Dr. Cara Haney
Dr. Cara Haney

Biography – Dr. Cara Haney is an Assistant Professor in the department of Microbiology and Immunology and Michael Smith Labs at the University of British Columbia. Dr. Haney’s research focuses on interactions between beneficial plant-associated microbes (the “microbiome”) and plant growth and disease resistance. She received her B.S. in Plant Science from Cornell University and her Ph.D. in Cell and Molecular Biology from Stanford.  She worked at Harvard as a postdoc developing a model system to study plant-microbiome interactions prior to joining the UBC faculty in 2016. Dr. Haney holds the Canada Research Chair in plant-microbiome interactions.

Presentation Title – Utilizing the plant microbiome to protect sprouts from human pathogens
Description – Plants normally associate with a complex community of microbes (their “microbiome”) that assist with nutrient uptake and can protect them from plant pathogens. Removing microbes from seeds and soil results in increased plant vulnerability to stochastic colonization by environmental microbes that are poorly adapted to plants. We have found that removing the native microbes by sanitizing sprouting seeds leaves them vulnerable to invasion by poorly-adapted microbes including Salmonella. We have identified individual members of the endogenous plant microbiome that have direct antimicrobial activity against Salmonella.  Our ongoing work is focused on developing a defined community of beneficial microbes that can protect plants from human pathogens to be used in sprout and greenhouse production.

Kaiping Deng
Kaiping Deng

Fouad Teymour, Chemical and Biological Engineering, and Kaiping Deng, Mehdi Azizinia, and Kathiravan Krishnamurthy, Food Science and Nutrition, Illinois Institute of Technology

Presentation Title  Kinetic Hydroponics: A Novel Sustainable Engineering Solution for Safe Sprouting at Laboratory and Industrial Scales

Description – Our group has conceptualized and developed a novel technology for sprouting, termed KineticHydroponics, that uses a full-immersion analog of hydroponic technology for the production of sprouts from seeds, grains, and beans. The development of more efficient and safer processes for sprouting at all scales remains of heightened interest because of the severe shortage of food and the spread of malnutrition in many areas around the world, the current emphasis of public interest on healthy nutrition, and the public scare of pathogenic food safety problems.

Typically, hydroponic methods focus on providing a moist, nutrient-rich, environment to the roots of the growing sprout while keeping the leaves in an atmospheric air environment that provides carbon dioxide and oxygen. On the contrary, “Kinetic Hydroponics” is a technique in which the entire plant, from the time it is a seed to when it becomes a harvestable sprout, is fully immersed in the aqueous medium. Kinetic Hydroponics uses airlift technology to grow the sprouts in transparent vessels containing water that is continuously aerated using an air distributor connected to an air pump. The distributor is designed to deliver a mix of large and fine air bubbles to achieve good mixing as well as efficient gas exchange. Sprouts remain suspended in a three-phase aqueous mixture of air, water, and plant solids that is fluidized under the action of continuous aeration. This technique not only provides efficient, controlled and simple ways for providing nutrition, carbon dioxide and sunlight to the growing sprouts, but also offers additional advantages including the ability to implement a controllable process for continuous disinfection and prevention of pathogenic activity, simplicity of operation, minimal need for supervision and, most importantly for the industrial scale, the minimization of the spatial footprint of the process.

The presentation will discuss laboratory scale results obtained in 64-oz devices to explore various design and productivity aspects of Kinetic Hydroponics including sprout yield, sprout characteristics, and microbial cfu counts measured at various points in time. A strategy for scale-up to modular industrial installations will also be discussed.

Brittany Sperber

Biography – My name is Brittany Sperber. I have been working in the food industry for more than 10 years. I grew up in Westchester County, New York where I first began working with food as a short order cook in a deli. In 2013, I received a Bachelor of Arts in Environmental Studies from the University of Vermont.

As an undergraduate, Sustainable Agriculture, Access to Food, and Hunger were the prime focus of my studies. I have continued this work at the Skinny Pancake, a Farm to Table restaurant group based in Burlington VT, where I have worked the past 6 years.  I began my career as a cook and have since became a manager, a local food sourcing specialist, and community outreach coordinator. I have developed skills deep and wide within our business, and have become what we like to call a swiss army knife of the food industry.

The Skinny Pancake gained momentum in the Vermont food scene and has emerged as a leader in local sourcing over the past ten years. It is under my direct supervision that the company has expanded its connections with local vendors and increased the percentage of local food purchased by nearly ten percent in under seven years. I have vast experience sourcing product, preparing meals for large parties, organizing kitchens, opening new brick and mortar restaurant locations, and directing staff in both Front of House and Back of House operations. I work closely with the company’s leadership and executive chef, local farmers, and community members to increase the percentage of local, sustainable food we purchase annually, and provide the most delicious, affordable, and nutritious options to our guests.

Abstract – “From the perspective of a local food buyer”

Major questions for the group –

How does the local food movement relate to sprouts?

In Vermont when someone thinks of local food it depends on what time of year you’re asking. Root vegetables dominate the local food scene during winter months because it is too cold or expensive to grow much else and store it properly. In summer, on the other hand, the scene is flush with tomatoes, peppers, and fresh greens.

Sprouts are a crop whose distribution and consumption should be encouraged on a local level due to the nature of its shelf life. They have 10-12 days of life once grown, but are also grown rapidly from seed to sprout and so vendors and growers can respond quickly to market demand.

Sprouts demonstrate a nutritionally dense, easy to grow food that falls in line with values of the local food movement. The local food movement aims to encourage production and purchasing of food that harnesses natural soil microbiology –  in other words, encouraging healthy soils that make healthy food – with as little inputs as possible.

What does a purchaser look for in a vendor or a product?

A purchaser looking for a new crop would look first at regulations/credentials in the market (this is more typical with meat) as well as price, diversity of use, shelf life, and opportunities for preservation. If a new restaurant chose to purchase sprouts, they would want to try the product first (sample) and have a trial period where they had a small amount commitment and could make an informed decision.

Generally, purchasers like to make as few phone calls as possible when placing orders. It is ideal if growers sell through a distributor that is widely used and familiar to purchasers. In many cases, however, the distributor imposes fees that make produce more costly to a buyer and return less to the grower.

Labels for organic, humanely certified, non-GMO, etc. are becoming increasingly important to purveyors. Anything marketable in a menu is helpful as it educates consumers about the quality of the food and can help justify pricing.

Where does a purchaser start their research?

In Vermont, the native buying list provided by BRP, the major local produce distributor in the state,  is an incredibly helpful tool. Large institutions and most chefs receive this weekly email that highlights what is currently local, what is below market average price, and what is available in high volumes. If a grower self distributes, ease of communication is very important to busy chefs and restaurants. Digital communication via text and email is great, phone calls are as well if the grower answers consistently and is quick on the draw.

Other outlets include similar networks, such as NOFA which provides a yearly booklet that lists all farms and the products they offer. A resource like this would be used by chefs who would cold call a farmer or look up their website to see their offerings.

Often, a grower approaches a business. Arriving at a restaurant during off-peak business hours with samples, price lists and business cards is key. Cold calls can also help. Discounts for large orders, or for referring to another business, are some ways to increase sales.

Why do some growers stand out over others?

Quality of product is obvious. Quality of communication in terms speed and readiness, and reliability, are key. Willingness to negotiate price – especially when buying in bulk. Openness to trying new seeds and varieties.