This Sydney Restaurateur Couldn’t Find the Thai Ingredients She Needed, So She Started a Farm
By Aarti Betigeri
While her classmates hit the playground after school, seven-year-old Palisa Anderson would race home every afternoon to tend to the chrysanthemum she had given to her mother. The plant came to life and flowered. "I would talk to it," said Anderson.
Anderson's love of plants translated into Boon Luck Farm, a coastal enclave near Byron Bay, about a seven-hour drive north of Sydney, that is connected to her family's chain of Thai restaurants. But Anderson isn't your typical rural Australian farmer. The daughter of Thai immigrants, she grew up in an apartment in a Sydney suburb before setting off for London and then returning home almost a decade ago to join the family business, a chain of cafés across Sydney, beginning with the now-iconic Chat Thai. Launched by Anderson's mother, Amy, in 1989, Chat Thai stands out among a crowded field of Thai players in Sydney. The Anderson family's restaurants are acclaimed for their authenticity and complexity. The New York Times has called Boon Cafe "iconoclastic," and much of that has to do with the freshness of the ingredients.
"I've always been very connected to food and curious about how it comes to market," said Anderson. "My mum and I would do a lot of farm tours to our suppliers to find out what they were doing to get us certain volumes of produce." This curiosity advanced to the stage where a tropical-fruit grower convinced her to buy a vacant plot of land in the Byron shire in 2016.
Boon Luck Farm grows dozens of different fruits, vegetables and herbs. "And never just one variety of one thing!" said Anderson. Currently, the farm is growing chokos (also known as chayote), lots of varieties of pumpkins and eggplants, Asian favorites like gai lan and bok choy, carrots, ginger, fresh turmeric, turnips, peanuts, persimmons, jujubes, mulberries, Brazilian cherries, pandan and 30 kinds of citrus. These include Japanese sudachi limes, kaffir limes and Australian finger limes. There are also lesser known fruits, such as peanut butter fruit and miracle fruit, the latter of which is being trialed on cancer patients to help them regain their sense of taste. While many of the plants sound like exotic one-offs, they're used extensively in Thai cooking.
Anderson is carving out a unique spot for herself in the Australian food landscape. Chefs, including the best in the country, come to her for high-quality ingredients like holy basil. She and her husband, Matt Anderson, sometimes open their farm gates to allow tours so that others can experience what Boon Luck Farm is working to do. "As consumers, we're sold on the idea that good produce needs to look perfect, unblemished and uniform in size, shape and color," she said. "Produce that is bred to be those things is often tasteless, with no nuances in texture and aroma." She said farmers often fall into this trap because they have to meet the yields that supermarkets require and, in turn, are under pressure to grow certain varieties.
At the same time, she thinks localism is also a bit of a pipe dream in Australia. "We are losing growing land everywhere," she said. "Farmers can't afford to grow, and the ones who can are monocropping. The idea of small-scale farming is appealing, but few can make it a viable business solution. There needs to be a chain of small-scale farmers doing biodiverse growing."
Boon Luck Farm is one such place and is also certified organic. Anderson grows a wide variety of crops — the subtropical region has an ideal climate for them. "The trees talk to each other," she said. "The soil is supported by the mycelium, which supports the networks that feed these plants."
In the quiet early mornings and at dusk, when the light falls on the trees, they respond. Everything is magnified. "You can really feel the vibrations," she said.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Modern Farmer.
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By Aaron W Hunter
A chance discovery of a beautifully preserved fossil in the desert landscape of Morocco has solved one of the great mysteries of biology and paleontology: how starfish evolved their arms.
The Pompeii of palaeontology. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<h2></h2><p>Although starfish might appear very robust animals, they are typically made up of lots of hard parts attached by ligaments and soft tissue which, upon death, quickly degrade. This means we rely on places like the Fezouata formations to provide snapshots of their evolution.</p><p>The starfish fossil record is patchy, especially at the critical time when many of these animal groups first appeared. Sorting out how each of the various types of ancient starfish relate to each other is like putting a puzzle together when many of the parts are missing.</p><h2>The Oldest Starfish</h2><p><em><a href="https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/216101v1.full.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Cantabrigiaster</a></em> is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. It was discovered in 2003, but it has taken over 17 years to work out its true significance.</p><p>What makes <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> unique is that it lacks almost all the characteristics we find in brittle stars and starfish.</p><p>Starfish and brittle stars belong to the family Asterozoa. Their ancestors, the Somasteroids were especially fragile - before <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> we only had a handful of specimens. The celebrated Moroccan paleontologist Mohamed <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.palaeo.2016.06.041" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Ben Moula</a> and his local team was instrumental in discovering <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0031018216302334?via%3Dihub" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">these amazing fossils</a> near the town of Zagora, in Morocco.</p><h2>The Breakthrough</h2><p>Our breakthrough moment came when I compared the arms of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> with those of modern sea lilles, filter feeders with long feathery arms that tend to be attached to the sea floor by a stem or stalk.</p><p>The striking similarity between these modern filter feeders and the ancient starfish led our team from the University of Cambridge and Harvard University to create a new analysis. We applied a biological model to the features of all the current early Asterozoa fossils in existence, along with a sample of their closest relatives.</p>
Cantabrigiaster is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<p>Our results demonstrate <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> is the most primitive of all the Asterozoa, and most likely evolved from ancient animals called crinoids that lived 250 million years before dinosaurs. The five arms of starfish are a relic left over from these ancestors. In the case of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em>, and its starfish descendants, it evolved by flipping upside-down so its arms are face down on the sediment to feed.</p><p>Although we sampled a relatively small numbers of those ancestors, one of the unexpected outcomes was it provided an idea of how they could be related to each other. Paleontologists studying echinoderms are often lost in detail as all the different groups are so radically different from each other, so it is hard to tell which evolved first.</p>
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