2014 Boston Fermentation Festival

I’ll be speaking at:

The 2014 Boston

Fermentation Festival

Our second annual Fermentation Festival will be a tour de fermentation! This completely *free* festival will be headlined by one of the world’s most renowned fermentation revivalists, Sandor Katz. Also on hand will be dozens of speakers, lectures, demos and small fermenting businesses will be on hand to sample & sell their delicious work. We will also have a competitive & tasty pickle-off with some of Boston’s most creative chefs. Join us at the Egleston Farmers Market at 45 Brookside Ave from 10-4 the day of the fest!

The festival will be for all levels of fermenting enthusiasts & lactic acid aficionados. There will be more advanced workshops & demos and a kraut mob for those interested in learning the basics of fermentation.

The Microbiome Wonder: A Closer Look At Our Ancestral Dependence On Bacteria To Nourish Us

We will explore the human microbiome and its origins in the soil and its implications for human health. We’ll delve into the intersection between human health, gut flora and our ancestral relationship to dirt and the consequences of a sterile world. We’ll leave ample time for questions, answers and mutual learning!


<p><a href=”http://vimeo.com/112754782″>Fermentation Festival 2014</a> from <a href=”http://vimeo.com/user20873723″>Klementina Budnik</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>


GMO Foods: Could what you don’t know be hurting you?



You’ve probably heard that GMO (genetically modified) foods are potentially unsafe, and that many other countries have banned them altogether. Are they over-reacting, or are we in the United States not paying enough attention to what’s really going on?

When you consider genetic modifications which allow literally tons of pesticides and herbicides to be added to our food supply (like Round-Up Ready corn and soy, which tolerate large doses of glyphosate), the safety issue is glaringly obvious. (Over 80% of GMO plants are engineered to resist herbicides. Use of herbicides in the US has gone up accordingly, ending up in our environment and in our bodies.)

But what about tomatoes that are altered to withstand shipment without bruising? Or perhaps an apple that doesn’t turn brown after slicing? They look the same. They taste the same. How can these GMO foods possibly be bad for us?



Genome interrupted

Let’s start with how GMO foods are made. The most common method uses a small piece of circular DNA from a bacteria called Agrobacterium tumefaciens. Almost all bacteria have these circular pieces of DNA, called plasmids, which often contain ‘special’ genes that are separate from the chromosome. Agrobacterium has a very unusual plasmid that has the ability to enter a plant cell and ‘inject’ bacterial DNA directly into the cell’s chromosomes. In nature, this causes Crown Gall disease, where infected plant tissues overgrow into a tumor-like gall.

Scientists have learned to use this natural ‘gene-injector’ to add new genes to plants. They simply remove the tumor-causing gene from the Agrobacterium plasmid, and replace it with another gene, leaving the rest of the ‘injecting’ machinery intact, then mix it with a number of single plant cells. Some of these cells will take up the plasmid and it will become incorporated into their DNA, giving them a new gene. Unlike other genes, which have a ‘switch’ that turns them on and off according to the plant’s needs, the new gene has a permanent ‘on switch’ attached. This means that this gene will always be ‘on’ in a GMO plant (so that it continuously produces a pesticide, or a protein that inhibits spoilage, etc.).

Why is it important for genes to have a switch? Let’s use the example of the potato. Every single cell in the potato plant has a gene that allows it to make solanine, a toxin that can be fatal to humans in large amounts. Production of solanine is normally turned off in the tubers, the part of the plant we eat. When the tuber comes in contact with sunlight, the gene switches on in those cells, which is why we’re told not to eat green potatoes.  We rely on this gene being always ‘off’ in potato tubers, making them safe to eat.

Unintended consequences

In GMO foods, a new gene and switch have been inserted randomly into the plant’s genome by the Agrobacterium plasmid. Depending where it ends up, it could potentially disrupt any number of genes, turn them on or off, or alter the amount of protein they are making. If the thousands of genes in a plant working together in balance are like an intricate spider web that has been woven over millennia, randomly inserting a new gene can be like a fly getting caught: part of the web is going to get mucked up.  Which part, exactly?  We have no good way of knowing.

There can be huge and unpredictable changes in a plant’s native genome. Genes can be deleted, mutated, or permanently change the amount of protein they make. Plants can make larger amounts of an existing allergen or toxin, or begin producing a new or slightly different one. There is no way to control these changes, or even test for all of the possible new or different proteins that a plant might produce.

There have been numerous studies in animals on the health effects of a GMO diet, and nearly all showed adverse effects. Various results indicate that consumption of GMOs can result in reproductive failure, organ damage, and inflammation. The accumulation of large amounts of herbicide residues and their break-down products in heavily sprayed GMO crops (at least 86% more spray than non-GMO) may also lead to increased allergies and health problems.

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There is a protein in natural soybeans that is similar to an allergy-causing protein in peanuts. GMO soy was introduced in 1996. Peanut allergies in the US doubled between 1997 and 2002.

As of 2014 in the US, GMO ingredients are in as much as 80% of conventional processed foods. This includes corn syrup in candy, canola and cottonseed oil in snack foods, and soy lecithin, among many other common ingredients.

For more info and studies: 


Bitten! Why some people are just more attractive… to mosquitoes



Have you ever wondered why you seem to attract every mosquito within a mile radius while the person standing next to you appears completely immune? Or maybe you’re the lucky one that they tend to ignore in their quest for a tastier meal. Either way, there are a number of factors, from your skin microbiome to what you drank with dinner, that can affect your relative attractiveness to mosquitoes.

There are about 2,700 species of mosquitos in the world, but not all of them bite humans. Most prefer birds or other mammals to us. Mosquitoes get their daily nutrition from sipping flower nectar, but when it comes time for the female to reproduce, she needs the protein of a blood meal to develop her eggs. Male mosquitoes don’t drink blood at all.


                                     A mosquito sips nectar from a flower


When a female mosquito lands on your skin, she inserts two tiny tubes. The first one injects an anti-clotting agent, while the second draws out the blood that pools as a result. Most of the time, the bitten human is unharmed, except for the itch caused by our body’s histamine response. But mosquitoes are also vectors for several human diseases, such as Yellow Fever, West Nile Virus, and Malaria. Because of this, we would expect that over time some pretty complex evolutionary interactions have built up as the human, the mosquito, and the parasite or virus all try to come out on top and survive.

And they have…

One major draw to a hungry, human-biting female mosquito is blood type. About 85% of all people are ‘secretors’. They secrete chemical signals through their skin that allow mosquitoes to identify their blood type, and Type O is preferred over all others. Having Type O blood and being a secretor makes you 83% more likely to be bitten. People with Type A are least likely to be bitten, but are also the most likely to suffer severe symptoms or die from untreated malaria. Those with Type O blood are likely to have less serious cases of the disease, due to physiological differences in their blood.

So why might mosquitoes flock to Type O? Humans, mosquitoes and malaria all co-evolved in Africa beginning around 200,000 years ago, so there is a long history between the three of us. If people with Type O blood were always better able to survive long enough to pass the malarial parasite (Plasmodium falciparum) on through another mosquito bite, then they were the ones the parasite would have favored. We already know that Plasmodium can affect the behavior of its mosquito host, because infected mosquitoes have been shown to be more strongly drawn to human odors.

And speaking of human odors…

Body odor is another strong draw for mosquitoes. Human sweat doesn’t smell until the bacteria on our skin begin to break it down, and different bacteria produce different odors, giving us each a unique scent. Smelly feet are especially attractive to mosquitoes, and they will land on them over any other body part. Oddly, they are also attracted to Limburger cheese. Or maybe not so oddly, since Limburger is made by one of the same bacteria that causes foot odor.

Even though we all have about the same total number of bacteria on our skin, some people have a wider variety of species, while others are dominated by just a few types. Studies have shown that people with only a few types of bacteria are more likely to be bitten, even when the total number of bacterial cells is the same. Having a wide variety of bacteria seems to protect us, and since you acquire you skin flora from your mother at birth, they tend to be passed down through families (or at least they were until the age of antibiotics and disinfectants).

Interestingly, people with ancestry from malarial areas of the world are less attractive to mosquitoes than those descended from populations that haven’t had exposure to malaria, despite their blood type. This suggests some level of co-evolution between humans and their skin flora to avoid a deadly disease.

And a few other attractive things…

-Mosquitoes are drawn to the carbon dioxide we exhale. If you are a larger person or have been exercising, you are more likely to be bitten.

-Exercise causes lactic acid to be secreted through your skin, also a draw for mosquitoes.

-Mosquitoes have also been shown to prefer the scent of a beer drinker’s skin.

-One study showed that mosquitoes are 500 times more likely to bite when the moon is full.


So… if you are a person with type O blood and low microbial diversity on your skin that has just gone for a run, taken off your shoes while sipping a beer and noticing that the moon is full… prepare to be bitten.



Smallegenge, R.C. et.al. 2013. Malaria infected mosquitoes express enhanced attraction to human odor. PLoS ONE 8(5)

Verhulst, N.O. et.al. 2009. Cultured skin microbiota attracts malaria mosquitoes. Malaria Journal 8:302

Verhulst, N.O. et.al. 2011. Composition of human skin microbiota affects attractiveness to malaria mosquitoes. PLoS ONE 6(12)


Setting up a new colony of honey bees…




A new colony of honey bees arrives at the farm…




The queen is in a small wooden box…




The queen goes into the hive first.  There is a plug in the box made out of sugar ‘candy’ that the worker bees will chew through to let her exit…




Now the rest of the bees are shaken out of the box they arrived in, and into their new home…





The bees are fed sugar water until the flowers finally bloom in New England…




Home sweet home…

The Buzz on Honey


Honey bees (Apis mellifera) have been around for about 130 million years, and although the human species isn’t nearly as ancient, we have been taking advantage of the bees’ hard work for at least as long as our own recorded history. For thousands of years and across hundreds of cultures, honey has been used as both food and medicine.

Honey bees make honey as a source of sustenance to keep the colony alive through the winter. When a honey bee collects nectar from a flower, it stores it in a special stomach (they have two), where it is treated with enzymes that start to break the nectar down into simple sugars (glucose and fructose). When the bee returns to the hive, it passes off its load of nectar to the worker bees there, who take it into their mouths and add more enzymes and other compounds before storing it in a honeycomb cell. Once in the cell, the bees fan their wings over it until it dehydrates and thickens into the substance we know as honey. The finished honey is more than just sugar; it contains more than 180 different substances, including antioxidants, enzymes, amino acids, vitamins, minerals, and antibacterial compounds like methylglyoxal.

But that’s not all…

Honey has such strong antimicrobial properties that it has been shown to be effective against even antibiotic resistant super germs, and biofilms, which are otherwise hard to treat. A biofilm is a ‘layer’ of bacteria that have come together and pooled their defensive resources, often making them nearly impervious to antibiotics.

The bees depend on the long-term storage of their honey for survival, so contamination of their food source with bacteria or fungus would be devastating. To keep this from happening, the bees add a protein from their own immune systems, called defensin-1, which works in synergy with other antimicrobial properties of honey.


Honey makes an ideal antimicrobial wound dressing, because under certain conditions, it slowly releases small amounts of hydrogen peroxide. Honey contains glucose and an enzyme called glucose oxidase that can break down the glucose into hydrogen peroxide. Honey itself does not form hydrogen peroxide, because the enzyme needs a pH between 5.5 and 8.0 (honey is around 3 or 4), and a certain amount of sodium to become active. But when honey comes in contact with a human wound, the conditions are just right. In a study of wound patients who had wounds that failed to heal with conventional treatment, application of raw, unfiltered honey resulted in improvement in all but one case, and the infected wounds became completely sterile within one week of application. Honey also has strong anti-inflammatory properties, which aids healing and reduces scarring.

Is all honey the same?

The antimicrobial potency of honey can vary widely, not only due to the nectar sources it was made from, but the way it was processed.

Most of the honey you buy in the grocery store has been filtered, to remove debris, but also to remove small particles like pollen or wax that can speed crystallization. Once the pollen has been removed, it is impossible to tell where the honey has come from. Sometimes honey is smuggled illegally into the U.S. market (often from China), and may be from unapproved sources that could contain heavy metals, antibiotics or other chemicals. There is also the very real possibility of filtered honey being watered down with fructose and other sweeteners by unscrupulous producers.

For maximum benefits, look for raw, unfiltered honey from a reputable source. Heated or filtered honey may be missing many of the enzymes and other beneficial substances.


Feed your flora…

Honey is not only good for you, but it’s also good for your gut bacteria. Besides fructose and glucose, it also contains about 5% fructooligosaccharides, which are nondigestible carbohydrates. They pass through our stomach and small intestine and into the large intestine, where they become food for the good bacteria such as bifido and lactobacilli. In one study of mice, those fed a diet supplemented with honey had a marked increase in their good gut bacteria.

Why no honey for babies?

The bacteria Clostridium botulinum is found throughout our environment, but it can only grow and multiply where there is no air.  When the bacteria are exposed to air, they form spores that wait around for the right conditions.  When we ingest these spores, our immune system and our gut bacteria easily eliminate them.  But the immune systems of children less than a year old are not mature enough to do this, and the spores can begin to grow and multiply in the absence of air in the gut.  Botulinum spores can get into honey when bees encounter them in the environment.

But for the rest of us…

A little honey in our diets and on our cuts and scrapes might go a long way…



El-Arab, A.M.E., et.al. 2006. Effect of dietary honey on intestinal microflora and toxicity of mycotoxins in mice. BMC Complement Altern Med. 6(6):

Efam, S.E.E. 1988. Clinical observations on the wound healing properties of honey. British Journal of Surgery 75(7): 679-681

Kwakman, P.H.S. et.al. 2010. How honey kills bacteria. The FASEB Journal 24(7): 2576-2582

Vallianou, N.G. et.al. 2014. Honey and its anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, and anti-oxidant properties. General Med. 2(2)