It’s usually something that happens in life, or something someone says that causes us to make a big change. For me, organic ideas were first planted in my mind from my sister Kathy. I remember seeing Silent Spring by Rachel Carson on the bookshelf in our bedroom. She was in college and I was in my mid-teens. I paged through the book and got my first look at the devastating magnitude of chemical use in agriculture. Kathy had just finished college and moved to the other side of the state, where land was abundant and fertile in the hills and valleys of the “driftless” region of Wisconsin. Through her actions, she taught me about self-dependence and living off the land. She had goats and chickens, a garden and a little A-frame house that she heated with the wood she split. I loved it, but was deep into my high school happenings and heading in my own directions.
In my early twenties, living the young family dream, I had my first ¼-acre vegetable garden. It felt satisfying to grow food for our family and eat things fresh from the garden. I subscribed to Organic Gardening and Prevention Magazine, canned tomatoes, bought a chest freezer for other veggie harvests, and learned the art of making bread (sometimes it got the name brick bread, but delicious none-the-less).
Life moved along and ten years later Stephen and I were living in a paradise setting in the Caribbean having taken jobs as underwater photo pros with our scuba careers in full swing. In our first remote location, we were able to find luscious fruits and vegetables from a Haitian farmer in the Bahamas. We would buy a full bunch of bananas at a time and hang them for ripening, which they did over the course of a few weeks. After a couple of years, we moved to an island off the coast of Venezuela, much further south. A jet came to the island only once a week, bringing new tourists, and taking the past week’s passengers back home. It wasn’t a fertile island, more like a desert, with wild goats and thousands of flamingoes living in the salt pans. We could buy our produce from the farmers that brought their little boats filled with fruits and vegetables from the mainland.
While in the Bahamas we had an epiphany regarding the foods we ate, and we went through a major lifestyle change choosing a vegetarian diet. As we read books like Diet For a New America and Diet for a Small Planet, we learned more about animal agriculture and commercial agriculture in general, and wondered about the unregulated use of chemicals on the foods we were eating. After a time away from “home” we were longing to head back, and the decision was made to return to our fertile Wisconsin roots and start an organic CSA garden.
Stephen and I, along with our 3 cats, found the quaint village of Cambridge, outside of Madison. There we met a wonderful new friend and mentor, Paul, with whom we sat around the kitchen table and discussed our possibilities of working together. Paul lived on the 80-acre family farm his parents had farmed before him. They had farmed commercially with chemical use coming into their practices for many years. When Paul’s wife died of cancer a few years earlier, he truly felt it was from the chemicals they had been spraying and eating, so he turned his land and mission into a chemical-free, organically run farm. Paul was 70 years old at the time and had the steam of a 30-year-old. We traded our help on the farm for a plot of land to call home and put in our one-acre garden. Together we had many great experiences. One year we hand planted a few acres of asparagus plants, another year we experimented with 20-acres of popcorn while at the same time starting our seeds, planting our garden and developing our CSA program which included 12 families in Cambridge and Madison. We collected seaweed from the local lake, hauled and shoveled horse manure from the local stable, and made small mountains of compost. Paul’s apple orchard was meticulously sprayed with garlic and cayenne twice a year and together we built our hoop houses to extend our growing season. It was an organic-growers heaven.
Paul took us to many organic meetings in SE Wisconsin where fellow farmers discussed the organic movement and methods. We took seminars at the Michael Fields Institute, a prominent research and education center for biodynamic farming in East Troy Wisconsin. We were sponges for all we could absorb in the organic farming/gardening realm. We began teaching cooking classes out of our home and then at the local tech schools. People were waking up to the food system and how they could make changes in their own choices to improve their health and the well-being of the Earth. Soon we were seeing the impact we had on many more people reaching out to learn about clean eating. This led to that, and we were once again moving, this time to De Pere, Wisconsin to open a vegetarian cafe and cooking school through a nonprofit we started, called EarthHeart. We’ll leave that story to another blog, and skip ahead to the now.
Our new life in food manufacturing is reaching more people than ever. We are thrilled to have a certified organic snack-line that uses no chemicals and no genetically modified organisms. There is no land or water pollution, no chemical residues that harm insects or birds, as in that first eye opener, Silent Spring. We make clean food, coming straight from the farms and orchards that grow our ingredients.
Our organic certifying partner, MOSA (Midwest Organic Services Association) is a conscientious organization that monitors accounts closely to assure all regulations are being practiced. When you see the USDA Organic seal on food items, look for the certifying agency that has given their approval to use that symbol. Without a certifying agency listed, that item might not be regulated as certified organic. Also keep in mind that a legit USDA symbol means there are no GMO’s in it, as they are not allowed in any certified organic ingredients. The best part about organic is the Earth being free from the chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides being sprayed day after day, that end up in our water and soil, affecting all of life. Organic is the core of everything we do, because we honor and respect all life. Thank you for concerning yourselves with the organic way.