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Farm to Table: heart to heart

Me, Mama 'Choke

Hello everyone!  I’m writing you now, officially a mother…to 3,800 baby artichokes!

You may recall from my last post that I am volunteering for an artichoke pilot program while I am here in Chile.  Considering my last attempt at gardening had a success rate of about 15%, I paid close attention to the prepping and planting process.  This is what I’d like to share with you…in hopes that we can all have our own farm to table experience, an herb garden for example – to compliment our full spice rack!

Artichokes are native to Italy and other Mediterranean countries.  Most of the artichokes in the U.S. come from coastal California, which is where our baby ‘chokes were “born.”  With nearly 4,000 miles of coastline, Chile seems an ideal place to grow American varieties of artichokes. Perhaps one day this seasonal vegetable will be available year round – just like blueberries.

We chose the coastal town of La Serena for our vivero (Spanish for nursery).  Here, mornings are foggy, afternoons warm and nights cool.  To give you an idea of the scale of this undertaking, the vivero is about half the length of a football field (Go Saints!) and 18 ft wide.  Our plantlets were grown from tissue cultures and arrived in a refrigerated container packed in Tupperware and secured in a clear jello-like substance called agar.  I spent 4 days inside a 35ºF 40 ft x 10 ft refrigerator, cleaning the agar off the plantlets.   Only the babies with rootlets get planted. Consider these photos the “ESPN highlight reel” of our process.

Construction, Day 1

Our "Vivero"

Prepwork; it's cold in here!

Tunnel or "Cocoon"







Baby plants, just like baby people need a lot of TLC, and like any new parent, we wanted to create an environment where they can grow and prosper.  Our alcachofas (artichokes) will spend their first 3-4 weeks in a long cotton-lined tunnel – I think it looks like the cocoon of a giant moth – a microclimate for transformation within the nursery.  The floor of the tunnel is heated to encourage the roots to divide and lengthen.  There is a fog machine at the mouth of the tunnel exhaling cool mist, which the leaves absorb.  This mist is held in by the cotton walls of the tunnel and is the plantlets sole source of water.  Artichokes are deep rooting, and mature plants can continue to produce for 10 years or more if planted in rich, fertile, well-draining soil.

Using the "Muffin Method" for Soil

I followed a recipe in order to blend the ideal soil.  Combining the peat moss, organic nutrients, and natural fertilizers reminded me of baking gluten-free cakes, breads, and cookies back in Florida.  I actually used the “muffin method” of baking I learned in food production lab at school.  For those of you who don’t know this method, simply form a well in the middle of your dry ingredients and pour the wet ingredients into the well.  Stir only until the ingredients are combined – this is the best method to make muffins, quick breads, and apparently artichoke batter!

The true or globe artichoke is a member of the thistle family.  I had never seen an artichoke flower until this project.  It is actually quite beautiful with a vibrant, large, purple head that looks more like the feathers of an exotic bird than the petals of, let’s face it…a weed!

It's a thistle!

Perhaps the reason I had never seen an artichoke flower is because the part of the plant that we eat is the bud, which necessarily arrives before the flower.  The bud is cone-shaped and made of short, thick-stemmed spiny leaves.  At its core lies the meaty, tender corazon (heart), which is the main source of the vegetable’s flavor and nutrients.  While there are many varieties of artichokes (popular ones include Green Globe, Imperial Star, and Jerusalem), the type we are testing in our nursery have bigger, tastier hearts than the varieties currently growing in Chile. A big corazon is as desirable in artichokes as it is in people, but for different reasons.  Naturally low in calories and fat, artichoke hearts are an excellent source of dietary fiber.  The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans say to consume 25-30 grams of fiber each day and most of us fall short.  One large artichoke contributes 25% to our daily fiber needs.  Artichokes are also a great source of antioxidants and certain vitamins and minerals our bodies need to function (specifically, Zinc, Potassium, Magnesiun, Folate, Vitamin C, and Vitamin K).

Our baby artichokes won’t be harvested this year, so they can grow big and strong.  Artichoke season in Chile starts in July and lasts until December.  Considering it is only February, I’ll be using canned hearts instead of fresh ones. Artichokes have an appealing flavor, but can be intimidating if you are unfamiliar with how to eat them.  I can tell you more about how to prepare fresh artichokes when their season arrives.  For now, choose canned or frozen ‘chokes like me.  They still pack a nutritional punch and are easy to incorporate into salads, couscous, and put a fresh Mediterranean twist on traditional pasta dishes.  Friday I had friends over for dinner, and made the below recipe from Cooking Light Magazine.  I substituted quinoa (naturally gluten-free, delicious, native to this region, and possibly the world’s most nutritious grain) for the couscous.

Try one of them, or both.  If you have any recipes to share please let me know.  From my heart to yours, buen provecho! (good eating/bon appétit!)

Besos, Lacey

Jar of 'Choke Hearts

Couscous with Artichokes, Feta, and Sun-Dried Tomatoes:

And the recipe for Artichoke, Arugula & Prosciutto pizza is what I am making for girl’s night this week:



  He recently helped acadmic writing secure a $3 million matching grant from california to expand the engineering program at dos pueblos high with a new, 12,000-square-foot facility

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Sharon Richter, RD
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Phone: 212.977.7779

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