The Currant Crossroads
Posted by Nicole Delawder via Hudson Valley News
We know the Hudson Valley boasts a bounty of gourmet goodness, from the Culinary Institute of America to the sought-after farmers markets and new restaurants popping up in once vacant sites. But there’s a rebel fruit out there that may change the way not only us in the Hudson Valley looks at food, but America as a whole.
Black currants and black currant juice, the equivalent of orange juice for Europeans, has been forbidden in the United States due to a disease called blister rust affecting white pine trees imported from Europe dating back to the early 1700s.
Walnut Grove Farm in Staatsburg has become the first commercial currant farm in New York State with the only dedicated currant nursery in the United States. Its proprietor, Greg Quinn, has helped overturn the law to change the currant stigma.
“I knew about currants because there were currants growing behind my restaurant in Germany while I was there,” Quinn said after parking his off-road vehicle alongside a field ready with rows of black currants last Friday.
With over 20 years of horticultural experience at the New York Botanical Gardens and a food background, Quinn wanted a crop to support the land and knew of the power behind the tiny fruit.
“I knew they were illegal to grow but never had a real reason to look into it,” said Quinn. “When I started to investigate it, I found that it was a disease thought to affect white pine trees but the science wasn’t complete.”
Quinn then ran the idea past a few colleagues and plant pathologists at Cornell “and they said, ‘You know, you’re right. If you grow the right varieties, it’s not a problem.’”
With the scientific door wide open, Quinn marched his findings into the state Legislature and Gov. George Pataki signed a new bill into law, overturning the 100-year-old ban in April 2003.
“Most Americans still don’t know what currants are. Currants are black currants, they have twice the antioxidants of blueberries, four times the vitamin C of oranges, more potassium than bananas, calcium, iron, manganese, magnesium, riboflavin,” Quinn said.
He added, “It’s an incredible powerhouse, one of the highest antioxidants in the world, but Americans have no idea about it because of the ban.”
Anthocyanin, the antioxidant found in currants, is one the most beneficial, and the health benefits of the fruit are being tested all over the world with remarkable findings in cases ranging from dementia to macular degeneration.
Quinn spoke about a 2006 study out of Tufts University, where researchers said symptoms of Alzheimer’s were “thwarted” by the use of currant extract. Another small study out of New Zealand showed patients with Parkinson’s disease were able to calm the “shakes” associated with the brain disorder after doses of currant concentrate.
“This may be the single last food product that everyone else in the world knows about except the United States,” Quinn added.
Over 10,000 currant bushes highlight Walnut Grove Farm, with an additional 10 to 20 acres being planted this spring, despite this erratic weather.
“We’re very nervous about the lack of water; it’s a big problem,” Quinn said. “The impact depends – with the warm winter and early, warm spring, our last frost day is somewhere between May 10-15. When these guys bloom and we get a hard freeze, it could kill the crop. It’s not true only with me; it’s true with apples and pears – any flower.”
Despite the weather, CurrantC is starting to get the attention it deserves, including a shout out from television host Dr. Oz, placement in more than 40 local shops and in locations throughout Manhattan coming soon.
“We really can’t grow enough,” he said. “There are more people looking to get involved in currant farming and I’m happy to help them.”
Aside from the popular CurrantC nectar, the first nationally distributed black currant nectar in the United States, the farm also produces concentrate, genuine dried black currants, candy, supplements and a variety of red, black and pink currant plants for your home or farm.
“This is kind of my milieu,” Quinn said while looking over his crop. “I was looking to take up the agrarian life and it’s always been kind of dream of mine – to live on a farm and to live in the Hudson Valley, which is so unbelievably beautiful and rich. We have so many friends who are into the arts and Carolyn (Blackwood) is a movie producer and fine-art photographer, so we’re both interested in culture and food – it’s just a perfect spot.”
He added, “I’ve lived all over the world in many different areas. I’ve never lived anywhere that I love as much as here. I just can’t sing its praises enough.”