Old MacDonald Wishes He Had a Farmigo

If Old MacDonald had a Farmigo, he and Mrs. MacDonald could stay up to watch late night TV instead of turning in early and rising at the crack of dawn. Can you picture the two of them, yukking it up on the sofa, big screen TV on and a box of Farmigo’s Gluten-Free Cheddar Cheese Crisps between them? MacDonald could leave it to farmers like Tim Tonjes of Tonjes Farm Dairy and Greg Swartz, Tannis Kowalchuk and John Bachman of Willow Wisp Organic to milk the cows and harvest the kale, carrots, radishes and beets. Heck, Old MacDonald and the Mrs. could even slim down and rediscover the spring in their step by adopting a plant-centered diet with all the beautiful options on offer at the Farmigo virtual marketplace.

For those of you who are not familiar with Farmigo, it is an online source of fine and carefully curated nearby comestibles. It provides its customers with easy access to numerous local producers and purveyors of fruits, vegetables, dairy, meat, seafood, bread, pastries, prepared foods and so much more. Farmigo sources the majority of its food from no more than 250 miles from your delivery drop-off point. There are at least seven Farmigo delivery drop-off points just within the seven square miles of my South Orange-Maplewood, NJ neighborhood.

The folks at Farmigo are fussy fuss budgets who taste-test every product they offer and insist on knowing the origin of all their whole foods. They are also concerned that the base ingredients comprising their packaged goods are of high quality. They favor artisan operations and producers who employ conscientious growing methods. Their purveyors create all or at least many of their own ingredients and execute their own small-batch production. In other words, Farmigo is the website you choose when you want to eat fruit preserves prepared by the farmers who grow the fruit, pastas handmade on the farm where the grain is cultivated, and sauce from the growers who plant the tomato seeds.

Remember Tim Tonjes and Greg, Tannis and John, those early rising Farmigo farmers I mentioned before who could save Old Mac and his lady love the trouble of rising with the rooster? They are fine examples of the producers who make Farmigo great. Farmer Tim Tonjes has been raising pastured cattle and producing hormone-free, non-homogenized and low temperature pasteurized dairy products on his Callicoon, NY farm since the 1950s, but within the past ten years his operation has expanded to include a dairy kitchen tucked underneath a hill. There he uses his lovely cows’ milk to make yogurt, kefir and buttermilk, as well as fresh and aged cheeses.

Then there’s husband and wife team Greg Swartz and Tannis Kowalchuk who along with their son, Simon and their third partner John Bachman, grow a beautiful assortment of vegetables, herbs and flowers on their twelve acre farm in Damascus, Pennsylvania. Their focus is on cultivating the farm’s rich and healthy soil. Insisting on sustainable farming methods, this fine bunch uses no pesticides whatsoever. How do you like them apples? Actually, they don’t grow apples on their pristine farm, but their curly kale, arugula, rainbow carrots, beets and watermelon radishes are staples on my weekly Farmigo list this time of year and you can admire their good looks in the photo above. As you can see, Farmigo’s artisans and their products are nothing short of impressive.

I am dazzled not only by the quality of the food, but by the incredible variety. Creamy, floral Mini Ashmead’s Kernel Apples, an heirloom variety that dates back to the 17th century, croissants from a world-class French bakery in Brooklyn and black bean hummus from Vermont can all shack up in a shopping bag, strange bedfellows brought together by fate, or at least by the fancies of the discriminating shopper’s taste buds.

Speaking of shopping bags, a customer’s selected items are carefully packed in recyclable brown paper ones, and affixed to each bag is an itemized list of its contents. The label also indicates which number bag it happens to be in your total collection of bags for that order so you’re unlikely to leave behind yummy things.

I have to admit, one of the reasons I’m attracted to Farmigo is that I’m worried about the conventional food supply in the United States. Our regulatory agency, the Food and Drug Administration, claims that dairy and meat from cows treated with recombinant bovine somatotropin (rBST) and recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH) is safe for human consumption, yet these synthesized hormones are banned in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Israel, Argentina and the European Union. Various artificial blue and yellow food dyes are banned in several European countries, but you’ll find them decorating many of the colorful, chemicalized processed foods on your local supermarket’s shelves. Long gone are the days when spices like saffron and turmeric and dyes from brightly pigmented vegetables such as beets were the preferred method to enliven foods with vibrant hues.

The European Union is also far more cautious than the U.S. about authorizing GMOs (genetically modified organisms) and irradiated foods, considering them “new food.” Each modified or irradiated food is evaluated on a case-by-case basis by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) before it is allowed into the food supply. These “new foods” are not necessarily banned in the E.U., but they come under extremely close scrutiny. European governments and consumers are much less receptive than their U.S. counterparts when it comes to accepting risks from nonessential ingredients. If a food presented for sale in the E.U. does contain any genetically modified plants or organisms, labeling is mandatory even if no GMO can be detected in the final product. In the U.S. there is no federal requirement for labeling food containing GMOs.  It is also important to note that many of the policy makers who represent the FDA, the watchdogs who are entrusted with the responsibility of protecting our health, have strong ties to the powerful food industry including the American multinational agrochemical and biotechnology giant, Monsanto.

You may be wondering what Farmigo’s policy is on GMOs. Here’s what I have learned. Farmigo pledges that all of the fresh, whole fruits and vegetables they sell are entirely non-GMO. Creating partnerships with the finest small-scale farmers, bakers, fishermen and artisans rather than agribusinessmen and Big Food heavyweights means that there is a focus on craftsmanship, transparency and sustainability which extends to the ingredients that are selected for prepared goods. However, to be clear, that doesn’t necessarily mean that every single base ingredient in every single product is completely free of GMOs. For example, I recently reached out to Farmigo to question them about the possible presence of GMOs in their products that list sugar as an ingredient since genetically modified sugar beets make up half of the U.S. sugar production and 95% of this country’s sugar beet market. What I found out is that although Farmigo chooses its purveyors with exceptional care, it does not specifically impose a strict non-GMO policy. However, the Farmigo representative who received my GMO query assured me that if customers have questions about anything, including GMO use in specific products, he will gladly have his Sourcing Team reach out to the individual producers for even more detailed information than what is already available on the Farmigo website. This response indicates that Farmigo has faith in the products they sell. Keep in mind that purchasing exclusively Certified Organic products (abundantly available and clearly labeled on the Farmigo website) is the surest way to be certain that you’re avoiding GMOs.

Monsanto, on the other hand, is the ultimate source if you are trying to increase your intake of GMOs and suspicious chemicals. It is the leading producer of genetically engineered seed and the controversial herbicide glyphosate which is also known by the brand name “Roundup.” Monsanto insists that GMOs are perfectly safe even though no long-term human studies have been conducted and despite the fact that longer-term studies in rats have shown evidence of colossal tumor growth as well as immune, digestive and reproductive impairment. Monsanto once assured the American public that DDT, PCBs and Agent Orange were safe, so I’m sure you’ll understand why I’m not so keen on trusting them this time around when it comes to GMOs.

You and I, Old MacDonald and his wife, and the ladies and gents who work at Monsanto are not lab rats or guinea pigs. We are human beings with intricately designed masterpiece-quality bodies that need to be properly nourished in order to operate optimally for the long haul. Therefore, I will consider with great care what kind of food goes into my masterpiece. The food I choose is responsibly grown and produced by people who care about the health of their customers and the planet, as well as the welfare of the animals they keep. It’s the kind of food Old MacDonald would recognize…the kind of food I can find at Farmigo, and I’m proud to be a loyal customer.

Perhaps you’re curious about the price of this thoughtfully grown and beautifully crafted food available for purchase on the Farmigo website? I’ll be honest…it ain’t cheap. High quality food rarely is. There is usually one item offered at a discounted price each week, but be prepared to pay $4.99 per dozen for free-running, antibiotic-free, hormone-free, organic feed eggs from Meadow Creek Farm, $6.29 for two lovely chocolate croissants from Bien Cuit Bakery in Brooklyn and $7.49 for an eight-ounce container of exceptionally delicious black bean hummus. Industrial food-like substances may seem like a bargain in the short run, but believe me when I tell you that your body registers the offense when you feed it chemical-laden junk food and eventually will present you with a costly bill.

There are sources of clean, health-promoting food out there and Farmigo is one of the places you can find it. Maybe I’ll send my friend Old MacDonald a Farmigo coupon for 40% off his first order. (I can do that for you too, by the way, if you sign on as a customer through a link I’d be happy to provide). If he’s curious, he can peruse the website and enjoy the farmer bios and photographs of seductive food in suggestive poses. It’s possible, though, that Old MacDonald might want to be a Farmigo purveyor as well as a consumer. He is a traditional farmer, after all, who employs best practices like polyculture planting while encouraging soil microbial life to create crops with a high nutritive value. He’d be in great company with the like-minded producers over at Farmigo if he chose to be part of their community. It’s music to my ears to know that Old MacDonald has a farm and on that farm he has some options. We do too, you know. When we select our food we cast our votes and make our voices heard, so let us sing in harmony and in health a resounding E-I-E-I-O!  

  

Why Be An Artisan?

I love exquisite food. The term “foodie” barely scratches the surface of my devotion. My love runs deeper than that. Would a mere foodie travel 4,399 miles because a particularly enticing restaurant beckoned? Maybe, but I would venture to guess that my underlying fascination with food is actually a deep respect for what it can do for my body, mind and spirit. When I shop, cook and dine I am both artist and creation. The food we choose to eat creates our mood, our blood, our cells and our organs. We are food on feet.

But what makes food “exquisite” and in this confused jumble of information that the media insists on shoving down our throats, what is the proper way to eat? The answers to these questions might be simpler than we realize. Allow me to share a little bit of my own food history and you can draw your own conclusions.

I have had a passionate relationship with chocolate for most of my life, but it wasn’t always like that. My first love was something quite different. Its name was Vanilla Soft Serve Ice Cream. There it sat in its little paper cup, creamily swirling its way to a delightful point that the sheer force of gravity just had to pull down toward the earth’s core. I was four. It was delicious. End of story. When I turned five, something strange happened. After a long car ride I woke up to find that it was my lucky night and the car had come to a complete stop in the Carvel parking lot. “I’ll have chocolate in a cone” I announced groggily to my father from the back seat. This was radical news. Chocolate? In a cone? What happened to Vanilla Soft Serve Ice Cream? Perhaps there had been a bad dream during that long car ride where villainous Vanilla was chasing me down a dark alley when all of a sudden, Chocolate, my knight in shining armor, swooped in for the rescue? I’ll never know for sure how or why it happened, but what I do know is that night, I fell in love with Chocolate and I never looked back.

Fast forward thirty years when I decided to start a small business from my home kitchen that revolved around decadent chocolate treats. I’d long since left Carvel in the dust and had seriously refined my palate. The business ended but I was left with some mad treat-making skills that needed an outlet. I continue to prepare (and savor) those lovely desserts to this day for myself and my family, but my current consumption is far more moderate than my past. Here’s why: For the last nine months I have been studying to become a holistic health coach. The masters I’ve learned from all make a pretty convincing case against sugar. They may disagree about other aspects of nutritional philosophy, but the one thing they can all agree on is that sugar is the Antichrist.

It’s hard to unlearn something once you’ve learned it, and I could no longer deny that the chocolate I was indulging in every single day (sometimes as much as a small dessert after two of my three meals) was likely going to create consequences down the road. I decided to reduce my intake of sugar in general and chocolate desserts in particular. Guess what? I survived, and not only that, I’m flourishing. I feel lighter. My energy is more vibrant. My complexion has improved and I sleep deeper. Spending a little less time with Chocolate has its rewards, and the time that I do spend with Chocolate is actually much more rewarding.

Let’s be quite clear. I never want to break up with my sexy friend, Chocolate. I remain loyal to Chocolate, but lately I’ve been hanging out with Kale and his colorful companions and I’m liking the vibe. The absolutely magnificent news is that I have more than enough love to go around. Balance is the centerpiece of my feasting style. No food that I hold dear is excluded from the party. With a little careful management here and a slight tweak there it all seems to be working out surprisingly well.

I have embarked upon a quest to nourish my body with loving care and a joyful sense of creativity and play. Geneen Roth, best-selling author and expert on women and their food gave a memorable lecture at my nutrition school recently. She claimed with absolute certainty that everything you believe about life and what you think you deserve to get out of it manifests on your plate. If that is true, and I have a hunch that it is, I invite you to think of yourself as an inspired artisan when you select the food that will grace your plate. Heartily and passionately embrace the food that you’ve deemed worthy of being chewed, tasted, swallowed and digested. I guarantee your precious body will thank you for it.

Friends, I write to you from a happy place where foodies, artisans, health nuts, tree nuts, kale and chocolate all cohabitate peacefully side by side. Come visit us often. There’s always room for you on the plate!

Magic Is In The Eye Of The Beholder

When I was a young child my favorite TV show was The Magic Garden on New York City station WPIX-11. If you grew up in the NYC area in the 70s and early 80s you just might remember it. During this happy half-hour show, two musical, adorable, real-life women, Carole and Paula, would sit on their swings or giant toadstools and sing to me, talk to giggling flowers and receive thoughtful gifts from the branches of a Magic Tree. In one episode, the Magic Tree brought them two six-week-old kittens, two fuzzy chicks and a playful puppy. Oh, how I wanted to be invited into that glorious, enchanted place.

Every so often, a toy box called "the Story Box" would joyfully bob its lid up and down in time to a special tune, bursting forth with costumes and props that would inspire my Magic Garden friends to narrate and reenact a well-loved story. The only sad part of the show for me was when the windows to this beautiful and magical garden would close (as if by magic), and Carole and Paula would sing the final song, "See ya, see ya, hope you had a good, good time, ba dum..."

I loved Carole and Paula because they were sweet, funny and wonderfully creative, but what I loved even more was the magic inhabiting that garden...magic that made astonishing and delightful things happen. There was a part of me that completely bought into the magic and was convinced that a sprinkling of fairy dust and a winged rainbow unicorn could be waiting to surprise me around the very next corner. A whimsical nature was a generous gift to me from the Universe and one that I've managed to protect and treasure throughout the years. I'm still very open to the possibility that magic is everywhere if you are dedicated to keeping an eye out for it.

Sometimes magic comes looking for me and other times it's more elusive and I have to actively seek it. I appreciate it either way. Five months ago magic came looking for me. I was pretty easy to find because I firmly believe that miraculous, spectacular experiences are within reach every day for every sensitive and hopeful soul who pays attention. Five months ago I had no idea what a mandala was. Four months ago I happened to be watching an episode of the Netflix series House of Cards in which over the course of several days, Buddhist monks visiting the White House silently created a mandala, an extremely intricate symbol of perfection and healing. Geometric in design, the outline of the mandala is prepared by monks from memory, with chalk, white pencil and large compasses. The glory of the mandala comes to life as the monks fill in the design with crushed marble sand-like granules in jewel-toned hues.

Creating a mandala is a healing art which depicts the world in its divine form, the transformation of the ordinary human mind into an enlightened one, and the ideal balance of the subtle energies of the body. In order to bring a mandala into existence monks run a metal rod over the grooved surface of a metal, cone-shaped funnel called a chak-pur. This creates vibrations and a sound somewhat similar to an evening insect chorus. The vibrations cause the fine marble granules to flow out of the funnel like liquid.

The monks on the Netflix show worked on their mandala for days only to sweep it away when it was complete, demonstrating the impermanence of all that exists. It was breathtaking and etched its impression on my mind. And then, weeks later, as Fortune would have it, I read in my local paper that Tibetan monks had accepted an invitation to create a mandala in my very own community, just minutes away from my house. Some people might call that coincidence. I prefer to call it magic. I marked the six consecutive days during which the mandala construction would take place on my calendar and looked forward to them with the same high hopes and exuberance I once reserved for each brand new opportunity to unearth magic in the garden with Carole and Paula.

When the week finally arrived, I committed to visiting the site where the monks were constructing the mandala at least once a day, sometimes twice. Their relaxed concentration while creating this incredible, ephemeral symbol fascinated me and compelled me to put my body in that awesome energetic space time and time again. There was a healing power in that room for sure. When I wasn't there, I took great comfort in envisioning the devoted monks in my mind's eye, leaning over their precious mandala, funnels and rods in hand. Just knowing that these same peaceful men I had grown so fond of observing each and every day would be in their same spot, wearing the same type of garb and using the same instruments and materials was extremely calming. The one thing that didn't remain constant was the mandala itself which blossomed into greater magnificence with each passing moment and granule of marble. I found it oddly reassuring that the mandala's unavoidable fate did not deter the monks from lovingly and meticulously applying themselves to its creation and fulfillment. It completely blew my mind.

I've always believed the universal appeal of magic is that it is unfathomable. Magic entertains the mind because it is always a few steps ahead of it if not entirely beyond its grasp. I was drawn to the mandala project because the care and effort the monks invested in the creation process of something inherently temporary was unfathomable to me. My mind had a hard time wrapping itself around this esoteric concept and yet I was clearly entertained, even awe-struck, from start to finish. I suppose then that for me, the mandala qualifies as a form of magic and the monks, in their infinite humility and patience are themselves holy magicians. It got me to thinking that perhaps magic is more about diligently training and taming the mind than it is about pulling rabbits out of hats or producing shiny coins from behind ears.

Even my favorite wizard, Harry Potter, learns that magical powers can not be effectively harnessed with a sloppy, lazy mind. Harry must concentrate on his happiest memories with single-pointed focus and expertly clear his mind to protect himself from the penetration of evil forces. Without willingness, a great deal of mental and emotional discipline and most importantly, love, he is a weak wizard. David Blaine, a wizard in his own right, continually devises new ways to shock and amaze an audience. He accomplishes this by maintaining the upper hand over his body through the complete control of his mind and remaining devoted to his diligent practice.

I wonder if perhaps average, flawed creatures like you and I can dish up a magical potion to ensure that the fairy dust and rainbow unicorns can usually find us. We may not have to worry about Voldemort, the Dark Lord, infecting our minds, but negativity, fear, sadness and anger are often our own self-contained sources of evil. So what could we put in this potentially magic potion to guard ourselves against all that madness?  Well, how about unwavering patience and compassion for ourselves and others? Let's put an overflowing cup of that in there. How about a heaping portion of diligence and a willingness to focus without any distraction on what's truly important to us in this perfect moment? That would be far more nourishing to the body and soul than the repetitive, often stress-inducing thoughts that we allow to hold sway over our scattered, frazzled minds. Let's not forget a healthy dose of humility and a pinch of positivity. They are also a welcome addition to the mix. Having faith that come what may, the Universe has our backs is a choice available to each and every one of us. When we are blessed with a new day it can become an opportunity to awaken the magic all around us. Avert your eyes from your devices and genuinely appreciate the beauty of the natural world or the wonder that so readily appears on the face of a child. Feel that gratitude for it is an essential element in this elixir. This is magic deconstructed, my friend, and if we all agree to give honest-to-goodness magic a fighting chance, it can be far more potent than the unrest in our minds and in the world.

On August 15 the monks from the Drepung Loseling Monastery in Tibet swept away all of the fine marble granules that they had so assiduously put into place. Just like that it was gone...simply disappeared as if it had been the trick of an illusionist. The windows to that beautiful, magical world closed and it brought back the sadness I felt when the windows to the Magic Garden would close at the end of an episode. This episode, I realized, was over too. But as life teaches us with every disappointment and every loss, as soon as one episode is over, a new one begins. The finely crushed marble was collected with care and ceremoniously poured into a nearby stream so that its healing energy could bless the world.

Maplewood's Memorial Park is the home of the stream where the mandala I admired and loved was dispersed into flowing water. How can it be just a simple park anymore? It has now become a sacred space for me...my new Magic Garden and it's an episode I've not yet seen. Who knows? Maybe the next time I visit there magic will find me once again and Carole and Paula will be sitting on a bench by the stream singing one of their happy songs. I'll be sure to keep an eye out for them.