Product of the Month: January

Purple Sage Farms is a family owned and operated organic farm in Middleton, Idaho. They grow fresh herbs, greens, and specialty produce in greenhouses and also raise grass-fed, hormone- and-antibiotic-free sheep, goats and cattle. Tim Sommer and Tamara Sloviaczek started the operation in 1988.

Michael Sommers recently launched Purple Sage Brewing Company. He makes fermented teas called Kombucha from their garden fresh, organic herbs. Jenny and I recently went out to Purple Sage Farms and talked with Michael about the process by which his family grows their herbs and he makes his tea. You can see that interview here.

Michael wrote this article for us:

“Purple Sage Farms was started by my parents, Tim Sommer and Tamara Sloviaczek, a little over 20 years ago when I was about four. They were one of the first organic farms certified by the state of Idaho. Since the beginning they have focused on small scale farming of niche food crops for restaurants and home cooks in Idaho. Our greenhouse operation grows all the culinary herbs from basil to epazote, specialty greens and salad mixes, and hardy cold-weather greens like kale. This past year we added products like dried herbs for cooking seasonally and tea herbs. This fall I started Purple Sage Brewing Company which brews a fermented tea called kombucha using those dried herbs.”

“The way we grow food on our farm takes a lot of shovel, hoe and wheelbarrow work; a stark contrast to all the conventional agriculture around us. We take time for every square foot of greenhouse space, preparing the soil, planting seeds and pulling weeds all by hand, and this makes quality ingredients for delicious meals. A person who consumes food from an operation like ours gets more nutrition from the freshly harvested plants and they contribute to a food system that has a smaller carbon footprint. Small family farms like ours help the consumers have a close personal connection with their meals and they become enlightened and involved in where the food comes from. With this strong producer consumer relationship we all become members of a community that can support itself for generations.”

“The Kombucha tea I brew is strongly influenced by the way we grow herbs and raise our animals at Purple Sage Farms. Kombucha is a large and diverse group of yeast and bacteria, with very disparate ways of communicating and interacting, which ferments tea to produce a living effervescent beverage.”

“I see brewing kombucha like I see organic agriculture. I create an environment for a particular group of organisms to thrive and when they reach the intended point in their life cycle they are harvested. However the organic agriculture that I practice is different from today’s conventional agriculture because I let a larger group of organisms do the work of growing the crop for harvest. Insects, fungi, animals, microbes and plants that are not the crops themselves all play a part in the growth of our herbs and greens on Purple Sage Farms. By allowing for these groups to interplay and grow with the crops we humans do less work per pound of product in terms of calories burned. When one of these groups of organisms is taken out of the system the ecological cycles become disconnected and humans have to fill the gap by burning fossil fuels and implementing experimental technologies with impacts that have not been fully realized, intended or accounted for.”

“Making Kombucha requires inputs from plants to make the tea and sugar, microbes to ferment the tea, and humans to bring them together and maintain the cooperation. An herbal tea is made with our dried herbs and sugar is added. The sugar is the material that dictates the attributes of subsequent microbial growth. Out of the hundreds of types of yeast and bacteria in the tea culture, kombucha, just a few start the process of breaking down sugars into cellulose. The pancake of cellulose that is made seals off the surface of the tea from the air and it is the first defense against wild spoilage organisms in the air. The cellulose also changes the environment in the tea by regulating the flow of gases into the liquid solution so that certain other microbes in kombucha can begin to thrive as the initial microbes become less prominent.”

“Different microbe populations naturally increase and decrease during fermentation in kombucha, based on changes in the nutrient profile and also because of signals from other microbes in the tea. There is an intricate system of communication and environmental assessment by these microbes and this is what helps this system persist. As the amount of different nutrients in the tea change, alcohol is produced as a waste product of metabolism in certain microbes. That waste is the food for hundreds of other types of bacteria and they turn most of the alcohol into many different organic acids, one being acetic acid which is vinegar. In the end the tea gets high amounts of many different weak organic acids which prevent spoilage and give the tea a bright effervescent quality. Residual sugar and a strong herbal infusion of plants like basil, lemongrass, or stinging nettle balance the acidity created by fermentation. The result is a powerful living beverage that stimulates your senses and can aid in digestion, liver function, and help to increase the diversity and balance of microorganisms in a human body.”

“Some microbes thrive at certain times during fermentation and then naturally diminish as conditions become optimal for other microbes in the tea. When one type of microbe dominates the tea, and its growth is not curtailed at some point, the tea is considered spoiled and not edible. It will not taste good and if you drink the tea those spoilage organisms will try to become dominant in your body and this makes you sick. To me, Kombucha is a microcosm where we can watch how the ecology of a living system changes with different environmental factors. We can easily see which methods of production allow for diversity and lead to abundance. Each organism has its own role to fulfill and place and time to grow, and it is the communication and coexistence of all the different organisms in the system that makes them all thrive together.”

GMO Free Idaho would like to thank Purple Sage Farms and Michael for taking the time to show us around their property and to talk about their farming practices. Purple Sage Farms works hard to preserve natural and organic farming practices and to provide the freshest, cleanest, and most sustainable foods to the Treasure Valley. Support Purple Sage and other local farms, they depend on us as much as we depend on them!

Read more at their website purplesagefarms.com. You can purchase Michael’s tea from the Boise Co-Op or at the Capital City Farmers Market.

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