New hydroponic greenhouse in San Cristobal grows ‘supercharged’ produce

Touting purported health benefits, first-time farmers Brenda Doucette and Wayne Tashea now supply Cid’s Food Market

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Retired editor and Taos resident Michael Burwell has been wearing a hearing aid since 1998. He had long established a routine in which he removed his hearing aid before going to sleep, after which he usually couldn’t hear anything. Then he started purchasing produce from a new hydroponic greenhouse in San Cristobal, New Mexico.

Soon after he started eating this particular produce, however, he reportedly experienced what might be considered a miraculous event. In the middle of the night, he woke up to the sound of rain. Somehow, he was hearing again. And since then, he has noticed a decline in the ringing in his ears that has plagued him for two decades.

“Who knows?” Burwell said. “I sure feel more charged up eating food out of that greenhouse.”

That greenhouse is located off a dirt road not far from the D.H. Lawrence Ranch in San Cristobal. The Authentic Farm, as it is so called, is operated by Brenda Doucette, an oil painter, and Wayne Tashea, a self-described “natural healer” and acupuncturist. Both are originally from Alaska. Before this venture, neither had farmed before.

“We’re not farmers,” Tashea, the foreman of the greenhouse, said. “We actually planted our first seed in February.”

And now, just a few months after their first crop, they are growing produce with sugar concentrations that are practically off the charts — specifically, the “Brix” chart.

How the lettuce is made

Brix is a measurement of sucrose concentration in water solutions that was named for Adolf Brix, a 19th-century German scientist. One degree of Brix is the equivalent of a single gram of sucrose per 100 grams of solution. According to Doucette and Tashea, most tomatoes in grocery stores are rated “5” on a Brix scale. Their tomatoes, as measured by a small device called a Brix refractometer, are averaging “10” to “12” on that same scale.

“Each time you go up a Brix [degree], you’re looking at new phytochemicals coming out of the plant that nobody knows even exists yet,” Tashea said. “Nobody’s ever done it before.”

To grow such “supercharged” produce, Authentic Farm uses hydroponics, a subset of agriculture that, instead of planting crops in soil, feeds them nutrient-infused water. Within the 30-foot-by-96-foot greenhouse, Tashea and Doucette can grow 360 heads of lettuce at a time, 540 tomato plants and maintain up to 960 planters for small produce. The irrigation system circulates 250 gallons of water (chilled to 60 degrees Fahrenheit) throughout the greenhouse. Cool air from underground is circulated using approximately 3,000 feet of “air piping.” A variety of 30 probiotic solutions is used to enhance plant growth.

“It’s the quality of food that we can’t find anywhere else,” Doucette, the owner of the operation, said. “We looked all over the world, and it came down to, you’ve got to make it yourself.”

Their results, according to some of their customers, have been remarkable.

“I’m eating basil like other people eat lettuce,” Charlene Daniels, a Taos resident and another customer of The Authentic Farm, said. She contrasted the fibrous flavor of most grocery store-bought produce, such as cilantro, with her impression of The Authentic Farm’s own production of the green. “It’s like the fiber isn’t there – it’s butter in your mouth.”

Doucette characterized the flavor of high-Brix tomatoes akin to that of a pineapple, a comparison shared by some of her customers.

“The tomatoes are pretty magical,” Burwell said. “They’re more like fruit than vegetables.”

According to Doucette, the quality of the crops was quickly apparent.

“Our first lettuce crop – it came out of the spring – that’s when we really noticed it,” Doucette said. “We ate a salad and it was unbelievable. It was a salad as it was supposed to be. You think a salad is just lettuce, who cares? We slept like a baby.”

Perhaps The Authentic Farm has stumbled onto an ancient truth about the untold merits of lettuce. Apocryphally, the classical Greeks prescribed lettuce as a sleep aid, and some modern scientific studies have also found that chemicals in lettuce can indeed help people fall asleep.

An unconventional process

So what’s their secret? How does The Authentic Farm produce hyper-nutritious crops with apparently dramatic health benefits? Their unconventional methods might surprise some and confound others.

“We found a way to put the nutrition back into a plant,” Tashea said. “It’s all done by electrical blueprint.”

Tashea explained that, in his view, every organism has an “electrical blueprint,” or pattern of electricity that can be keyed into – not unlike acupunctural pressure points – so that an organism can reach its full potential.

“We have 30 different probiotics we’ve found in the world,” Tashea said. “We fit it in with the electrical pattern of the plant, and the plant will tell you exactly what it wants and what it doesn’t want.”

Upon being asked how he assessed such an “electric blueprint,” Tashea said he had a “machine” that could analyze it, but he stated that it was a trade secret and could not reveal more.

“It’s really simple,” Tashea said. “It’s like the old Chinese had the chi, the energy. Well, I found out how to read it finally – and how to comprehend it.”

While their agricultural methods may be unconventional, it’s clear that many of the customers they’ve had thus far have come away satisfied.

“I purchase everything I can possibly get my hands on,” Daniels said of The Authentic Farm’s produce, adding that she has felt more focused and energetic after eating the farm’s vegetables. “It’s wonderful to maintain that clarity.”

The road to Taos

Like many who have found their way to Taos County, Doucette and Tashea had an interesting path to New Mexico. Both from Anchorage, Alaska, Doucette studied anthropology and history at the University of Alaska, later focusing on her career as an oil painter, while Tashea practiced acupuncture and homeopathic medicine. When she was 8, Doucette had been treated by Tashea for migraine headaches, and they have been close friends since.

In 2007, Tashea was diagnosed with myelodysplastic syndrome, a rare condition in which bone marrow stops producing healthy blood cells. His body began to fall apart. He reported that his skin and fingernails fell off, he went blind in one eye, he lost the ability to swallow and he required the use of a wheelchair. As he described it, he went insane for 2 1/2 years.

“I died six times,” Tashea asserted, explaining that he had essentially “died” six times due to a lack of blood.

A stem cell transplant in Seattle saved his life. Meanwhile, Doucette helped nurse him back to health in Washington state. She also helped Tashea write a memoir about his health experiences (and spiritual revelations) called “Die or Read This Book ...or you could just eat chicken wings,” which is available in the Amazon Kindle Store.

They did not stay in Seattle for long, however. In 2011, the 6.6-magnitude earthquake off the coast of Japan led to a tsunami and the Fukushima nuclear disaster. After learning about how some of the radiation from the nuclear meltdown had circulated through the ocean and had begun to affect North America’s Pacific coastline, Doucette and Tashea decided to travel inland – ironically, to New Mexico, the birthplace of the atomic bomb.

For a while, they ended up renting the Santa Fe residence of Robert Fletcher, a costume designer responsible for the design of the fictional Klingon alien race in “Star Trek” and who had more recently been involved in HBO’s hit TV series “Game of Thrones.”

After driving up to the Taos Ski Valley area several times to conduct altitude experiments, the pair decided to relocate to Taos permanently. And by investing much of their combined savings into starting the greenhouse this past fall, Doucette and Tashea have found a new mode of living.

“If you want a high-quality output from your body and mind, you need a high-quality nutritional input,” Tashea said, explaining their desire and need to grow high-quality food.

While Doucette and Tashea have been mostly selling their produce to their friends, they have also begun to supply product to Cid’s Food Market, which specializes in organic and locally sourced food. As a result of the labor-intensive operation, the produce isn’t cheap – a small plastic package of their tomatoes goes for $5.99 at the store.

Despite the cost, The Authentic Farm’s early adopters consider the produce to be well worth it.

“They’re treating those plants like a doctor would treat a patient,” Burwell said. “The price is sort of irrelevant based on the nutrition you get out of it.”

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