Mass. climate scientist helps run pickle business
By RICHIE DAVIS
GREENFIELD, Mass. (AP) -- The world's in a pickle, and Addie Rose Holland is doubly involved in helping with what just might be solutions.
"I joke that there couldn't be anything less related than climate research and pickle making," says the 32-year-old Montague woman best known around these parts as a partner in Real Pickles, the Greenfield business that put "green" back into pickle making. "But I do think a connection is there."
Holland, the business partner and since 1999 life partner of Real Pickles founder Dan Rosenberg works at the Wells Street pickle factory a day or two a week, working on the website, on special projects and as part of the three-member management team that guides the 11-year-old company.
But although she worked in the pickle kitchen until about 2007, slicing cucumbers, making brine, shredding cabbage, mixing spices and packing the organic products into jars, Holland's now playing a role at the University of Massachusetts Climate System Research Center, cooking up ways of responding to a planet that's heating up.
In the spring of 2009, she even traveled to Lake El'gygytgyn in northeastern Siberia for two months of research toward the geosciences master's degree from UMass. Three hundred miles from an outpost on the Arctic Ocean, accessible only by helicopter, Holland was part of a UMass-led international team that was drilling for sediment samples from what had once been a crater created 3 1/2 million years ago by a meteorite.
Because of an unusually dry climate there, she says, glaciers never formed to scour out layers of sediment, so it's "super-rare" for its continuous record of sedimentation -- a record of geological chemistry, of the variety and number of organisms in the lake and lots more. The researchers, from a variety of disciplines, were looking for lots of data. A key for Holland was to see whether the lake was covered with ice year-round, or whether temperatures back through the millennia caused seasonal breakups periodically.
Back in Amherst, she worked on test core samples of lake sediments, analyzing the molecular remains of the organisms from long ago to find preserved clues about climate.
"A few questions guided my thesis, and like many studies, the questions didn't necessarily get answered," confesses Holland, who completed her degree in 2010, before she returned to the work on innovative yet timeless pickle recipes. "But other questions were generated. A few conclusions were useful to the Lake El'gygytgyn community, but I like to think they also contributed to the larger community of scientists that work on lake research."
And at the Climate System Research Center, where Holland now works part-time as outreach coordinator, there are also researchers analyzing layers of speleothem, cave formations where calcium carbonate and other deposits convey the history of climate over time, as well as meteorological data from Mount Kilimanjaro, modeling climate scenarios from past and future and studying sedimentary records of hurricanes in New England over the last millennium. And more.
To help engage researchers from a host of disciplines at other UMass campuses and institutions beyond, Holland has developed and maintains a NEclimate.org website and a New England Climate Colloquium speaker series over the past two years, with a graduate seminar attached.
"It's a way to increase communication and collaboration in an interdisciplinary way around climate research," she said.
That reaching out is due to get a lot more elaborate this fall as the new Northeast Climate Science Center sets up shop at the Amherst campus, under the auspices of the U.S. Department of Interior and U.S. Geological Survey. That will bring in research from five other host universities in a 22-state region, and other universities as well, to share work on climate research.
Back in Greenfield, where Real Pickles moved in 2009 to its own 6,500-square-foot factory topped with a kilowatt photovoltaic array on its roof, Holland and Rosenberg -- who moved here from Somerville in 2001 specifically to start a pickle business based on a natural fermentation process -- are gearing up for another season of converting about 200,000 pounds of organic vegetables from a 30-mile radius into award-winning products.
Its employees are on vacation, gearing up for the coming harvest, but there are blue barrels of fermenting sauerkraut, red cabbage and tomatillo hot sauce -- all using a natural lactic-acid fermentation process that dates back thousands of years but went out of fashion when industrial food production began using vinegar and pasteurization instead.
"We moved here because we decided this was a good area for food, and we knew it fairly well," Holland said, "because we used to drive out here most weekends from Somerville to go contra dancing."
Apart from the nutritional benefits of naturally fermented, organic pickles, Rosenberg says he wanted "to promote a new kind of food system -- one that's local and regional in scale, organic whenever possible and based on small farms and small businesses rather than big corporations."
And that, Holland suggests, is the pickle connection with her work toward stopping climate change.
"Real Pickles is really focused on being a leader in supporting a regional food system," she says, pointing to cucumbers that travel a total of maybe seven miles from Atlas Farm in Deerfield to the Wells Street factory and then to local stores like Green Fields Market and Foster's Supermarket.
The products -- which for two consecutive years have taken top honors at the Good Food Award -- also are sold at 350 stores around the Northeast, including Whole Foods Supermarkets, but the company is committed to limiting its marketing area and the size of distributors it works with as a way of controlling its own growth.
"We feel that's really an important direction food production needs to go, in a real sense to cut down carbon emissions," but for lots of other reasons, too. "I don't see Real Pickles' mission as stopping climate change. But I do see our mission supporting a good direction in the climate trend.
But if this seems like a chilly-dilly sort of argument, it does run a little deeper.
"It's not just about miles traveled," Holland says. "The bigger impact is coming from the money generated by Real Pickles staying in this community instead of being gobbled up by big corporations, whose interests in general are not allowed to have any mission beyond growing the business for their shareholders."
And while that may not directly warm up the planet, she says, the out-of-control growth that drives many industries seems to play a role in decisions that aren't in the interests of people, their communities or the planet.
"From a Real Pickles perspective, we see so many businesses that whether they want to or not grow to point where they can't remain a small business anymore," Holland said.
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