Friday, June 10, 2011

Basil Goes Green(er)

RainFresh Harvests

Chances are even if you have never heard of RainFresh Harvests, if you live in Central Ohio you have consumed products that were grown there. RainFresh grows a variety of fresh-cut herbs and salad greens served at many Columbus restaurants including Northstar Café, Third and Hollywood, J. Liu, Matt the Miller’s Tavern, Tucci’s, and Z Cucina, just to name a few. Not only are they a local supplier (only 23 miles northwest of Columbus), but the sustainable practices they follow are unprecedented.

Barry Adler, farm owner and green guru, graciously explained to me his business model with his trusty chocolate lab, Jessie, by his side. Barry purchased the property in 1984, and after working for Scott’s for nearly 20 years he decided to focus on his sustainable farming “hobby”. The idea came about in 2003 while attending a sustainability conference at which Kevin Melhame (chef and co-founder of Northstar Café) was also in attendance. Kevin suggested to Barry that he should grow herbs for his new restaurant concept. Barry, with his background in horticulture on his side, optimistically decided to take the advice and began plans to turn his property into the Green Mecca it has become today.

Barry knew he wanted to create an off-the-grid system relying solely on renewable resources. Because the water on the property was full of sodium and not ideal for growing, he began to research rain water collection best practices while also focused on renewable energy sources. While volunteering for Green Energy Ohio (where he is now a full time employee) a grant was introduced that supported his vision. (Yes, this farming hobby of Barry’s is really his second part-time job that demands a lot of him, especially during the summer months when growing outdoors is possible). With the help of the cost sharing grant from the Ohio Department of Development Office of Energy Efficiency, RainFresh Harvests was born. The one-of-a-kind set up opened in 2005 and now includes a Passive Solar Greenhouse, BioIntegrated Greenhouse, an Aquaculture Pond and BioIntensive Field Crops. All of this is made possible by RainFresh’s two main employees: the sun and the wind. These resources provide heat for the greenhouses and electricity to operate the equipment used on the farm.

I followed Barry as he led me on a tour of the property starting with the Passive Solar Greenhouse. This unheated structure was designed to grow crops all season long. Its orientation takes advantage of the suns powerful rays and it is insulated to retain the heat generated during daylight hours. Herbaceous perfumes of sage, thyme, spearmint, rosemary and their main crop of sweet Genovese Basil lured me into this greenhouse. This was an olfactory overload, not to mention beautiful!

The next stop on the tour included the high-tech BioIntegrated Greenhouse powered by a wind turbine as well as solar photovoltaic panels. The greenhouse contains a roof mounted active solar thermal collector system and radiant floor heating to keep the space toasty during our dreary Ohio winters. The structure is divided into areas for aquaponics (hydroponics and aquaculture), worm composting, herb drying and food processing. Rows and rows of arugula, minzuna and baby greens filled the space. While in this greenhouse, I sampled some delicious peppery arugula and also some lemongrass (a new herb Barry is considering introducing to the mix). I then followed him to the vermicomposting bins which he just happened to have designed. He wrangled his red wigglers from Stratford Ecological Center who got them from an OSU professor and these book worms are busy ‘round the clock eating and digesting trimmings from the farm. The compost is then spread around the plants, finalizing one of many closed loop processes on the farm.

The final stops on our tour included the Aquaculture Pond and BioIntensive Field Crops. Currently, the pond is housing another one of Barry’s products for purchase, mosquito fish. If you didn’t guess by the name, mosquito fish are an environmentally friendly way to control the mosquito population. (With all the rain we have had in Central Ohio, the demand for these little guppy-like fish is likely to sky rocket!) Rafts of herbs floating around the pond are another ingenious method used by Barry to get the plants to do the watering for him! The BioIntensive Field Crops are raised beds used for growing fresh herbs when the seasons allow. RainFresh incorporates several sustainable growing practices, including using organic fertilizer, crop rotation, biocontrols, and ground cover crops. While visiting RainFresh Harvests new basil starters were getting planted into these fields, thus ensuring another season of local, fresh, sustainably grown food for Central Ohio.

I urge you to purchase RainFresh Harvests fresh-cut basil for your own recipes (or mine below) and introduce your body to “clean energy food”. It is sold during the summer months at both Central Ohio Whole Foods locations as well as the Greener Grocer at North Market.


The RainFresh Harvest basil (pictured left) traveled 23 miles to Columbus, while the basil (pictured right) traveled from Harrisonburg, Virginia, nearly 340 miles!


  • DNA Protection– two flavonoids found in basil (orientin and vicenin) have been found to protect cell structures and chromosomes
  • Anti-Bacterial Properties – lab studies show the oils in basil prohibit the growth of many types of bacteria
  • Anti-Inflammatory – a component of basil’s volatile oils has been proven to block activity of the same enzyme that many over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications do
  • Nutrients Essential for Cardiovascular Health- prevents free radicals from oxidizing cholesterol in the blood stream
  • Excellent source of vitamin K, iron, calcium and vitamin A


College of Agriculture and Home Economics - Vermicomposting - Basil

Basil, Lemon and Coconut Yogurt Pops


  • 1 can (14 oz.) unsweetened lite coconut milk
  • 1 container (5 oz.) plain Greek-style yogurt
  • ¼ cup lemon juice, freshly squeezed
  • ¼ cup simple syrup, cooled (recipe follows)
  • 2 tablespoons RainFresh Harvest basil, finely chopped (around 12-14 leaves)
  • 1/3 cup sweetened shredded coconut
  • 2 teaspoons lemon rind, grated


  • In a blender, mix coconut milk, yogurt, lemon juice and simple syrup until smooth
  • Add basil, coconut and lemon rind and mix for an additional few seconds until fully incorporated
  • Pour mixture into popsicle molds and freeze for at least 6 hours or until set
  • Yields: 6 popsicles

Simple Syrup

  • In a saucepan, combine equal parts sugar and water and simmer until the sugar is dissolved