Written by Dr. Anke Zimmermann, ND, FCAH
A Visit to a Local, Organic Farm
"Be prepared for mud", Rachel Fisher wrote when I asked if I could volunteer to help on her organic farm a few days ago. Fearing the worst I bought a new pair of rubber boots before setting off to Three Oaks Farm in Saanich near Brentwood Bay yesterday.
Three Oaks Farm is part of Saanich Organics, a collaboration between several local, certified organic farms, created to bring fresh, organic produce from farm to table in the Greater Victoria area. I have long been a huge fan of their amazing produce box system and keep telling my patients about the benefits of having beautiful, tasty, organic produce delivered right to their door. Now I was about to learn where some of this nutritious deliciousness actually came from.
Here Come the Goats!
Entering the farm I was greeted by three tiny, very friendly and extremely cute goats. Nigerian Dwarf Goats, about two feet tall, the most adorable little things ever, reminiscent of puppies with horns. My day was already made.
They followed me happily down to the fenced-off fields, probably because they knew that I was a novice and might let them into veggie patch by not being quick enough to close the gate behind me. But Rachel Fisher, the owner and manager of the farm was standing right there and shooed the little rascals away, so they just stood by the fence bleating disappointedly.
"We just let them roam around free most of the time", Rachel said. "At first we were a little worried that they might run off, but we soon realized they were not interested in leaving the farm." Not with veggies like that. Even though they were not allowed onto the patch they got their fair share of treats during the day, including some fluorescent orange, crunchy carrots.
Farmers and Entrepreneurs
Her chart looked like a mathematical puzzle with details of who was to get what and how much. Very complicated, but Rachel seemed cool-headed and unfazed, unlike me who feared for a moment that I might be expected to decipher this mystery.
"Let's go and pick some salad", Rachel suggested. Relieved, I followed her down a path and through a tiny bit of mud into one of several large, dome-shaped greenhouses. This one was lined with numerous watering hoses and contained many rows of colourful miniature greens, some shaped like delicate red and green corals, others with tiny, fan-shaped, almost lime green leaves.
Nutritious Miner's Lettuce
The plant got its name because gold rush miners ate it to stave off scurvy, a disease caused by Vitamin C deficiency. Most likely the local First Nations people educated them about it.
In the greenhouse we were joined by Stacee. a blonde firecracker of a woman who is assistant manager at the farm. Between the three of us we quickly cut about 14 pounds of tiny, delicate, impossibly beautiful salad greens with scissors.
Next we brought the boxes of salad greens to the washing station where they were soaked and washed in a large bathtub full of water to remove any soil. Then I got to spin them dry a few pounds at a time with an industrial-sized salad spinner.
"Now we need to cut some leaks", Rachel said while checking her charts and sharpening a special knife apparently designed for just such a job. The leeks were standing in a large field, upright and proud like brave rows of soldiers. I was impressed and asked how long it took them to grow this large.
"They've been growing here since April of last year".
Almost a whole year to grow this big! I had no idea. Then she showed me how to carefully cut around the roots of a leek, gently pull it out, knock the dirt and some of the excess roots off with the dull back side of the knife and trim the leaves a bit.
I noticed how strong and well-developed the root systems were. I must say it felt very satisfying, if labour intensive, to pick these leeks as they were fighting back, so to speak, with all those roots.
Leeks are another nutrition powerhouse. They are abundant in allicin, just like garlic and onions. Allicin has anti-bacterial, anti-viral and anti-fungal properties and also helps to reduce cholesterol by impeding harmful enzymes in liver cells. Additionally, leeks are rich in many important vitamins, including folic acid. One serving provides 52% of the daily folic acid requirements. An overall boost to the cardiovascular and immune systems.
The leeks were then carefully washed with a pressure nozzle - by me - getting myself all wet in the process, then carefully packed for restaurants.
One of the restaurants also wanted 10 pounds of baby beets, so I was dispatched to the fields to gather them. Stacee was pulling white radishes in the neighbouring row and in short order we were joined by her two gorgeous cats. The sun broke through the misty clouds just above the tall trees surrounding the property and a raven flew back and forth over the land, calling to it's mate. The whole scene felt rather idyllic, like a brief, magical holiday away from my usual life on busy Fort Street.
Then I learned that Stacee had studied to become a homeopath a few years ago in Niagara Falls, so we had a lovely chat about homeopathy to boot!
Beets are some of my favorite vegetables ever. No slouch in the nutrition department either, beets have some interesting effects on our bodies, including the ability to lower blood pressure by increasing nitric oxide levels, the same thing that Viagra does in case you did not know. By virtue of this, circulation is improved so beets are very popular with athletes among others, apparently increasing stamina by up to 15% 3-5 hours after a meal of several beets. I know you'll want to mark this for future reference.
But words to the wise, you'll pee red if you eat them, not a problem with the doping patrol, but it can be a bit of a shock the first time around if you've never eaten beets before. I remember visiting some friends out of town many years ago and cooking beets for them at dinner time. The next day the house awoke to blood-curdling screams as my friend used the toilet and saw 'beet-red'!
Grown with Care
All I could think about for the rest of the day was how much closer I felt to my food and just how much care went into growing it. How many times a vegetable had to be tended to and handled before it landed on a dinner table and how many people were involved in getting it there. Then we complain if we have to pay $3 for a head of lettuce or $4 for a leek! It's worth so much more.
Fruit Loops and Mr. Noodles
Visions of brightly coloured strips of baby greens kept dancing in my mind long into the night. When I woke up the next morning I felt as if I had actually completed a day, there was a true break, probably because my sleep was so deep after having been outside and working physically all day. Best sleep I had in a long time.
Now I wonder what we are doing to ourselves and worse, to most of our children by keeping them inside all day, sitting in schools with artificial lights and wifi, at home in front of computers and televisions, feeding them fruit loops for breakfast and Mister Noodles for lunch. Kids who have never grown a baby lettuce or a carrot, who have never tended chickens or goats, who are not allowed to run free all day and get muddy all over. Whose immune systems have never had a chance to mature freely, but instead were subjected to repeated vaccinations, antibiotics and other chemical drugs.
Back to Our Roots
They can help to feed us and our families while caring for the land as responsible stewards, maintaining and preserving it's life-giving power for this and future generations. They need our support; we can vote with our dollars for a greener, cleaner world and a more intimate connection with nature and with ourselves while eating better and getting healthier.
As for myself, I just received my weekly box of produce today, with baby greens I helped to pick. Knowing that many others are enjoying them feels really good, like I contributed to something worthwhile with my hands, if only a little. I'm also looking forward to the next mini-holiday excursion with more salad greens, baby beets, leeks and new friends, both two and four-legged!
Saanich Organics 250-818-5807, saanichorganics.com
By Dr. Anke Zimmermann, ND, FCAH
Dr. Anke Zimmermann, ND, FCAH, Naturopathic Physician
West Sooke, BC, Canada
Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday from 10-6 and alternating Saturdays from 10-4