September 21, 2013

Fermentation a popular topic at Common Ground Fair

The keynote speaker touts the process as a way of preserving locally produced foods.

By DOUG HARLOW Morning Sentinel

UNITY – Bread, cheese, coffee, beer and yogurt all have one thing in common -- they are fermented from common bacteria.

click image to enlarge

Sandor Katz, author of "Wild Fermentation: The Flavor, Nutrition and Craft of Live Culture Food," speaks during the keynote address at the Common Ground County Fair in Unity on Friday.

Staff photo by Michael G. Seamans

click image to enlarge

Sandor Katz, author of "Wild Fermentation: The Flavor, Nutrition and Craft of Live Culture Food," speaks during the keynote address at the Common Ground County Fair in Unity on Friday.

Staff photo by Michael G. Seamans

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Bacteria is good.

It's good for the immune system when battling infection in the body and it's good in digestion and in the preservation of food in the form of fermentation.

The process brings to mind Asian kimchi and sauerkraut.

That was part of the message at the Common Ground Country Fair on Friday from Sandor Katz, an author and fermentation expert who spoke on fermentation and food relocalization.

In fact, said Katz, the bacteria produced in the protective environment of a woman's reproductive system is a lot like a crock of sauerkraut.

"You have this acidic environment that is protective," Katz told a group of a couple hundred listeners Friday. "It prevents the growth of the kind of organisms which could impede with our ability to reproduce like it prevents the growth of food poisoning on the sauerkraut and makes it safe food."

Hearing Katz talk about bacteria and the female reproductive system, one woman seated near the stage tapped her belly with approval.

"He compared a woman's reproductive system to a crock of sauerkraut and I found that both amusing and actually rather enlightening," said Cynthia Baker of Westport Island, near Wiscasset. "There is absolutely an element of ongoing fermentation and the creative fertility associated with bringing a fetus to birth, but a more complex seat of fertility in the belly."

Katz, author of "The Art of Fermentation," "Wild Fermentation: The Flavor, Nutrition and Craft of Live-Culture Food," and "The Revolution Will Not Be Microwaved," said harnessing the power of microorganisms through fermentation is the ancient art of preventing decomposition of foods to preserve them for use later, which helped to develop civilization.

Simple, he said. The fermentation process represents survival.

It is something that is done all over the world from making crude cheese to curing meats. The process predates canning, refrigeration and freezing to preserve food.

"All of the things that make up our food -- all of the plants, all of the animals and animal products -- are covered with microorganisms," he said. "Fermentation is the primary method of preservation. It makes foods more stable for long-term storage and therefore more valuable for trade and makes food more delicious and digestible and nutritious."

Simon Frost, of Thirty Acre Farm in Whitefield, said Katz was preaching to the choir Friday when it comes to his farm and fermentation. He said he ferments red and white cabbage for sauerkraut and Kimchi, juniper berry and jalepeno for sauerkraut, ginger-carrot combo and beet kvass, or fermented beet root.

Katz said Americans have moved away from raising their own food in the last few decades and rely on transportation of food from central growing locations that are far away. The problem with that is the food often is treated with chemicals, is less fresh, less nutritious, less tasty and contributes to pollution because it is moved over long distances by trucks.

Fermentation is one of the answers for people who want to eat locally produced food, he said. Katz calls it the relocalization of food.

"Fermentation is an essential element of any strategy for food relocalization," he said. "We need to reclaim our food and this has spawned a new generation of farmers, which is really exciting and is seen in more home gardens and school gardens, farmers markets and community supported agriculture. And the key to this is fermentation."

Kristen Oberhauser Bishop of Palermo said she has been a fan of Katz for a long time and has learned to augment her diet using preservation methods found in his books.

"He is the expert in this country on fermentation," she said. "I make lacto-fermented beans, kimchi and sauerkraut. I really didn't think about bread being fermented, but he said that today and I said, of course -- yeast."

Aimee Perrin of York said 95 percent of her diet comes from local food. Hearing Katz speak about preserving food reinforces that commitment, she said.

"Fermentation allows me to eat local foods all year long," Perrin said. "Just about any vegetable I find at the market I ferment."

The fair, Maine's annual three-day celebration of farming and rural living continues from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and until 5 p.m. Sunday. Admission is $10 for adults, $8 for those 64 and older. Parking is free.

Saturday is expected to be sunny with highs approaching 70 degrees.

Doug Harlow can be contacted at 612-2367, or at

dharlow@mainetoday.com 

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