In this convenience-obsessed era of mass produced food that is shipped around the nation or across borders regardless of the season, it’s all to easy to bemoan the state of quality of food, to decry the rising obesity epidemic in many countries or grumble about trading the taste of fresh seasonal produce bred to withstand the rigors of a carbon-foot print but it’s far harder to make a sustainable difference an an integrated way. Two years ago at the Entrepreneurial Center at the University of Hartford I met an intriguing woman, Joan Palmer, a fellow classmate who had a vision for a holistic approach to teaching people how to grow and prepare healthy produce with a deep understanding of the medicinal properties of herbs. At tonight’s Open House for The Institute for Sustainable Nutrition just a few days after their inaugural year long class, it was clear Joan had created her vision to nourish people in the fullest sense.
A winding drive along wooded country roads led to Holcomb Farm, a delightful clearing with iconic red barns trimmed with peeling white painted trim. After a warm welcome before the summer light faded, we wandered to the vegetable garden where students had raised different plants during the season. It was the first time I had ever seen bold amber heads of Amaranth, a protein packed seed in full bloom or some of the heritage tomatoes. While the emphasis is on local sustainable crops, I was surprised to see lemon grass was thriving. As a person who loved the convenience of picking fresh Asian herbs just outside my door in another country, I was very thrilled to know I can replicate this herb in New England, even if it’s only going to be an annual in this climate.
Nigel Palmer explained how to restore life to tired soil by adding organic mineral powders and nutrient rich tinctures then measuring the quality of that bounty by testing the sucrose levels with a refractometer, a technique originally employed by vignerons in Europe in the 1800s. With a strong science background, this barefoot teacher with a sense of humor encouraged us to be connected from the soil to the stars as he showed us where to look for Mars and Saturn then where to watch for Orian just over the horizon at 5am tomorrow. He also regaled us with stories of baby bunnies, snakes and a bear that clambered over the fence to reach the beehive. Alison Birks then explained the health benefits for everything from milkweed to stinging nettles to red clover as she took the group of guests to the edge of the field to show us how to safely forage for wild edibles.
As the sunset waned over the barn it was time to gather on the stone patio while Terry Walters prepared a simple, colorful chickpea salad with fresh ingredients from her garden and the farm. As an award winning author of the creative “Clean Food” and “Clean Start” books, I am always impressed by her perfect light balance of flavors. I have known Terry since soon after we arrived in our little town almost 8 years ago and think it’s a blessing to have such a thoughtful, positive person in our midst. It was delightful to share the celebration in such a peaceful setting with family and friends.
I declare I am not associated with this program but certainly I applaud their program and the efforts of local farmers who need your support at local markets throughout the year, not just at the peak of summer. To learn more about the 12 month certification program or special events, please visit www.tiosn.com