Monday, 16 March 2015

‘Darbha’ grass, a natural preservative

Darbha (Desmotachya bipinnata) is a tropical grass considered a sacred material in Vedic scriptures and is said to purify the offerings during such rituals.

A systematic research by SASTRA University researchers

Traditional tropical grass, Darbha, has been identified as an eco-friendly food preservative.
This finding was evolved in a research study undertaken jointly by the Centre for Nanotechnology and Advanced Biomaterials (CeNTAB) and the Centre for Advanced Research in Indian System of Medicine (CARISM) of the SASTRA University, Thanjavur, under the supervision of Dr. P. Meera and Dr. P. Brindha respectively.
Darbha (Desmotachya bipinnata) is a tropical grass considered a sacred material in Vedic scriptures and is said to purify the offerings during such rituals.
At the time of eclipse, people place that grass in food items that could ferment and once the eclipse ends the grass is removed.
A systematic research was conducted by the SASTRA University researchers, in which cow’s curd was chosen as a food item that could ferment easily.
Five other tropical grass species, including lemon grass, Bermuda grass, and bamboo were chosen for comparison based on different levels of antibiotic properties and hydro phobicity.
Electron microscopy of different grasses revealed stunning nano-patterns and hierarchical nano or micro structures in darbha grass while they were absent in other grasses.
On studying the effect of various grasses on the microbial community of the curd, darbha grass alone was found to attract enormous number of bacteria into the hierarchical surface features.
These are the bacteria responsible for fermentation of cow’s curd.
During eclipse, the wavelength and intensity of light radiations available on the earth’s surface is altered. Especially, the blue and ultraviolet radiations, which are known for their natural disinfecting property, are not available in sufficient quantities during eclipse.
This leads to uncontrolled growth of micro-organisms in food products during eclipse and the food products are not suitable for consumption. Darbha was thus used as a natural disinfectant on specific occasions, say researchers at SASTRA University.
Further, the scientists say that darbha could be used as a natural food preservative in place of harmful chemical preservatives and the artificial surfaces mimicking the hierarchical nano patterns on the surface of darbha grass could find applications in health care where sterile conditions were required.
This entire research was funded by the SASTRA University’s Research Fund.

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Family of six lives off less than $90 a week!

SELF-SUFFICIENT: The Vinbrux family, from left, Christel, Judy, Richard, Danny and Sarah.

They're an intriguing family, the Vinbruxes. There's an Amish look to their hairstyles and clothing. You can put that down to home barbering and wardrobes from local op shops. From their conversation and the books on theirshelves it's clear that they're well educated. Richard gained a degree in agriculture and qualified as a master baker in Germany and produces fabulous fare for the weekly Oamaru Farmers' Market while Christel holds a Masters in home economics from Germany and there's nothing she can't do with raw ingredients to make delectable meals.  
Christel and Richard arrived in Oamaru in 1998 with the first four of their five children, bought 12.5 hectares of undulating farmland, set up an Icelandic horse stud to generate an income and began farming according to the biodynamic principles of Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner. Their home is built from logs and furnished with rustic German antiques. A reconditioned Shacklock stove cooks the food and heats the house. Pitch-roofed outhouses in the yard are painted in fanciful colours. One of these is a bakery with a wood-fired brick oven while another is a dairy equipped for producing cheeses, yoghurt, separated cream and milk. There's a brew house for making hooch. 
Weekly grocery bills for the household of six plus a few Woofers (Willing Workers on Organic Farms) come to about $90, which covers such staples as flour, rice, salt, sugar and olive oil. Other than that, they eat what they grow in the vegetable gardens and raise in the paddocks. Most of the land is in pasture that supports the livestock: horses, sheep, cattle, pigs, hens, goats, bees, geese, turkeys, ducks and pigeons. There are any number of mouser cats with dogs for stock work and companionship. Over the years they've planted a 1.5-hectare mixed wood lot, a half-hectare orchard and another half hectare in vegetable beds.
THE SIMPLE LIFE: "Most of the time we can live quite comfortably off the smell of the rag that was lying next to the oily one," Richard says.
Tessa Chrisp
THE SIMPLE LIFE: "Most of the time we can live quite comfortably off the smell of the rag that was lying next to the oily one," Richard says.
Running a small farm like this is a full-time job for several people. Christel describes their daily routine: "Every day starts with a big German-style breakfast of good coffee, bread, meats and cheeses for all the family. Then at 8am Judy (14) and I go out to do the milking. When we return the cows to the paddocks Danny (17) is there to feed the pigs and bring the milk to the cheese house. 
If Richard is not baking he might make cheese or just separate the milk and cream, then the shed is washed and cleaned. All that takes up to two hours. Then Judy and I feed the rest of the stock with hay or haylage. Milking and feeding the animals takes us to about 11am, sometimes later. After lunch Judy does her schoolwork and the rest of the day is for garden and kitchen work – that's usually me with help from Judy when she's finished her studies, while Richard and Danny do general maintenance and farming chores."
Richard gets up at 4 or 5am on four days of the week to make bread and pastries for the bakery in Oamaru which he set up to train their second son Jan (25) and on Sundays to stock Jan's stall at the Oamaru Farmers' Market. After the evening meal the family relaxes. They read, maybe watch a DVD, and are early to bed. 
BEE CHARMER: Danny takes pride in working with his imported Carnolian bees and doesn't bother to wear his apiarist'€™s hat and veil unless he is doing something intrusive in the hives.
Tessa Chrisp
BEE CHARMER: Danny takes pride in working with his imported Carnolian bees and doesn't bother to wear his apiarist'€™s hat and veil unless he is doing something intrusive in the hives.
While eldest son Fabian (28) went through a conventional education, Christel and Richard home-schooled the other children. They made the decision after Sarah (now 19), who was born with an intellectual impairment, made much more progress with home tutoring than at school. "With home schooling you can tailor the lessons to the individual kid," says Richard. The young Vinbruxes read widely, are well grounded in the basics, bilingual in German and English and remarkably more mature than others their age. From their earliest years they have been articulate, confident and respectful around adults and well able to prepare and cook meals while still of primary-school age. "We sometimes have 20-year-old Woofers who can't cook even the simplest meal," says Christel.
The biggest risk in this way of life, they say, is depending on only one income stream and not being alert to other money-generating opportunities. That's why, in addition to the horse stud, they have established another niche for themselves with their self-sufficiency school. This offers both residential and day-long courses in different aspects of self sufficiency to people who want to get back to the land and to townies wanting to learn how to keep hens or make their own cheese. Or sauerkraut. Or bratwurst. Or…
The younger members of the family are also making or planning their contributions to the household finances. While Fabian lives and works independently, Jan lives in town and trains at the family-owned bakery in Arun Street. At 25 he is not interested in living in a big city. "I like small towns and Oamaru in particular. Besides the interesting people here, it's easy to get almost anywhere by walking but I'm also thinking of getting an electric bicycle." 
MILKING TIME: The cows munch grains while they're being milked, and the ducks take advantage of the spillage.
Tessa Chrisp
MILKING TIME: The cows munch grains while they're being milked, and the ducks take advantage of the spillage.
Danny will open a butchery next to the bakery this year, having recently spent four months in Germany learning to make traditional small goods. Judy milks four goats by hand and says, "After I've finished my schooling and when I'm 18 I plan to go to the Swiss Alps and learn more about breeding and running goats and how to make more and different cheeses. Then I want to have my own goat herd here on the family farm and make my own cheeses and sell them."
Sarah loves baby animals and it's her job to feed the lambs and calves, the dogs and pups. She stacks the breakfast plates every morning, sweeps the floor, hangs up the washing, folds laundry.  She says, "Every morning I go with Mum to tame the foals." 
Christel smiles. "She's very quiet and patient with the young horses and gently introduces them to wearing the halter." The family agrees that Sarah is a joy. Every morning she wakes up singing. 
This life of self-sufficiency requires commitment and dedication. "On one level you are far freer than other people but on the other hand there are a lot of things that have to be done – like milking twice a day," says Richard. "We take one day off in the week but someone needs to feed the animals and milk the cows so we take turns and try to finish up by 11am. We never take a holiday as a family. The children go to stay with friends and family both here and in Germany." 
Richard and Christel have taken trips to Germany, but not as a couple. There always needs to be one or other at home on the farm. Nor can they afford to eat out as a rule, but world-renowned restaurateur Fleur Sullivan wishes them a happy wedding anniversary when they turn up at Fleur's Place in Moeraki for their annual seafood dinner.  
Richard sums up their way of life: "If anyone wants this life they need to be able to live very simply. If we were prepared to pay for the things we'd like to have we'd need to find jobs off the property. But this is the life we have chosen and we still choose it every day. We would rather work for ourselves than for money."  
Would they recommend this life to other people? "Only if the whole family is behind it and you really love to do these things," says Christel. "And," adds Richard, "you don't think physical work is demeaning." There is no drudge work on the Vinbrux farm. Living self sufficiently is grounded in a philosophy where manual work is enjoyed and celebrated. Richard says, "Getting rich was never a big part of our life plan. If we didn't have the self-sufficiency base we wouldn't be able to sustain ourselves financially. Most of thetime we can live quite comfortably off the smell of the rag that was lying next to the oily one. You need to set yourself up so that you can do with very little money if things are not going well. We can make do with about $20,000 for a few years in succession but notfor ever . Sometimes we have a windfall that brings in another $10,000 or $15,000 and that allows us to make repairs, build or buy something we've done without before." Christel adds,"But we eat like kings even if we don't have lots of money."

FAMILY FEAST: Home-made dairy products and four different types of Richard's bread are a regular part of the breakfast and lunch menus.
Tessa Chrisp
FAMILY FEAST: Home-made dairy products and four different types of Richard's bread are a regular part of the breakfast and lunch menus.
Christel and Richard brought four mares and a young stallion with them from Germany to set up a modest Icelandic horse stud that would give them a regular income in New Zealand. Christel is the horsewoman in the family. She estimates that she's put about 100 horses "under the saddle" over the years. Because of their peculiar flowing gait ( toelt ) and gentle nature, Icelandic horses are popular among people who ride for pleasure. Christel explains: "They have been bred for more than a thousand years and all the bad-tempered traits like bucking, biting and kicking have been bred out of them. If a horse didn't behave it got eaten, whereas with other breeds if the mare didn't behave people said, 'Oh well, we'll just breed with her' and those characteristics showed up in future generations." These stocky, placid Icelandic horses live to about 30 and can be ridden until the age of 18 or so. They sell from $6000 to $20,000 for an imported stallion.

Sunday, 8 March 2015

Cuba bans cow slaughter!

NEW DELHI: Even the secularists will find themselves hard put to link this one with the Sangh Pariwar. But the fact that Cuba is breeding cows would definitely give the advocates of Hindutva something to moo about. 
In fact, the Sangh which could actually take a cue from the Cubans. According to a report in MIT's Technology Review magazine, Havana recently passed a law under which cow slaughter was made punishable with a jail term. 

It is not as if Fidel Castro's beefy regime has developed an overnight fondness for cows. But Cuba hopes cows will help rebuild its economy which is in tatters. Hence, the country has decided to undo some of the damage inflicted in the nineties when an impoverished populace ate up a large chunk of its cattle population. 
How will multiplying the cows help the country? 

According to the MIT report, Cuban sugar catered to entire globe's sweet tooth before the 90s, but with Russia, India and China starting to produce cheaper sugar in abundance, the country was relegated to a minor player. 
Cuban policy-makers then decided to retrain their energies on two rather low-tech strategies for growth: growing cattle stock and boosting tourism. 

According to the report, there are two key factors that go in favour of Cuba's newfound love for cattle. Its multiplication policy can work because almost 80 per cent of Cuba has a lush green cover which was once cleared for sugarcane production in the 70s and 80s. 
The South American country also gets abundant rain and has no natural predators like wolves and big cats which compete with humans in preying on cows. Its policy-makers therefore find the conditions more suited to raising cattle than agriculture. 

The key to this policy, of course, lies in not killing the cattle for a few years, but in letting them breed and multiply for the next several years as part of the exponential growth strategy. 
Therefore, Cuba has made it mandatory for its citizens to procure a permit to kill cattle. And getting one is very difficult in the communist country. 

Is there a tech lesson here for all similar under-developed countries? 
How about an all-party a delegation of Members of Parliament visiting Havana to study the enforcement of the 'ban cow slaughter' legislation? Mooo.... 


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