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Today is the third annual “Real” Food Symposium, held this year at the Sheraton in Pasadena, California. The host is Elaina Luther of Culture Club 101, a tireless advocate of—and educator about—the Real Food Movement.

This is Part Three of live coverage of the event. Right now, Monica Ford, a personal chef, is giving a demonstration on cooking GAPS style (following the informative GAPS lecture by Anna Hammalian). Joining her is John de Bruin of Dey Dey’s Best Beef Ever, a cattle rancher who understands the importance of treating the land and the animals well and feeding them what they should be eating.

While Monica and John were demonstrating GAPS-friendly cooking (more on this later), Nysha Dahlgren of Ardenwoods Edibles was encouraging beginning home gardeners in another session.

Nysha spoke of her journey from a fast-food eating Crohn’s disease sufferer—with a freezer full of frozen dinners and a soft-drink habit—to organic nursery owner.  She had tried different diets, swinging from vegan to burger fiend and back again, but never really understood what was happening inside her body.

While working in Asia, she and her new husband saw a screening of Supersize Me, and immediately they jointly decided to avoid fast food. Until this event, she had never made the connection between food and health. Even with her difficult health history, no doctor had ever told that her terrible diet might be connected to her difficulties; for example, she was told to stay away from dairy products altogether so she substituted non-dairy creamers! She and her husband managed to ignore the siren song of the burgers, fries, and yes, even soft drinks through their return to the United States, when they began seeking out organic foods. She became pregnant and managed to carry a healthy baby full-term—most unusual for someone with Crohn’s disease.

When the baby arrived, she began to devour every bit of reading material she could that was related to organic foods and health. As a landscape architect with some high-profile clients, she found herself working 12-hour days and looking after a new baby—exhausting for someone who is healthy, much less someone with Crohn’s disease. Somehow she could keep up, though, for which she credits her newfound dedication to a healthful diet.

At the same time, some of her clients were looking to install organic home gardens, but were having difficulty finding the organic fruit and vegetable plants for those gardens. So she thought, “Why not grow some myself?” Before long, she decided to go full-time with the nursery. Her young daughter now runs through the nursery while she tends her plants, and she takes life at a  happier, slower pace.

Nysha then gave what she considers to be the “bones” of good organic home gardening.

  1. Location! Full sun from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. is ideal, and away from large trees that may harbor pests.
  2. Soil—Have it tested. It costs a bit to have it done, but is worth it. Most clients put in raised beds with imported, balanced soil rather than trying to improve existing soil because it’s in such bad condition.
  3. Plants—you can find suitable plants at organic nurseries. They won’t be the “supermodel” plants but don’t worry. They will be great and produce well once they’re planted and established.
  4. Water—pay attention to the plants and learn what their needs are. They will tell you when they need more or less water, but you have to learn to read them.
  5. Fertilizer—good organic fertilizers are out there. Aged manure from a horse farm is lovely but you must make sure it’s from animals that are not fed wormers, antibiotics, etc. She can’t compost at her nursery as it is considered “hazardous waste!” Be careful if you compost. Learn about the process as it can be helpful or harmful, depending upon what you put in it and how you do it.
  6. Commitment—get out there every day and see what the plants need. You will be rewarded. Deal with pests of the rodent variety immediately—obstruct their usual paths and they may get discouraged/confused and leave. Nysha has a Jack Russell Terrier on the job, and I’ll bet he takes that job very seriously!

She then showed several pictures of profoundly prolific gardens grown with these foundational principles—side yards, front yards, back yards, and even a rooftop garden. Each of these was from the home of a first-time gardener, and each showed spectacular yields.

This was very encouraging for the packed room full of fledgling gardeners.

I’ll keep you posted as the day progresses!