand finale by Gabriel Surley & Unstable Atmospheres. For more information, visit http://www.fireworkscorvallis.com.

     

    Animal Wise: The Thoughts and Emotions of our Fellow Creatures, March 7, 7 p.m.
    Animal Wise  at OSU’s LaSells Stewart Center takes us on a dazzling odyssey into the inner world of animals. Virginia Morell probes the moral and ethical dilemmas  in recognizing that even “lesser animals”   have cognitive abilities such as  memory, feelings, personality, and self-awareness—traits that many in the twentieth century felt were unique   to human beings.

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  • It’s Ocean’s 50th at Fireworks Restaurant: Music, Dancing, and Art by Alan Kapuler
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    For those Corvallisites who crave local eats and fine food and drink, get ready to celebrate—March 6th is Fireworks Restaurant proprietor Ocean Liff-Anderson’s 50th birthday! Come enjoy a huge variety of food, music, and entertainment, from country songs to belly dancing, with Mahogany Driftwood, Karl Smiley, Ryan McGovern Band, Holm Free, Chris Gray, Krusty, Bodarc Bestvina, Ben Small, Janelle, Kailyn, Wild Iris, Tribal Bellydance, and a grand finale by Gabriel Surley & Unstable Atmospheres.

    Local organic seed guru and artist Dr. Alan Kapuler will be on site from 4 – 6 p.m., hanging a new collection of his stunning paintings inspired by the likes of Picasso and Alan Venet.

    “Alan does some pretty amazing artwork,” said Ocean, in praise of Kapuler’s creations. “He connects all the parts of the world.”

    Dr. Kapuler will perform a Cosmic Rap about our food system, the issue of GMOs, ancient root vegetables, hedge rows of blueberries in all city and county parks, and more.

    Donations will be also accepted at the event for the Zach Konowalchuk Music Trust. Konowalchuck was a highly talented and supremely well-loved local fiddler who passed away last year at the age of 24. Founded in his honor, the Trust benefits music students and the arts.

    Ocean’s birthday celebration event will take place at Corvallis’ Fireworks Restaurant on Wednesday, March 6th. The Art Gallery opening will run from 4 – 6 p.m., with music and entertainment from 6 – 11 p.m. Don’t miss the chance to listen to Dr. Kapuler discuss our local food system, and wish Ocean a happy birthday!

    by Genevieve Weber

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  • Peace Seedlings: Andean Roots Take Hold in Corvallis
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    While the warm winter season has seemed odd to many of us, it’s been a great boon for some of Corvallis’ root vegetables—including some more unusual species trans-located here from South America’s Andes  Mountain regions. Armed with a prolific harvest of these new-to-us Andean tubers, Dylana Kapuler and Mario DiBenedetto, founders of local organic seed suppliers, growers and breeders, Peace Seedlings, are in the process of introducing significantly greater variety into our local diet—a movement they hope will be perpetuated throughout the Pacific Northwest and beyond.

    Peace Seedlings is a second-generation Corvallis company, evolved from Peace Seeds, started by Dr. Alan Kapuler and his wife Linda. Peace Seeds was born when the couple began replanting the seeds from their expansive garden each year. Their seed collection now contains 10,000 to 15,000 samples, many grown in their own plots, and some the product of wildcrafting, or collecting seeds from the natural world. Peace Seedlings, like Peace Seeds, employs entirely organic cultivation and collection methods, including composting, crop rotation, biodiversity in planting, and a complete avoidance of synthetics and poisons. And, thanks to the weather, fertile soils, incredibly hard work, and probably some great karma, this year’s Peace Seedlings Andean root crop harvest has been the most prolific yet.

    Andean Tubers of the Willamette Valley

    Have you ever marveled at the stunning biodiversity of our beautiful, blue-green planet—only to experience overwhelming boredom on a nightly basis at the monotonous components of your own dinner? Alan Kapuler firmly believes that both our local ecosystem and our personal nutrition can be enhanced by introducing into

    our daily diets crops whose niches are currently monopolized by a single plant—think potatoes, tomatoes, and grains including common corn. Often these unusual crops boast unique and alluring flavors, gorgeous colors, and distinct nutritional profiles.

    “There is this possibility of other food plants that we don’t know about,” noted Dylana Kapuler. “There are all these different root vegetables in different families—really diverse, instead of having all your plants closely related, like potatoes and tomatoes and all these things.”

    “[The Andean peoples] picked food plants that were prolific and productive because they couldn’t go to the store and they didn’t have much meat—it was a very profound agriculture,” added Dr. Kapuler. “The greatest root-based agriculture in the world.”

     

    Yacon (Smallanthus sonchifolius)

    The yacon tuber visually resembles a potato or yam, but its texture and taste is entirely its own—plus you can eat it raw.

    “After you dig them up, they turn a darker red and get even sweeter,” said DiBenedetto. “They’re really good on salads and just by themselves.”

    Linda Kapuler compares the crunch of a yacon to a water chestnut, but juicier and sweeter. With its low levels of sugar, it’s an excellent choice for a sweet, nutritive snack.

    “You can juice the tubers and cook them down, not even that much, and it makes a molasses, very similar in color and consistency, probably even more nutritional,” added DiBenedetto, “especially since the sugars are mostly inulin, which promotes probiotic growth in your gut.”

    Stored properly, yacon crowns can be harvested each year and replanted. Peace Seedlings anticipates that these tubers will only grow in popularity, as they’ve been doing exponentially for the past five to ten years.

    “It’s one of the most productive tuberous plants you can grow,” said DiBenedetto. “It’s a five- to six-month growing season; you plant it in the spring and harvest in the fall, a little longer than potatoes.”

     

    Mashua (Tropaeolum tuberosum)

    Mashua is another highly proliferative South American root crop (the tubers can comprise up to 75 percent of the plant’s dry weight) that grows without abandon in our Oregon climate. It also sports a beautiful—and edible—flower that you may recognize: mashua is in fact a tuberous-rooted nasturtium.

    While many of the Andean root crops seem relatively impervious to Oregon’s potato-related pests and diseases (mashua, like wasabi and horseradish, contains pest-resisting isothiocyanates), some have not escaped the notice of gophers and other root-loving garden critters. So how does Peace Seedlings produce such a beautiful, blemish-free harvest?

    “Mashua is hot!” explained Dr. Kapuler. “In South America, they grow all of these in the same bed because mashua tubers prevent the rodents from coming into the beds; they don’t eat the mashua at all.”

     

     

    Oca (Oxalis tuberosa)

    A staple in Peruvian and Bolivian diets, oca tubers grow in a stunning diversity of colors, and, like other Andean root crops, they grow prolifically in the Willamette Valley’s ecosystem.

    “They’re smaller, but they definitely put off more tubers than a potato, and this has been one of our best growing seasons for them,” said DiBenedetto, as he and Dylana Kapuler unearthed an impressive mound of the tubers.

    But don’t dig them too early in the season—you can harvest oca tubers as late as November or early December.

    “They start tuberizing at the end of October or so, but they hold on until winter,” said DiBenedetto.

    “You can interplant these with things that don’t live as long,” added Dylana Kapuler. “They live longer than most of your garden plants, and they’ll still be green.”

    Eaten raw, oca has a distinct crunchy texture that works great in salads—cooked, the tubers are soft like a potato. Oca also has a diversity of flavors from sweet to tangy, and it’s easier to prepare than a potato: eat it raw, boiled, or mashed, no peeling required.

     

    Mauka (Mirabilis expansa)

    Mauka is certainly one of the most obscure of the Andean root crops, having only been “re-discovered” outside of Bolivia, Peru, and Ecuador in the 1960’s and 1970’s.

    “This is the first time we’ve had seeds—this is the root, and the tops here are edible,” said Dr. Kapuler. “It’s one of the rarest food plants known… It took 20 years to get seeds for this plant.”

    Most parts of this plant are edible—leaves (which can be cooked or eaten raw in salads), stems, and especially the roots. The roots are often described as a tasty mix between potatoes, parsnips, and sweet potatoes.

    Perhaps best of all, mauka grows extraordinarily rapidly, with extensive root mass—as shown by the success of Peace Seedlings after only one year—and the plants themselves can grow over one meter in height within a season.

    An invaluable tome of Andean root crop knowledge, dive into Lost Crops of the Incas: Little-Known Plants of the Andes with Promise for Worldwide Cultivation (published by The National Academies Press in 1989) for more information.

    As described by Dr. Kapuler, “It’s the original reference to all of this, besides the people and their culture.”

    You can find Peace Seedlings’ yacon tubers at Corvallis’ First Alternative Co-op, and their yacon and oca at Sundance, Kiva, and The Corner Market in Eugene. For a list of local organic seeds offered by Peace Seeds, visit http://peaceseedslive.blogspot.com.  To grow your own Andean tubers, email peaceseedlings@yahoo.com, or call 541-752-0421.

    by Genevieve Weber

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  • Alan Kapuler: Ecological Sanity in an Era of Corporate Monoculture
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    Dr.  Alan Kapuler, founder of the Corvallis organic seed company Peace Seeds, believes that biodiversity must be cherished and protected if we are to survive as a species. His love of plants has been lifelong, since his childhood studying orchids (he still has an entire greenhouse dedicated to them), and he has devoted his life to the protection of plant biodiversity. Upon meeting him, his genius is obvious—he’s one of those rare individuals who knows so much about so very much, and he’s passionate about all of it.

     

    When I met Dr. Kapuler at Brown’s Garden, a local three-acre research farm where he and his family organically breed and study a vast array of—sometimes unusual—edible and ornamental plants, he asked,

    “How old are you?”

    “I’m 28,” I replied.

    “No,” said Dr. Kapuler, “you’re billions of years old.”

    He went on to explain that our genetic code is derived in part from simple, single-celled organisms that lived billions of years ago. And energy and mass are conserved in the Universe—every atom of every person, insect, and plant has been in existence for billions of years. In other words, all life on Earth is interconnected.

    The biodiversity of an ecosystem is a measure of its health—the number of different species of plants, animals, fungi, protists, and prokaryotes present in a puddle of water, a vast prairieland, an entire continent, or the whole of Earth can give you an idea of its state of wellness. Given that the current rate of species extinction is greater now than ever before in human history, human beings appear to be entering a new era of self-induced homogeneity. The foods we eat in the U.S. are more often than not shipped from China or South America, or at least from distant parts of the nation. It’s all the same—bananas, milk, oranges, rice, burgers, macaroni and cheese—and most of it is processed or treated with chemical pesticides, preservatives, and flavorings. In regions formerly rich with a huge diversity of life, there is now only rice, bananas, wheat, or cows.

    For many of us, tragically, it’s always been this way, and it feels normal. But while some are content to face the threat of uniformity by buying local, organic foods and perhaps planting an edible garden, both thoughtful and sustainable practices, for Dr. Kapuler that’s not nearly enough.

    Dr. Kapuler’s early achievements are both exceptional and prolific—at age 15 he won the Westinghouse National Science Talent Search for his experiments developing mutations in orchids. A Yale undergraduate, he entered college at age 16. He graduated first in his class, and his honors thesis earned him the highest grade ever granted by the university. He earned his doctorate in molecular biology at the prestigious Rockefeller University, and went on to study with the top researchers in his field, including future Nobel Prize-winner Dr. Howard Temin.

    But Dr. Kapuler grew increasingly troubled by trends in mainstream science.

    “The problem is in the way the funding, the grants, the science is used for private gain and for control,” he said.

    Among other fundamental issues, he believes that while genetically modified organisms (GMOs) could provide tremendous benefit to humanity—envision growing avocado-like fruits on trees adapted to colder temperate zones—we’re going about it all wrong.

    “If we wanted to grow avocados here, that would take some doing but it would really be something.  That’s a different approach—why don’t we do something that would actually support the food system by moving into marginal conditions where we don’t grow any food right now.”

    With exceptions, current plant GMO work focuses mainly on increased yield of a small number of over-produced species (such as corn, soybeans, and canola), as well as pest- and herbicide-resistance in these crops—but we have no idea what ingestion of GMO plants producing chemical pesticides means for the human body.  And consider the case of Percy Schmeiser, a Canadian canola farmer, whom Monsanto sued for patent infringement when trucks bearing their Roundup Ready canola seeds contaminated Schmeiser’s crop—corporate greed at its finest.

    In a 2008 interview with Scott Vlaun of Seeds of Change, Kapuler noted, “If science helped increase the yields of the crops and developed chemical fertilizers and pesticides, then we have a problem because all that is doing is poisoning the water and destroying the soil and poisoning people. That’s not science per se. I do like to believe that science is there to serve humanity, not to exploit it, and that’s possible.”

    Armed with a vast quantity of scientific knowledge and a desire for a healthier, more fulfilling life, Kapuler left his position at the University of Connecticut, packed his belongings, and headed west to Oregon. Here he met his wife, Linda, and together they now have three daughters, Kusra, Eliyrea, and Dylana. The idea for Peace Seeds was born when Dr. Kapuler and his wife began saving seeds from their diverse garden. They realized they could re-plant each year without having to purchase new seeds from large companies (as many of us do each year).

    “We started saving heirlooms,” explained Dr. Kapuler, “we started to grow as much as we could, and then to learn about biological diversity by taking a seed, growing a plant, getting it to mature, harvesting the seeds, and completing the cycle—we’re always working to complete cycles.”

    Peace Seeds, and now Peace Seedlings, a next-generation company fittingly started by Dr. Kapuler’s daughter Dylana and her partner Mario DiBenedetto, have gained international acclaim for their environmentally responsible and organic practices, and their dedication to preserving and improving the biodiversity of local ecosystems. Peace Seeds and Peace Seedlings breed and provide a vast array of public domain organic seeds grown using “ecoadaptive” methods. Such methods are beneficial for the health and biodiversity of the local environment, and include crop rotations, diverse inter-planting, organic soil nutrient replenishment using compost, and complete avoidance of synthetics and chemicals.

    The Kapulers’ hugely diverse seed collection contains somewhere between 10,000 and 15,000 types of seeds, all of which were either produced in the family’s research gardens or collected from various ecosystems throughout the world.  And, unlike commercially available seeds, seeds provided by the Kapulers are not patented—anyone can continue breeding and expanding the lines.

    “We’re putting together an assembly of what will develop to be a sustainable organic food system right here—that’s what our work has been 40 years in doing,” asserted Dr. Kapuler.

    Through Peace Seeds and Peace Seedlings, the Kapulers promote the concepts of public domain plant breeding, wildcrafting (collection of seeds from the local ecosystem), and preservation of heirloom varieties while at the same time growing diversity. Open pollination, an important aspect of public domain plant breeding, increases biodiversity by allowing random pollination of crops through wind, insects, birds, and other pollinators. This produces new plants with greater genetic variability than plants bred using more limiting closed pollination practices, which result in future generations that have the same genetic traits. Some plants self-pollinate, so that even in open pollination conditions the future generations maintain the same genetic traits. However, in plants that can be open pollinated, natural genetic diversity can lead to improved adaptation to the local ecosystem, and natural resistance to disease.

    Through public domain plant breeding, Dr. Kapuler has produced beautiful and highly productive variants of many common (and not-so-common) crops. Wide crosses using, for example, a bushy plant producing large deep purple tomatoes and a vining plant producing small orange tomatoes, lead to grexes (all children of two given parents) with huge variability. This is followed by stringent selection of particular offspring that exhibit interesting or adaptive traits. Dr. Kapuler’s sweet corn kernels are multi-colored—and contain high levels of anthocyanins—rather than entirely white or yellow, and he’s produced sunflower varieties, the results of various crosses, that “flower for several weeks to months longer in our cool wet fall weather.” He’s also discovered a hyper-productive cherry tomato that produces massive numbers of blooms and fruits each season. And when he discovered that no good organic snap vine pea seeds were available, he and his daughter Kusra bred Peace Seeds’ public domain Sugaree Snap Pea, which was the first of many peas to come. These peas and many others are available through Peace Seeds’ catalog, and include such eye-catching varieties as the Sugar Magnolia purple snap vine pea, and the Green Beauty snow vine pea. Like every seed carried by Peace Seeds and Peace Seedlings, they are organically grown and available to all.

    “Monsanto and DuPont and other companies always do conformist breeding, their stuff isn’t interesting” says Dr. Kapuler.  “We have half a dozen fabulous marigolds, and the same with sunflowers—original stuff that I have actively chosen not to patent or own in any way because otherwise you steal what’s everybody’s.”

    While the Kapulers breed plants for interesting or beneficial traits, they also attempt to preserve heirlooms, which are plant varieties that were grown prolifically by our ancestors but are no longer common in modern agriculture. Heirloom varieties benefit from open rather than controlled pollination, and heirloom preservation increases biodiversity—loss of these historical varieties to the current monoculture trends would be devastating. And if you’ve ever savored a deliciously flavorful heirloom tomato from your garden or local farm stand then you understand another value of maintaining such lineages. Commercial tomatoes are now bred for uniformity of shape and color, and resistance to damage over long-distance shipping. As a result, they’ve surrendered much of the vibrant, tangy tomato flavor that is still going strong in heirlooms.

    Dr. Kapuler’s research in Oregon has also focused on the nutritional content of various edible plants. Eating at the primary end of the food chain—plants—would provide the most calories for humans. A single beef cow consumes 10 to 20 times the calories in plant matter that we acquire from the cow by eating meat. Cattle are often fed grains grown in fields that could instead produce vegetables for human consumption. And each pound of meat takes an estimated 2,500 gallons of fresh water to produce, 400 to 600 gallons of which is consumed by the cow itself.

    “If we did not eat so many animals,” said Dr. Kapuler, “we’d have plenty of food.”

    The amino acid content of edible plants is of special interest to Dr. Kapuler, who believes that increased knowledge of nutrition would entirely change—for the better—the way humans think about, value, and cultivate food. Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins; humans use 20 unique amino acids to build all the proteins in our bodies. Some of these amino acids our bodies can make, and some we must consume in our food to remain healthy. If we all knew we could use plants as complete protein sources, would we eat so much meat? After all, free amino acids are free amino acids, and we can use those derived from plants to make our bodies’ proteins just as easily.

    “The diversity of agricultural crop cultivars, from lettuce to carrots to peaches, is a living resource in which to investigate the natural presence of free amino acids. By establishing a database for free amino acids in the cultivars of our common fruits and vegetable plants, we establish a direction for selection of new kinds,” wrote Dr. Kapuler in a 2004 publication on the free amino acids in commonly grown organic produce.

    So which type of tomato, for example, has the most complete amino acid profile, and would provide the best nutrition for humans? As Dr. Kapuler found in studies with Dr. Sarangamat Gurusiddiah, then head of Washington State University’s Bioanalytical Laboratory, “the tomatoes were loaded with free amino acids and there were characteristic differences between the different cultivars.”

    Dr. Kapuler noted further that, “Cultivars of tomatoes augmented in vitamins A and C already exist. We can extend these developments to free amino acids and broaden their scope by putting health and nutrition back in the garden and front-line in agriculture by developing a whole new spectrum of cultivars enhanced in various amino acids.”

    As our population steadily rises and our planet plunges toward homogeneity, it becomes increasingly obvious that we need to reconsider our currently unsustainable approaches to modern agriculture. In this day of high fructose corn syrup, Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, and pink slime, it’s urgent that we take responsibility for our own health and that of the ecosystems on which we depend so heavily for our survival. Support organic, support local, and absolutely support biodiversity.

     

    By Genevieve Weber

     

     

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