Monday, October 1, 2012

Farm to Pharmacy Intensive

Last week, I participated in the Farm to Pharmacy Intensive with David Crow and William Siff at Goldthread Herb Farm. The farm is located in the foothills of the Berkshires of Western Massachusetts, and we were very lucky to have nice weather the majority of the time! Over the week, we learned about herbs in many different ways, including plant walks outdoors, harvesting, making various products with the herbs, and lectures. The concepts were taught incorporating Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayurvedic principles.

Learning in the outdoor classroom with William Siff

The intensive went from Saturday, September 22 - Friday, September 28. With the exception of Friday and Saturday, class went from 9 am - 6 pm, with delicious vegetarian lunches catered by The Bakers Oven located in Shelburne Falls. The schedule varied each day, according to the weather.

A major focus of the program was how to apply herbalism at home. Therefore, we learned a lot about working with herbs that are relatively harmless, have a wide range of therapeutic benefits, are cost-effective, and are easy to grow in North America (if you are interested in growing your own herbs, check out The Medicinal Herb Grower by Richo Cech of Horizon Herbs). For example, applying herbalism can be as simple as using culinary herbs, which can have immense health benefits. This includes the oreganos, thymes, basils, sages, onions, garlic, and more.

Because the intensive was located at the herb farm, we were able to do some outdoor hands-on learning. At the end of September in Massachusetts, the growing season is coming to an end, so we harvested herbs and seeds, and we prepared plant beds for rest for the winter. We also garbled herbs, which is the process of separating the part of the plant that will be used from the parts that aren't wanted. For instance, removing the stems from dried peppermint leaves for storage purposes. Here is a nicely illustrated blog post describing how to easily garble herbs.

Wire mesh screen used for garbling herbs

We also learned about composting,

Vermicomposting in the greenhouse

and about many properties of the herbs that were present at the farm.

Ashwagandha, an important herb in Ayurvedic tradition and a strong restorative that strengthens the immune system

In addition, we learned about essential oils with David Crow from Floracopeia (the quality of the essential oils from Floracopeia is simply amazing).

On Thursday, we distilled local hemlock to make hydrosol and essential oil with Goldthread's distillery. This process involved stripping the hemlock needles,

Stripping hemlock needles

and placing the needles in a chamber in the 85-gallon still. With a fire and water, steam was created underneath, allowing the hot steam to pass upwards through the plant material, carrying the essential oil with it. The steam with the essential oil then went through a cold condensing unit, where the steam and essential oil recondensed. The liquid collected in a container, and because of the different densities, the oil separated from the water. The oil produced is the hemlock essential oil. After the essential oil is decanted off, the remaining aromatic liquid, which contains trace amounts of the essential oil, is known as a hydrosol. Hydrosols have numerous applications, such as for body care and as natural air fresheners.

Hemlock Distillation 

Hemlock essential oil (on top) and hydrosol (below)

While in Conway, I also explored the area, including a visit to the Ashfield Farmers Market nearby.

Ashfield Farmers Market

On Friday, I went on a tour of South River Miso, which is located right in Conway.

Miso is a seasoning often used to make miso soup in Japanese cuisine. However, it can be used in many other food preparations as well. As a fermented product, miso is reported to have numerous health benefits, such as cancer prevention, and in promoting health as a probiotic. At South River Miso, making miso involves cooking the beans, inoculating brown rice with spores of the mold Aspergillus oryzae to make koji, treading the beans by feet for an hour (wearing clean organic cotton socks, of course!), adding the rice koji, and then fermenting the miso in the wooden vats for 3 weeks, or even up to 3 years. This process produces not only miso, but also tamari, which is the liquid that collects in the vats of miso. Tamari is similar to soy sauce, but it has a lighter and sweeter taste. Check out these videos for a tour of South River Miso and to see how they make their products.

South River Miso's Fermentation Building. Tamari fermenting in the carboys (left) and miso fermenting in the vats (right).

South River Miso makes many varieties of miso, including traditional misos made with brown rice, and untraditional flavors, such as chickpea miso. I purchased some chickpea miso tamari and brown rice koji as a starter to make amazaké again. All of South River Miso's products can be ordered online from their website, and their miso can also be found at many Whole Foods markets.

It was a wonderful week away, and I learned a lot. Having already taken some herbalism and aromatherapy classes, I enjoyed learning from new teachers with different backgrounds, and also learning from a great group of peers. One major difference in this program compared to some of my previous classes was the emphasis on Ayurvedic principles and Traditional Chinese Medicine. If you are interested in other events offered by David Crow and William Siff, visit Floracopeia's website and Goldthread Herb Farm and Apothecary!

 Goldthread Herb Farm

Monday, August 27, 2012

A Summer at Waltham Fields Community Farm

This summer, I worked on the weed crew at Waltham Fields Community Farm.

Founded in 1995, Waltham Fields Community Farm is a nonprofit organization "engaged in food production, hunger relief, and education." The farm consists of 11 acres, it supports a 500-share CSA, and it offers various other programs. Some of the produce grown at the farm this season included kale,

Kale. Harvest from the bottom up, and it continues to grow and produce new leaves!

swiss chard,

Swiss chard was everywhere

a variety of flowers, and much more.

 Fresh flower bouquet

I saw okra growing for the first time, too!

 Okra flower

The weed crew position was part-time, Mondays - Fridays from 8 am - noon, from June - August. The crew consisted of four members, and from Tuesday - Friday we worked with drop-in volunteers, from 9 am - noon. It was great to meet and to work with volunteers of different ages and backgrounds! Most of the work that we did was by hand, and we occasionally used hand-tools. The weeding we did ranged from detailed work such as weeding carrots, to weeding weeds that were taller than me (I am five feet tall).

One great benefit of the job was receiving fresh produce from the farm. I fermented both pickling and salad cucumbers using the recipe from the book Real Food Fermentation (a book that I contributed writing to), and both batches of fermented pickles came out very crispy. I had grape leaves on hand to add to the fermenting jars as well, which are supposed to help pickled cucumbers to keep their crunch.

Fermenting cucumber pickles

Other ways I preserved the harvest included making sauerkraut and a variety of pestos, freezing, and canning tomatoes with other members of the weed crew. To make the tomato sauce, we modified a recipe from Pick Your Own, took the appropriate precautions in order to avoid botulism, and with three people, six hours of work, and a water bath canning set, we had canned 10 pint jars of tomato sauce.

 Cantaloupe ice cream

Despite Waltham Fields Community Farm's abundance of tomatoes this year, this has been a tough tomato year for some farms in the area because of late blight. Late blight appears sporadically in the northeast, and unfortunately returned this season. Also known as "Phytophthora infestans," late blight caused the Irish Potato Famine in the 1840s, and it infects tomatoes and potatoes. If late blight is not managed, it can destroy entire crops in days. While some farms in the area lost crops due to late blight, others who have been able to manage the disease have had a very productive tomato season. Read more about late blight in this handout, and for photos and for more information, visit this webpage.

Another crop we weeded was parsnips, a crop that we needed to weed in long pants, long sleeves, and gloves! Why? Because parsnips contain furocoumarins, a photosensitive compound that can cause phytophotodermatitis. If the plant juice from parsnips gets on your skin and the skin gets exposed to sunlight, it can cause serious burns and blisters that can last even up to a year. Although many people are already familiar with these burns from wild parsnips, the burns can occur with cultivated parsnips, as well. Luckily we were warned about the dangers of parsnip beforehand! For more information and pictures regarding parsnips burns, check out these articles: "Burned by wild parsnip," "Parsnips gave me blisters! Gardener covered in sores after brushing against vegetable leaves," and Parsnip Dangers from Wikipedia.

Over the summer, I also attended several meetings with Emasscraft, the Eastern Massachusetts Collaborative Regional Alliance for Farmer Training. "CRAFT is a free, collaborative group...From April through October farmers, farm workers and apprentices from CRAFT farms gather at one farm for a visit and/or workshop. Each visit includes an overview of the farm as well as a discussion about one or two specific topics. CRAFT discussions are also scheduled November through March if there is sufficient interest" (

I went to three CRAFT meetings this season. At the meetings, I learned about weed management techniques at Drumlin Farm, tomatoes at Wright-Locke Farm (a farm that I also wrote an article about for the Lexington Farmers' Market), and irrigation systems at Moraine Farm. I enjoyed visiting new farms, and seeing how each farm operates differently from one another. The schedule for Emasscraft meetings can be found here, and I would highly recommend signing up for their listserv.

It was a great summer working on the weed crew, and also with the wonderful staff at the farm.

Waltham Fields Community Farm Staff of 2012 (minus Marla)
(photo courtesy of Waltham Fields Community Farm)

Although I am sad to no longer be working at Waltham Fields Community Farm, I am looking forward to sharing a winter CSA with some of my fellow weed crew members this winter. Waltham Fields Community Farm's annual Waltham Farm Day is also coming up on Saturday, September 22! For more information about Waltham Fields Community Farm, visit their website.

Red sunflower

I am also excited for some new opportunities that are coming up. I will be participating in Goldthread Herb Farm and Apothecary's Farm to Pharmacy Intensive this September 22-28. This week I also begin working at Blue Heron Organic Farm in Lincoln, and in addition to my waitressing hours at the Spanish wine and tapas restaurant Taberna de Haro, I will be working as a cook. Stop by the farm or the restaurant sometime and say hello!

Monday, April 23, 2012

Getting Involved with the Food Movement: Careers and More

I am very excited to be joining the Weed Crew with Waltham Fields Community Farms this summer, from June through August! (And for those of you interested in volunteering with us, volunteer information is here!) In addition, as former president of Slow Food Boston University, I've had many individuals ask me, "How do I find a job related to sustainable food, or become involved in the sustainable food movement?" From my experiences, and after attending the Real Food Challenge's webinar, "Cultivating Food Movement Careers," I felt inclined to share some resources and tips.

Below are several resources to get you started. Because I live in the Greater Boston, Massachusetts area, you will notice that many of the resources may be focused on the northeast region of the U.S., although not all of them are.

Resources for sustainable food-related jobs and opportunities:
General listings that may include opportunities related to sustainable food:
Interested in farming? Farm positions may be found in the resources listed above. However, here are some farm-specific links:
Additional suggestions:
Remember, these are just a few resources to get you started. If you know of any other helpful resources, please share!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

A Weekend in Chicago

This past weekend, I visited Chicago with my brother and sister. We were only there for less than forty-eight hours, but it was fun exploring the city for the first time!

Because the three of us are foodies, we pretty much arranged our schedule according to where we dined. And while I will not cover everything that we did throughout our trip, I will highlight some of the places that we visited!

Friday I arrived in Chicago before my siblings, so while I was waiting for them, I set out for the Chicago French Market. Along the way I passed by Kramer's Health Foods.

Kramer's Health Foods

In the front of Kramer's, there is a health food store with prepared foods, beverages, produce, supplements, and more. Meanwhile, upstairs there is a healthy vegetarian cafe and juice bar. Unfortunately the cafe was closed when I stopped by, but I still purchased a prepared tuna sandwich from the front of the store, which was made with (real) tongol tuna, mayonnaise, Ezekiel Bread, tomatoes, green onions, celery, and barrel pickels. For only less than $6 it was a great, delicious, and healthy purchase!

After walking a little over a mile I arrived at the Chicago French Market- a year-round, indoor marketplace with local artisans and purveyors.

At the Chicago French Market, I stopped at Raw, which offers 100% raw and plant-based foods. While I am not raw nor vegan, I love trying new and different healthy foods! 


Signature Muffin (Carrot and Raisin, left) and Kale Chips (right)

I purchased the carrot and raisin signature muffin and the dehydrated kale chips. Although dense, the muffin was very tasty! The kale chips were alright, although I was not a big fan of the seasonings. These kale chips were made with kale, tahini, lemon juice, HSS, garlic, agave, spirulina, nutritional yeast, and cayenne. However, when I make kale chips, I usually season them more simply: a little olive oil, salt, sesame seeds, and optional garlic powder. Raw also had some delicious looking and sounding salads, other prepared foods, beverages, and more. Check out the menu here. If you are looking for healthy food in Chicago, I'd recommend to stop by Raw!

After the Chicago French Market, I took a train to Green Grocer ChicagoGreen Grocer Chicago is a small, neighborhood market featuring locally grown and produced produce and specialty food items. The store is small, but a neat place to check out if you are interested in local and organic food items! At the store, I picked up a copy of Edible Chicago. And of course, my visit to Chicago would not have been complete without a tasting of a local kombucha brew. Green Grocer Chicago offers NessAlla Kombucha as a local brand option, which is produced in Madison, Wisconsin. I tried the raspberry kombucha. It was slighty sweet and had nice effervescence!

Green Grocer Chicago (left) and NessAlla Kombucha (right)

Saturday morning, my brother, sister, and I had lunch at the Mexican restaurant, Xoco. My favorite item that we got were the churros. They were light, crunchy, and delicious!

Churros with a chocolate shot (left) and Aztec hot chocolate (right)

Afterwards, we visited The Art Institute of Chicago. I enjoyed the Impressionism and Post-Impressionism exhibit the most, which features works of Claude Monet, Georges Seurat, Vincent van Gogh, and more.

Next, we went to Mana Food Bar, a vegetarian/vegan food bar that also offers smoothies and freshly squeezed juices. Everything that we ordered was beautifully prepared and delicious! Some of the items we ordered included the mana slider made with a brown rice and mushroom burger with spicy mayo, chilled yellow wheat noodles tossed in a spicy sesame peanut sauce with shredded peapods and carrots, and spicy tomato braised okra over blue-cheese grits.

Mana Food Bar's outdoor patio

Spicy tomato braised okra over blue-cheese grits

On the next day, Sunday, we had Easter Brunch at Nana. Nana is a family-owned restaurant that sources from organic, local, and sustainable food producers. We enjoyed the food here, and ordered the sweet potato doughnuts made with dark chocolate, cherry gastrique, and sweet potato chips as an appetizer. For entrees, we shared the nanadict (made with pupusas, chorizo, poached eggs, poblano cream, and home fries) and the "biscuits and duck gravy" (made with two eggs, biscuits, duck confit gravy, cipollini onions, and seasonal veggies). The biscuits in the "biscuits and duck gravy" dish were huge, but other than that, the dish was perfect!


"biscuits and duck gravy" at Nana

After Nana, we visited Millenium Park, and we were lucky that we had such nice weather over the weekend! Of course, we also stopped by Cloud Gate at Millenium Park, also known as "The Bean."

Millenium Park

Cloud Gate

Overall, we had a great time in Chicago. The city is more spread out than other cities, such as compared to New York City, and to get around we made use of the city's public transportation and Zipcar. Other noteworthy places that we dined at in Chicago included Avec and Urbanbelly. In addition, we had deep-dish pizza at Gino's East, but were not impressed. Places that I would have liked to stop at if we had had the time includes the Dill Pickle Food Co-op, a farmers market such as the Green City Market, and other cultural attractions. I will just have to visit those the next time I am in Chicago!

Friday, March 30, 2012

Sacred Plant Medicine Journey: Costa Rica

In December, I went to Costa Rica for the very first time for a Sacred Plant Medicine Journey retreat with The Gaia School of Healing & Earth Education. Needless to say, it was an incredible experience!

The retreat was located at La Cusinga, a Rainforest Eco Lodge located in Uvita, Costa Rica, and right next to Ballena Marine National Park. While I did not see any whales during my stay, I did see a boa constrictor, toucans, and heard howler monkeys for the first time. Howler monkeys are loud! It was also a pleasure to see the local flora of the Costa Rican rainforest, and the view from La Cusinga was simply incredible.

The view from La Cusinga

Capuchin Monkey

Ceiba tree

The Plant Medicine Journey was for eight days, from December 10 - December 18. We were a small group, with around twelve people in total. Each day began with yoga taught by Annie Hoffman and an opening circle afterwards. In addition, Banghan Nabi Kim led afternoon yoga and movement sessions.

An amazing yoga space
Photo courtesy of Sage Maurer

Every day we learned about a different chakra, to cover each of the seven chakras: the Root, Sacral, Solar Plexus, Heart, Throat, Third Eye, and Crown Chakra.

The Seven Chakras 
(Photo source)

We also harvested and learned about local medicinal plants, and we made herbal teas, infused oils, and tinctures. Sage Maurer, the director of The Gaia School of Healing & Earth Education, facilitated the retreat and taught us about the medicinal herbs and the chakras.

Harvesting ylang ylang (left) and preparing ylang ylang for tea, infused oils, and tinctures (right) 
 Photos courtesy of Sage Maurer

It was great to see plants for the first time in their natural habitats, plants that I had never heard of, and plants that I had previously only dealt with before in their dried, essential oil, or other forms.

Dormilona (Mimosa Pudica)
The plant leaves close when you touch them!

Pineapple plant - I never knew this is how pineapple grows!

Raw cacao


Some of the medicinal plants we learned about included:

Turmeric (Curcuma longa), which has been found to help prevent and treat cancer, arthritis, and more.

Fresh Turmeric

Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata) is traditionally used as a calming herb to address anxiety and insomnia.


Hombre grande (Quassia amara): It is said that traditionally, drinking a strong infusion made with the bark can be used to help treat worms, parasites, and malaria; and a topical application can kill lice, fleas, and insects. Read more about hombre grande here.

Hombre grande leaves 
(Photo source)

I was introduced to many new concepts throughout the retreat. For example, instead of taking a tincture directly,  we learned that we could add a dropper full or two of tincture to a cup of water, and drink that instead. In addition, the herbal infusions we made were made with only one herb. By consuming a tea made with only a single herb rather than a blend, one can better discern the effects an herb has on the body and mind.

There was downtime during the retreat  as well, allowing us to visit the beach, go on hikes, and just to relax. It was only a short hike to the beach from the lodge. In addition, the food at La Cusinga was amazing. Every meal was a feast, exquisitely prepared and made with local ingredients. For anyone traveling to Costa Rica, La Cusinga is a great place to stay!


I had a wonderful time at the Sacred Medicine Journey, and I am looking forward to applying what I learned in the future, and keeping in touch with the friends that I made during the retreat. I would highly recommend attending future Costa Rica herbalism retreats with The Gaia School of Healing & Earth Education, and if you have any more questions about the retreat, please don't hesitate to contact me or visit the website for more information

Photo courtesy of Sage Maurer