Wolfe’s Neck Center for Agriculture & the Environment in Freeport has placed itself at the crossroads of farming and big data.

The nonprofit is focused on improving the soil as a way to address climate change and grow healthier food to boot. Taylor Abbott/The Forecaster

Scientists at the 600-acre, research-focused farm, formerly known as Wolfe’s Neck Farm, have spearheaded a technological effort called OpenTEAM, or Open Technology Ecosystem for Agricultural Management. The project, on the drawing board since 2017 but formally launched earlier this month with the help of the University of New Hampshire, Stonyfield Organic, the USDA and the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research, links silos of data relating to soil conditions worldwide – think long-term climate data, topological maps, rotational crop information.

OpenTEAM defines how that data can be uniformly shared, and its protocols let technology companies build tools that mine the data across the silos to help food producers make better decisions about how, when and where to plant their crops to improve the health and production efficiency of their soil.

One potential killer app enabled by these data connections, researchers say, is climate change mitigation. From a smartphone, OpenTEAM-enabled applications can help any food producer – from backyard gardeners and dairy farmers in Maine to large-scale lettuce growers in southern California – sink carbon dioxide into the soil. Healthy soil hosts busy arrays of organisms ranging from single-celled bacteria and micro-arthropods to myriad insects and expanding root systems. Plants use only 40 to 60 percent of the sugars they produce through photosynthesis. The remaining carbs go to feed this underground, carbon-sucking ecosystem.

The more healthy soil fostered by food producers, the more carbon gets pulled out of the atmosphere. “These data-driven tools will change agriculture from being a net source of emissions into a net sink of emissions,” said Stonyfield Organic’s co-founder, Gary Hirshberg.

The second potential killer app enabled by soil data mining could affect all eaters, Wolfe’s Neck research director Dorn Cox said. It offers the opportunity to grow more nutritionally dense food in an expanding mass of carbon-rich, thriving soil, he says. Whether food grown in carbon-rich, organic matter has more vitamins, minerals, and micronutrients than conventionally farmed food has long been a subject of debate.

“There have been a million little studies that look at this question from every type of angle. But there is no one overarching conclusion about which bionutrients are present across different foods produced using different farming methods,” said Greg Austic of the Real Food Project, a science-based organization looking to identify the best ways to drive increased nutrient density in our food supply, specifically through a better understanding of soil health, food quality, human health and their connections.

The nonprofit Real Food Project is in its second year of testing the nutritional density of carrots and spinach grown at partner farms around the United States. This year’s round of testing has expanded to include grapes, cherries, lettuce and kale. The team uses hand-held sensor devices to measure the nutrition value of all samples with, it says, 75 percent accuracy. Austic and his team then compare the nutritional data to data about the soil in which each fruit or vegetable was grown.

Last year’s research showed a wide variation in the antioxidants, polyphenols and minerals in both the carrots and spinach, but because the organization did not have access to enough data about the soil, it could not definitively link soil health to nutritionally dense food. The hitch? Taking and testing soil samples is both time-consuming and costly for farmers.

Enter OpenTEAM-enabled tools. At the Wolfe’s Neck Farm event, Yale graduate student Dan Kane showed off a 5-inch spectrometer that assessed the carbon levels in soil based on its coloring and transmitted the information to an app on his phone. Kane’s data can then be shared with other OpenTEAM tools, like, say, the one Austic’s team is using.

This simple soil-sampling process could result in more farmers participating in Real Food Project testing to help solidify the link between soil health and healthier food.

And that’s the kind of data many eaters easily could digest.

CHRISTINE BURNS RUDALEVIGE is a food writer, recipe developer and tester and cooking teacher in Brunswick, and the author of “Green Plate Special,” a cookbook from Islandport based on these columns. Contact her at [email protected]

Carrot-Ginger Pie. A new app showcased recently at Wolfe’s Neck Center for Agriculture & the Environment could help farmers grow healthier carrots. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Carrot-Ginger Pie

This is a recipe I pulled from “The Book of Old Tarts.” You can serve it as a dessert, as you would a pumpkin pie. Or you can cut the sugar in half and serve it as a side dish for a roast pork. You certainly don’t need to brulee the finished pie, but it does add a nice, crackly touch.

Serves 8

1 single pie crust, rolled out, fitted into a 9-inch pie plate, crimped at the edges and chilled

1 1/2 pounds carrots, peeled and sliced in 1-inch rounds (about 2 cups)

2-inch knob fresh ginger, peeled and sliced into 1/2-inch rounds

3/4 cup sugar

3/4 cup lite coconut milk

2 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

4 tablespoons superfine sugar (for brulee )

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

Combine carrots and ginger with 6 cups of water in a medium saucepan. Place over medium high heat and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until the carrots are fork tender, about 12 minutes. Drain and set vegetables aside to cool slightly.

Use a fork to poke holes in the bottom of the chilled pie crust. Blind bake the crust for 5 minutes. Remove from the oven and set it aside to make the filling.

Combine the cooked carrots, and ginger, sugar, coconut milk, eggs and vanilla. Blend until the mixture is silky smooth. Pour into the par-baked pie shell and slide the pie into the oven. Bake for 10 minutes. Reduce the heat to 350 degrees F and bake until the pie is just set in the middle, 30-35 minutes. Remove the pie from the oven, cool to room temperature and chill for 2 hours.

When ready to serve, sprinkle 2 tablespoons superfine sugar evenly over the top of the pie. Move a small kitchen blowtorch back and forth across the sugar until caramelized. Repeat with remaining 2 tablespoons sugar, making a second caramelized layer, and serve immediately.

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