November on the Farm

baby red russian kale

The beginning of November is one of the most beautiful on our farm. The winter leafy crops are all in full and glorious production, and the broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts are all growing lushly and getting ready to harvest. I love it. Unfortunately, this November brought record cold. The second week of November had temperatures in the high 20’s, and the third week of November had temperatures in the teens. That’s enough to shut the farm down for the year. Not being prone to give up easily, we did all we could to save our crops. We sprayed them with seaweed extract, and we covered all that we could with Agribon. The result was some dead, some alive. That is better than I expected, though.

When we got back from Thanksgiving, we had the job of crop triage. We investigated every crop and decided if it still had harvest potential. Then, we had our crew trim the damaged leaves off of everything that had the most potential to survive and come to harvest. Things that did well included the cold tolerant lettuce varieties (Speckled trout, Adriana, Winter Density), the cold tolerant broccoli (Marathon), and the cold tolerant Brussels sprouts (Churchill). The Siberian and winterbor kale also did pretty well. Sadly, everything else was pretty much a loss. The chard was burned to the ground, but hopefully will grow back. The lacinado and red Russian kale was all a loss. The mesclun mix, mustards, and mizuna were all lost.

Most of the root vegetables had damage to the leaves, but the roots did not freeze, and now the tops are growing back. I learned something new. The extreme cold seemed to elicit growth of the roots. Turnips that were the size of a marble magically became baseball sized! All our radishes, turnips, and beets came through the freeze with flying colors, and are now doing better than ever. I was walking around the farm with Vaden (farm crew) discussing what to maintain or remove, and we decided that things all in all looked remarkably well for such an extreme cold. You really have to love the south!

Winter Farming Small File

Things slow down nicely in November. There is nothing to plant, the weeds hardly matter, and we don’t need to worry about our spring planting and CSA until at least the new year. This leaves time for attending conferences, business analysis, and some time off. We went to the Sustainable Ag Conference this November. It was an educational conference, and we attended several classes that were well worth the trouble. I went to classes on weed management, farm equipment, record keeping and analysis, as well as wild food to forage. It was refreshing to learn. Learning is one of my core values, and it bothers me when we are so busy just “maintaining”, and not taking time to seriously consider what we are doing and why. November helps.

Part of our learning this November was to put together an income and expense statement for our CSA, restaurant business, and market business. The goal was to see what is profitable and worth our time, and what is taking our time, but not making money. I know it is hard to believe we have been doing this for five years and do not know those answers. I have no excuse other than saying that I grow good crops. That is my core strength. Accounting and business analysis might not be my strength, so it was easy to not do it. This year is the first year Jay has worked the farm full time, so having him and his business background also helped push us in that direction.

We learned that all of the aspects of the business are at least slightly profitable. None are in the red. We also saw that our CSA and restaurant business do fairly well, but selling at the market is a lot of work for not so much money. It is complicated though. The market is where we have a CSA drop off. The market is where we meet lots of chefs. The market is also where we chat with people interested in food and health, who eventually become CSA members. Things are not so black and white.

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Here are a few more key learnings. The most profitable items at the market are the ones nobody else grows. We can grow the most beautiful kale in the world, but if six other growers are growing the same thing, it is harder to sell and not very profitable. This winter we plan to work on our cropping strategy, and get more brave about stepping out of the box with what we grow for restaurants and the market. We will still grow the basic things CSA members love. Another key learning is that we are putting in an enormous amount of time. We only have so many daylight hours, and we need to be sure we are putting our time and energy into systems that work. We can’t do it all, so we must prioritize, as well as make better use of the skills of those who help us.

Our last key learning for November is not underestimating the value of planned time off. This is the first year we have built in time off into our CSA and other aspects of the farm. It is key to preventing burn out. Not only do we have to take the time off, we have to go away. If we stay here, we just keep working because there is always something to do. This Thanksgiving we went to Pawley’s Island for a week. I honestly spent the first three days just reading and napping. It was raining all three days and I loved it! Even better, we spent time with people we love, another core value I can’t forget to honor.

Relax and eat your veggies!
Robin

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Basic Skillet Pac Choy

Ingredients:

  1. 3 small pac choy

  2. 1 small chopped onion

  3. 1T or more Coconut oil

  4. Low sodium soy sauce

  5. Chili garlic sauce

  6. Salt

  7. Your favorite chopped nuts

Directions:

Cut the bottom off the pac choy so that all the stalks fall off

Remove the leaves from the stalk

Chop up the stalks and put in bowl

Chop up the leaves and put in bowl (keep separate from stalks)

Heat the coconut oil in a heavy skillet

Add the chopped onion and chopped choy stalks

Cook until tender, about 5-7 minutes

Add the chopped leaves and turn off heat.

Allow the leaves to barely wilt and add a splash of soy sauce, a small spoon of chili garlic sauce, and salt to taste.

Stir it all around until well mixed and add the nuts.

Enjoy!

Don’t fear the choy!

Robin

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How to Create a CSA Box Members Enjoy

Early April CSA

This is the 5th year of our CSA and boy have I ever learned a lot. There is an art to making CSA boxes/bags/baskets that please the customer. Some general things to keep in mind are: everyone loves fruit, many people have families and don’t have time to spend hours in the kitchen, people want to eat seasonally, but don’t want the same thing every night, and most important, everything has to look fresh and pretty.

April CSA Bag

  1. Fruit is important. More than anything else we put in our CSA bags, people love to get fruit. Maybe it’s because many members have children, and kids love fruit, or maybe it’s because fruit is just yummy! Because of this, we not only give members berries from our farm, we also work with other local Carolina growers to include fruit in the bags all season. In the summer, when melons, berries and peaches are in season, we are sure to include them. Even if it is the dead of winter, local apples are still available and people want them.

  2. Customers are busy and don’t have time to spend hours in the kitchen cooking. The first year of our CSA I was so excited to fill the CSA bags with all kinds of vegetables I knew they would never find in the grocery store. I thought this added value to our CSA and that the customers would love it. Then a dear sweet member, Jamie Allen, gave me some very valuable truth. She said she is a busy mom and it’s stressful to have to Google every item in her CSA bag to figure out what to do with each one. This was some great advice that completely changed how I view packing for our CSA members. Now I understand that busy families just want to get a healthy meal on the table. It is best to have most of the items in the CSA bag be recognizable and likely be something they can easily include in their meals, without much thought or trouble. Members do like to get unusual items, but not very often and not very many at once. Maybe one thing each week, and be sure to include some basic cooking ideas. The people who subscribe to the small bag often are even more limited in their veggie cooking comfort, making it even more important to include mostly basics in the small bags. These members are often just getting their veggie “sea legs”.

  3. Tinas CSA Bag

  4. Most of our CSA members love the idea of eating seasonally, but they don’t love the idea of having turnips for dinner every night. We are lucky in North Carolina, because we can grow a decent range of vegetables nearly all year long. It pays to spend some time thinking about what is growing in the field and what is planned for the bags. Although most customers enjoy getting things like tomatoes, lettuce, and kale regularly, most of the other veggies are things they would probably be happier to see only every few weeks. We plan our planting and harvesting accordingly.

  5. Lastly and most importantly, everything needs to be pretty and fresh. You would think if we picked it today and packed the bags for tomorrow, that of course it will be fresh. It isn’t that easy. The leafy greens have to be picked only in the morning, when it is cool, and quickly packed and put in the cold room, or they will be wilted and unattractive. To complicate matters more, if it is frosty, nobody can go in the fields at all. Harvest has to wait until things thaw out. The simple act of getting pretty greens in a bag and keeping them pretty can be very challenging. There is also the issue of cooling. We have a very rustic cold room, with a cooling unit called a “Coolbot.” This is a very affordable, but basic system ($500 vs $10,000). The downside is that it will only take temperatures down to about 48 degrees, and much warmer than that if it is 100 degrees outside. I’m constantly asking the farm workers to “close the cold room door!” or “stay out of the cold room!”. Quite often, one of our farm helpers packs the CSA bags. Unfortunately, two of our workers are high school kids, and the other doesn’t cook. This means they don’t have an eye for amounts to put in the bag, or what fresh produce should look like. This takes training. We are constantly improving systems on how to keep produce at the best possible temperature for only a very short time, so that when the bags get to the customer they are as perfect as they can be.

csa-boxes

Packing veggie bags and boxes that will please everyone is really important to me. We absolutely want all of our CSA members to view opening their veggie bag like Christmas, fully expecting beautiful things. If you have advice, I would love to hear it! Input from sweet members like Jamie help us make things better every year.

Eat your veggies!
Robin

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Adventures in Bio-intensive Growing

A few years ago, I picked up a book at the NC Organic Grower’s School called “How to Grow More Vegetables, (and Fruits, Nuts, Berries, Grains, and Other Crops) Than You Ever Thought Possible on Less Land Than You Can Imagine”, by John Jeavons. Some of the ideas in this book made sense to me, so I decided to commit one of our new fields to the concept, the Triangle Garden. This is one of our fields that is shaped like a triangle.

biointensive

Although there is more to it than this, here are the basic concepts of biointensive farming that we decided to try:

  • Double-Dug, Raised Beds that are wider than normal. Ours were about 3 ft wide.
  • Composting
  • Planting very densely on the wide beds
  • Companion planting. Avoid the monoculture of a huge field all of one crop.

Double digging normally means that you go out there with big broad forks and turn the land over regularly. You need to go down several feet. This keeps the soil loose, so the roots of your crop have plenty of room to grow. Well, our Triangle Garden is about ¼ of an acre, and there is no way I plan on heading out there with a fork and turning it all. So, Sunbelt Equipment Rentals to the rescue! We rented a backhoe and made six long beds that are about three to four feet wide. We used the backhoe to dig down about three feet deep and turn everything over. Wow what a chore this was! Remind me to never do that again. It didn’t work well. By digging down that deep and turning over the soil, we brought up tons of really bad red clay and rocks. The best topsoil was on the top of the ground and we ended up wasting it by burying it under the bad clay and rocks. Fail! Then we added precious compost to the top of the bad clay and rocks and tilled it all in. The good news is that it was very soft at that point, and it looked pretty good. We forbid anyone to walk in it, or drive any equipment over the beds, to keep this lovely soft texture. The bad news was that we couldn’t plant it until we sent a farm helper in there to remove all the big rocks.

P1010527

Once we got the beds all made and the backhoe returned to the rental company, we set about planting. I knew I needed to plant things very close together. The whole goal is to crowd your plants in there so that very little light gets down to the soil, and the weeds are shaded out. I think I went a little overboard with this, because I had so many plants in there, the crop couldn’t size in a normal way. Everything ended up long and stretched out, due to lack of light and overcrowding. To make matters worse, we started to get fungal diseases on the lower leaves of some of our plants, because there was absolutely no air flow through the plants, since they were so tightly spaced. I had to go in there and grab out handfuls of crop and remove it to make more room for airflow and normal crop development. I nearly threw my back out trying to get things harvested and removing too tight plants, because these beds were about 4 feet wide. I couldn’t reach to the middle without extreme stretching (remember you can’t walk on these beds). Fail again!

The last thing I did was try to companion plant. To accomplish this, I planted one type of crop on one side of the bed, and another on the other side of the bed. I also tried to make no more than 50 feet of any crop. This also was a problem because it meant that when it was time to harvest lettuce, we had to skip around to several different areas to find it. Jay was really frustrated because it seemed like the only one who knew where anything was located was me! I constantly had to be there to show Jay or our crew where to find the crop I wanted them to work in or harvest. Again, fail!

image

It really wasn’t a complete failure though. We experienced some key learning that we now have incorporated into all of our farming, in all our fields. Although we don’t double dig, we do have wide beds that we amend with compost after every crop. We don’t walk on these beds because we don’t want to compact the soil. We have alleys between the beds that we walk on. The beds are wide, however, they are not so wide that we can’t reach across them to harvest. I also plant the crop very close, to crowd out weeds and be able to grow more on less land. This works great, now that I’m not overdoing it. We also companion plant, although not to the extent John Jeavons might have intended. Our Triangle Garden has about eight different crops in there, plus tons of herbs. I often will make one long fat row all one crop, then the next row something else. It is my form of avoiding a monoculture.

Even with our modified version of Bio-intensive Farming, we are growing more than I ever thought possible. So all in all, the book and methods are a success. Right now we are considering what we want to do with our new farm. To some people, 11 acres might not sound like much, but believe me, if you do everything by hand, 11 acres sounds huge. If you are farming mostly by hand, in a very intensive way, you save the money of buying lots of equipment. You also have much higher yields, because you don’t have to space your rows to fit a tractor in there. You can make the bio-intensive wide beds, and fit far more in the same space. The challenge is going to be the labor involved to plant, and to do the hoeing that we do when the crop is very young. If we plant in a traditional way, we can space things so the tractor can drive right through and cultivate between the plants, and rarely need to hand hoe. Hmmm… tempting!

Eat your veggies,
Robin

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Escarole and White Bean Soup

I can’t remember exactly how I found this recipe for escarole and white bean soup, but it is really yummy. I think it might be a mixture between something from Rao’s cook book, my friend Sheila Tennaro, and an Italian coworker from Delaware. My coworker called it “Scrollie”, and it was common on her table. The escarole on our farm is ready right now, the beginning of November, but it is a green with which many people are not familiar. Even if you’re not familiar with escarole, try this recipe; it’s unbeatable! This was one of the first recipes we shared with our CSA, way back when we only had 7 members! It has withstood the test of time, and I promise you will love it too.

Escarole and White Bean Soup

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup olive oil

  • 1 medium onion (6 oz.), diced

  • 2 oz. very thinly sliced pancetta, diced (about 1/2 cup)

  • 1 Tbs. minced garlic

  • 1 medium to large head escarole (about 14 oz.), trimmed of outer leaves, 2 inches of root end cut off, leaves sliced across into 3/4-inch wide strips (to yield about 9 to 10 cups), thoroughly washed

  • 1 tsp. coarse salt

  • Freshly ground black pepper

  • 2 cups bone broth or chicken broth

  • 1 cup cooked and drained cannellini, navy beans, or other white beans.

  • 1 Tbs. fresh lemon juice

  • Grated parmigiano reggiano

  • Croutons (optional)

Directions:

  • Heat the olive oil in a 4-qt. low-sided soup pot or Dutch oven over medium to medium-high heat.

  • Add the onion and pancetta and sauté until the onion is softened and both are browned, about 12 min.

  • Add the garlic, stir, and sauté until fragrant, 30 seconds to 1 min.

  • Add the escarole and stir thoroughly to coat the leaves (and to deglaze the pan slightly with their moisture).

  • Season with 1/2 tsp. of the salt and a few grinds of fresh pepper.

  • Add the broth, stir well, and bring to a boil; cover the pot, lower to a simmer, and cook 8 to 10 min.

  • Uncover the pot, add the beans, and simmer another 2 to 3 min. Add the lemon juice and turn off the heat.

  • Ladle the soup into four shallow soup bowls and top each with cheese and croutons.

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October on the Farm

bellsbestberries-market

I love October. Things finally cool off, and the cool season crops have reached their glory. Our table at the market is loaded with all types of greens, lettuce, cabbage, beets, turnips, broccoli, arugula, herbs, mesclun, cress, and even the last of the peppers. Actually, we even have a few tomatoes left in October, which makes this month the best of all worlds! Both summer and winter produce are available. We need a bigger table!

fields-on-the-farm
Our CSA bags are loaded up with all this abundance. This is a time when some CSA customers look a little bit stressed about how to eat up all the produce in their bags. In reality, all the greens look huge in a bag, but once you start chopping and cooking, they shrink down quickly. Locavores also need to start getting in winter mode this time of year, and get creative with some of the root vegetables. Common items in a CSA bag include sweet potatoes, turnips, beets, and radishes. Some of these are challenging to people. When all else fails, add olive oil, rosemary, and garlic and roast them! Even better, add some bacon! Fear no roots! Radishes are yummy on the best baguette you can find. Cut the bread into thin slices, smear with the best butter you can find, and lay thin sliced radishes on the butter. Add a little salt, and voila, you have a yummy nutritious snack a la France. We also have been mixing our unique lettuce mix, and putting it in our CSA bags. I love interesting salads that have more baby greens in it than just lettuce. Our mix in October includes baby lettuce, baby kale, baby chard, baby pac choy, baby mizuna, and even some baby beet leaves. So yummy and so good for you. This is not your mama’s iceberg lettuce. These beautiful greens are an excellent way to end our Summer CSA, and usher in our Winter CSA that starts November 1. Almost everyone who is a summer member doesn’t want to see it end, and signs up for winter.

October is also a great time for our restaurant business. We spend a lot of time thinking about unique things we can offer the chefs. While we can’t compete price-wise with some large growers, we can own the specialty business! So, we have big plantings of baby carrots, baby beets, baby turnips, different baby greens, unique herbs, unusual things such a cress, beautiful mesclun, and micro sized pac choy. All of these things are items chefs just can’t find from their restaurant supply guy, but sure do make their plates scream of fresh, unique, and Farm to Table!

october-on-the-farm

This month we met a new young grower. His name is Declan Rollins, and he lives in Ruby, SC. Although he is only 23 years old, he is a great young grower. I went to his farm last week to meet him. I saw young cows in the pasture with thick shiny coats, guinea hens roaming around, chickens foraging, rows of huge collard greens were shifting in the breeze, and the cabbage were looking beautiful all in a row. Best of all, none of the veggies were sprayed with any pesticides at all! This was a unique young man, who I am sure we will be working with in the future. He is a great example of an excellent farmer who we want to support, but someone who might not enjoy going into Charlotte, working a market, dealing with restaurants or any of these types of “sales and marketing” things. We want him to succeed, so look for his beautiful collards and cabbage on our market table, at some of the best restaurants in town, and in your CSA bags! We need these young farmers.

Eat your greens!
Robin

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Mary’s Story

My cousin, Mary Brown, is an ovarian cancer survivor. I am posting her story (written by her) because, first of all, she is a pretty amazing lady, and secondly, I want you to understand the critical importance of nutrition in her journey. Cancer is awful and I hate everything about it. I firmly believe nutrition is key to not only surviving cancer, but also preventing it. I hope you enjoy reading Mary’s courageous and inspiring story.

INTRODUCTION

Mary Brown

I am a three year, two time ovarian cancer survivor. As soon as you are diagnosed, you become a survivor. August 15, 2011 is a date I will never forget. When you hear the words cancer and malignant in the same sentence, your life changes forever. That was the date that I learned I had Stage 1C Clear Cell Ovarian cancer. I was 55 years old and in very good health otherwise.

INITIAL DIAGNOSIS

After the initial shock (because the last words from my gynecology oncologist, before surgery, were “the odds are in your favor that it will just be a cyst”) we cried and we prayed and my doctor talked about how we caught it early and I may even be cured! I had the usual symptoms: bleeding, fatigue and a slight “tummy ache” and feeling full after eating for months. But at the time, ovarian cancer, let alone the symptoms, were not on my radar at all! I had been babysitting two days a week for my newborn twin grandchildren several months prior to and during the symptoms starting, so I wrote off the fatigue. I would literally be exhausted after those two days in a row! I had been doing bio identical hormones at the time, and my hormone doctor had been “adjusting” them, hence the bleeding-even though I was long past menopause! And I felt ridiculous calling my doctor to tell him I have a “tummy ache.” So I went several months attempting to diagnose myself. I write that to tell you this-know your body! If something isn’t right for several weeks, it needs to be checked out! Be persistent, and do not stop searching until you find answers! Women tend to be the care givers of everyone else first, and take care of themselves last. If one doctor doesn’t find anything, keep going! Doctors are only searching data, just like us! I had to go to three doctors before finding the problem!

The first doctor was my hormone doctor, supposedly a gynecologist, and all he did was inject hormone pellets into my hip! Something, by the way, that was harmful to me with cancer. My GI doctor sent me home with a bottle of probiotics, and said that my symptoms were too vague to order a bunch of tests. My gynecologist did an exam, and ordered an ultrasound immediately. A cyst showed up on my right ovary, and he got me in with the top gynecology oncologist in Charlotte that week. My CA 125 came back elevated at 76 (35 or below is considered normal), but they said that any inflammation in your body can cause it to rise. Something that I will learn to live with the rest of my life – a rising/falling CA 125 blood test.

FRONTLINE TREATMENT

I went through the standard front line treatment of carboplatin and taxol chemotherapy. It is pretty rough stuff, but they give you plenty of drugs to ward off any side effects. I had 6 treatments over a 4 month period, and actually survived very well. I slept for 2 days after each treatment, and then would be okay until the next one. After the first treatment, I was caught off guard with severe bone pain in my legs. It was very painful and deep. I could not get comfortable, but I took more drugs to combat that pain and did fine. My sweet and devoted husband, Charlie, came to every treatment and doctor appointment with me, and took such good care of me during this time, along with other family, friends & church family. I felt very blessed!

mary and avery

I think losing my hair was the worse part of front line treatment. I sobbed when I shaved my head, and other than my friend, Cindy, who shaved it for me, my husband was the only one who saw me bald. And I mean slick! You lose every hair on your body! I chose to wear a scarf most of the time (the wig is itchy) and I had some very heartwarming experiences because of it. People tended to be especially nice and helpful! I would always share them with my family and we would chuckle and say, “It was the scarf.” These experiences actually made me more confident, and soon I was not self-conscious about it at all. My 3 year old granddaughter put it in perspective for me though. We were babysitting one week end, and I had my wig on, and we needed to shower. So I asked Avery if she wanted to see Mimi’s new haircut, and pointed to my wig and told her that this was not my hair. She said yes, so I took off my wig and she said, “Why did you cut your hair like that?” And I told her that I had to because of the “boo boo” in my belly, and she said, “Why do you wear those big earrings?” And I said because of my new haircut and she said, “Um, okay” and skipped off! No big deal! January 5, 2012 was my last treatment, and honestly, at the time, I felt like I could not stand another one. Never say never……

1ST RECURRENCE

I was feeling great in early spring 2012, at one of my doctor’s visits, and casually asked my doctor, if my biopsy staging had come back 1A or B would I have had to have chemo? His demeanor changed and quickly became very serious; his answer hit me very hard. He said that clear cell is the worst type of the five types of ovarian cancer, very aggressive and hard to treat. My CA 125 ranged from 9-12 at the time, and I had stayed away from the internet and information regarding ovarian cancer. I felt very strongly at that moment that I had not seen the last of the cancer. I began researching that day, and came across several on line support groups on the internet, specifically, Inspire.com.

In late July, my CA 125 jumped up to 18.5, and so they wanted to do another test in four weeks, as a rising CA125 is one of the markers for a recurrence. This literally scared me so bad that I started immediately on a quest to change my diet to an anti-cancer diet. I had been reading a lot about sugar feeding cancer, and had danced all around changing my diet to a more anti-cancer diet, but never really did it consistently. My cousin, Robin, was reading a lot about it and became not only my mentor, but also an expert on the subject. She and her husband were embarking on this way of eating for their own health reasons, not particularly because of cancer, but because we all can benefit from this healthy lifestyle. I dove in head first, and cut out all sugar from my diet and only ate protein, veggies and fruit. This of course sent my digestive system a little crazy, and I was having all kinds of pain. But after three weeks, I called my doctor and scheduled the scan. It showed a pea size implant on my left abdominal wall. It was back! It is at this moment that your mortality flashes before your eyes, and you know that you are literally in for the fight of your life! There is no cure, and now your best hope is to stay as healthy as possible, to not only fight off cancer, but also survive any future treatments! But at the same time, you also cling to the fact that many women live years with multiple recurrences, and it is treated more as a chronic disease. I desperately wanted to be one of those women. My sons, Justin, Griffin and Andy, desperate to do something, went together and had a matching tattoo that said “FIGHT” in Japanese, and posted it on Facebook. It was their love language and inspired me to do just that! The good news was that no organ or lymph node involvement was detected in the scan.

tatoo pic

OPTIONS & TREATMENT

My doctor did not offer surgery as an option, period. We did schedule a needle biopsy to confirm the cancer, and also send a sample to Caris Laboratories for cell assay testing. We were excited to learn that they can test the tissue to help determine the most effective chemo for my specific cancer. Ovarian cancer is so hard to treat because it presents itself differently in each patient, and what works for one may not work for another. It is also very smart, in that it is capable of mutating on its own, so that what worked before on an individual may not work again. This would take 3 very long weeks! My doctor offered to schedule a second opinion for us, but we believed it to be unnecessary, so we declined.

We got on our knees and started praying. We are very strong believers in the power of prayer. It has been a huge part of my story, so I must include how many times God answered prayer at just the right moment to help us navigate through this recurrence. I think finding Libby’s Hope was one of many answered prayers!

LIBBY’S HOPE

mary and charlie

I was very distraught and was reading messages on Inspire.com, a website that provides an online support group, and ran across a link to a website dedicated solely to clear cell, called Libby’s Hope. I was amazed at the information! I left an email on the website that said, “I just need some hope…..” Paul Cacciatore responded that day with seven pages of hope! Charlie and I were floored, to say the least. Thus began my research and quest for knowledge to understand treatment options, clinical trials, and other cell assay opportunities. This was in early September 2012, and I had just become my own advocate, something that everyone should do. And if you are not able to do it yourself, find a family member or friend willing to do it for you!

At the same time, another cousin, Kim, saw a post on Facebook that Charlie had written about my cancer being back. Kim lives in another state, and I have seen her maybe three times in the last ten years. She called me to introduce me to a friend of hers who serves as an advocate on the Gynecology Oncology Group Board (GOG-they oversee many clinical trials). Dorothy is a ten year ovarian cancer survivor, and good friends with the then head of Gyn Oncology at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, VA. She asked if I would consider doing a consult with the doctor. I said yes, even though Richmond is a six hour drive from Charlotte.

The night before we left for Richmond, I told Charlie maybe we should forget about this consult; it was 6 hours away and we were not planning on switching doctors! He insisted that this consult was literally dropped in our laps for a reason and we were definitely going. The first words out of the doctor’s mouth as she entered the room were, “you are a perfect candidate for surgery!” WHAT??!! Also, that I had lots of options for treatment and many years left in this fight. We left there full of hope, and so glad that we kept that appointment! Always get a second opinion, preferably somewhere away from your cancer center!

Now, what do you do with two conflicting opinions on how to treat this recurrence? We prayed and prayed. I researched anything I could find on the subject, and I updated Paul Cacciatore with Libby’s Hope on our 2nd opinion consult. I spoke to my doctor in Charlotte about it, and he was still reluctant to do surgery, saying that it is impossible to get everything and why put my body through that again so soon? Charlie got a very clear message through prayer that our answer would come from a third party, and that very evening I got an email from Libby’s Hope, advising me that their resource would do the surgery, that lowering the tumor burden whenever possible is always the right thing to do. Another answered prayer. I told my doctor in Charlotte that I wanted the surgery, and I would like him to do it, but if he wouldn’t, then find me someone who would! The surgery was scheduled for a week later; September 28, 2012.

In the meantime, Libby’s Hope provided me with much information, from clinical trials to other resources, such as having my tumor tested for chemo sensitivity. I contacted Rational Therapeutics, and also, Clearity Research, to test my tumor tissue as well. I was doing everything possible to beat this disease. In the end, Topotecan came back as an effective chemotherapy to use on my specific tumor. Since it was one of the nicer chemos, my doctor and I decided to save the “big guns” (chemo treatments with harsher side effects) for later. And there was no guarantee that this would work, but worth a try. I used to joke with my doctor and say, “Now that I have my medical degree…what do you think about this or that?” I was referring to all of my research and ever increasing knowledge about ovarian cancer. My head was spinning with so much info, but you know what? He treated me differently because he realized that I was questioning and researching everything on my own, and making decisions based on all available resources. Be your own advocate! I cannot say that enough. In the meantime, I was learning to accept that this was going to be a marathon, not a sprint.

The day after my surgery, my doctor was amazed that I was already sitting up in a chair. He was also very pleased to tell me that he indeed felt like he had gotten it all! My biopsy showed that it was a recurrence, and microscopic cells did show up in the abdominal wash. Rats, those suckers were still floating around! Back to the world of infusion labs, people in various stages of cancer journeys, and a lot of nurses with a true gift of compassion caring for us. I have to admit that although I survived very well, I never really got used to the infusion lab. Thankfully, our cancer center had modules that we could just stay to ourselves. Six months, eighteen treatments total, and no hair loss this time! I finished on March 25, 2013.

DIET/NUTRITION

It was at this time, I decided to consult a more intense protocol for my nutrition. Through my research, I came across Nutritional Solutions. I sent several blood tests to be analyzed, and they would advise me of supplements to build up my body and immunities to fight off the cancer naturally. They compare my blood to others that are beating ovarian cancer and prescribe the right supplements to bring up my nutrient level to those survivors. Because there is no cure for ovarian cancer, my best hope of beating this is to build my body up to a level of health to fight it off naturally! Often times, the treatments are worse than the cancer. Either way, a healthy body will fight harder and withstand treatments easier!

In May 2013 I had my first post treatment scan to check my progress. My nurse called to tell me that it was all clear! She did say that I had a few slightly enlarged lymph nodes that were “probably” from the chemo. It is their job to clean up the toxins! We were elated to hear the words “all clear”! But when I got the written report, apparently all clear doesn’t really mean all clear! There were actually four lymph nodes, and one spot on my abdominal wall where the implant had been removed showing on the scan. When I pressed my doctor, he said that they all measure below the active disease criteria, but he basically could not say if it was cancer or if it was not cancer! I immediately went into maintenance mode. I didn’t want the cancer to have a chance to get any bigger. I scheduled a consult at Duke University, and talked to my doctor about maintenance therapy. My doctor was very willing to provide me with a maintenance drug called Avastin. The doctors at Duke gave me the best advice possible at the time: take the summer off! Nothing was going to change much in three months, and at that time, we would rescan and then make a plan. It could show improvement! Everyone agreed that the scan was inconclusive, but my body could use a break, and so could my mind and spirit! I called it the summer of fun!

Throughout this journey, I cannot begin to share the roller coaster of emotion that consumes your mind, body and soul! I do not know how anybody experiences something like this without God. He has been my Rock and Sustainer. When I get down or fearful, I just start reading favorite scriptures that claim His promises. When faith comes in, fear moves out. Simple as that. My favorite verse throughout this journey has been Romans 12:12; “Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.” I may or may not survive this disease, but I am comforted to know how the story ends. When I was first diagnosed, one of my early prayers was asking God to allow me to go through this with grace and dignity. Another answered prayer, I think.

NAMASTE HEALTH CENTER

I had seen another post on Inspire.com, regarding a naturopath from Colorado, Dr. Nasha Winters of Namaste Health Center. The writer had had great success with lowering her CA 125, and generally building up her health and immunities, through diet and supplements following Dr. Winter’s protocol. I was very interested because this was the path I was beginning on my own. I attended a retreat in November 2013 to become a patient of Dr. Winters and Namaste Health Center. In her introduction she is very clear to state that she is not there to cure your cancer, but to build up our bodies to fight it off naturally! Her approach is through wellness of the mind, body and spirit. We addressed them all, and learned how to continue with follow up appointments that examine monthly labs, diet & stress diaries. The retreat was life changing for me. We learned a lot about diet and fighting cancer, and we all left there with not only a stronger commitment to fight through natural means, but also a sense of actually being able to control something! Our body is designed to heal itself given the opportunity. I have eliminated sugar, grains, gluten, GMO’s, potatoes, wheat and I only eat organic vegetables, limited organic fruits (many fruits have too much natural sugar) and clean protein. I only cook whole foods from scratch, no processed foods! Yes, I’m in the kitchen a lot! I must say that I am enjoying this style of cooking!

I feel fantastic, and attribute this to my new healthy lifestyle. One that can benefit everyone, whether you have cancer or not. Many autoimmune diseases can be cured or at least controlled by eating this way. I am fighting for my life, so it has been necessary for me to change old habits. It is not always easy, but for me it is always right. Everyone else has to find their own “cancer” to make this a lifestyle for them. Thankfully, my husband and family support this lifestyle, and also love the food! We are definitely eating well, and do not feel deprived!

CONCLUSION

This is my story. It is the path I have chosen to fight this disease, combining conventional with alternative treatments. Anyone battling cancer must determine their own journey. My CA 125 has been bouncing between 45-80 since January 2014 (35 or below is considered normal), but my scans have all been stable, basically slight improvement from post chemo scan in May 2013. So what do you do? Just keep living! It is more about learning to live with cancer than curing it. Initially, you have more anxiety over the CA 125, but with time it gets easier. I will be fighting this for the rest of my life. But at the same time, I am living life to the fullest every day. I am sure that I am the healthiest I have ever been in my life! I told my son that the difference between me and everyone else is that I don’t know the “when,” but I’m pretty sure about the “what”….he corrected me and reminded me that nobody is guaranteed tomorrow! He was so right! I begin every day by thanking God for my health today! I eat healthy; I exercise regularly. I spend every minute I can making memories with my children and grandchildren. I am so thankful for my husband and the love and support he has shown me, for friends and family. I appreciate the little things in life, and don’t sweat the small stuff! I hate cancer, but I am proud of the person I am becoming because of it! -MARY

mary and her sons

What a great reason to

EAT YOUR VEGGIES,
Robin

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20 Great Uses for Fresh Herbs

basil in plastic

Every week we try to include some herbs in our CSA bags. We also allow our CSA members, who visit us at the market, to choose any herbs they want at no charge. We do this because fresh herbs not only make food and drinks taste great, they also are very good for you. Almost all herbs are very high in antioxidants. Even so, many people complain they don’t know how to use fresh herbs. So, I put together this simple list. Using herbs is not an exact science. It is more like just chop a bunch up and use them in almost anything. Below are some great ideas. If you have some, I would love to hear about them!

  1. Make herb water by putting a handful of your favorite whole herbs in a big pitcher of fresh water. Adding a few slices of lemon makes it even better.

  2. Chop herbs on top of your omelet in the morning. Chives, parsley and tarragon are especially suitable for this.

  3. Toss any type of vegetable with olive oil, chopped herbs and garlic. Cut the veggies up into similar sized pieces and toss with oil and garlic and roast.

  4. Make an herb crust for meat. Chop a bunch of your favorite herbs with plenty of salt and garlic. Spread in a thick crust on meat. Let sit a few hours then roast or grill.

  5. Sauté chopped herbs and garlic in real butter. When fragrant, add your favorite chopped greens and cook until wilted.

  6. Add olive oil, chopped herbs, and parmesan to the top of tomatoes halves, then roast.

  7. Make mashed potatoes or turnips and load them with chopped herbs.

  8. Make an herb frittata by sautéing herbs, onions, sausage, and vegetables. Then add beaten eggs, top with cheese and bake until firm.

  9. Sauté leeks and a bunch of chopped herbs in butter. Add goat cheese and let it all melt. Stuff into chicken breasts with pockets cut into them and bake until done.

  10. Bonnies tomato basil salad

  11. Add chopped herbs to salads. Parsley, basil, cilantro, mint, and dill are especially good for this.

  12. Make a Caprice salad with fresh tomatoes, basil and any other chopped herbs you like.

  13. Put chopped herbs in egg salad. Parsley, tarragon, and dill work well.

  14. Make a fresh herb vinaigrette by combining your favorite chopped herbs, a squirt of Dijon mustard, salt, pepper, and an oil to vinegar ratio of 3-1 (3/4 oil and ¼ vinegar).

  15. Make a fresh tabbouleh salad with fresh parsley and mint.

  16. 20 Great Uses for Fresh Herbs

  17. Chop a bunch of your favorite herbs and put them on buttered (or olive oil) pasta with parmesan.

  18. Chop a bunch of your favorite herbs and put them on top of a homemade pizza.

  19. Add a handful of mint to your iced tea pitcher.

  20. Make thyme and honey cough syrup by boiling thyme in a little water. Remove the thyme and add honey.

  21. Use a TON of mixed herbs when you make bone broth.

  22. Top your favorite chili, soup, stew, or borscht with chopped parsley, chives, cilantro or dill.

Eat your veggies, and your herbs,
Robin

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Mercy for the Overweight

organic eater heart

photo credit @organiceater

Here is one of my pet peeves. I absolutely hate it when I hear people criticize overweight people. It is all too common to hear comments like “well, if they would just put their fork down…” or how about “if they would eat less and move more”, or comments about eating a few too many Big Macs. Why does it seem we treat obesity like a moral failure with the implication that overweight people lack the self-discipline to put down their fork or to go for a walk? I can’t see how gluttony or laziness can possibly be the root cause of all obesity. This is not a moral or self-discipline problem!

Consider that it is not just adults who are overweight; it is also children, and now even babies! It doesn’t make sense that children and babies lack self-discipline or are some type of moral failure, or picked up their fork a few too many times. The story behind obesity must be more complicated than simply eating too much and moving too little (calories in; calories out). If that is the case, then what is the real problem? Why are nearly half of all Americans overweight? Why is obesity and type 2 diabetes a growing problem with both adults and CHILDREN?

I think we Americans have strayed away from eating real food, and the result has been disastrous. Many of us start the day with toast, bagels, juice, Pop-Tarts, bars of something, or bowls of something from a box. Then we move on to a fast lunch and a microwave something for dinner, maybe a few stops at the snack machine during the day, and a couple of diet sodas. All of these things are normally a processed “carbolicious” nightmare! Is it possible this onslaught of sugar, processed grains, strange chemicals, strange colors, strange fake flavors, and preservatives might be destroying our healthy metabolism and sending America on the path of obesity and degenerative diseases at a higher and higher rate and younger and younger age? If this is true, then we really can’t say that obesity is a moral or self-discipline problem. It is a metabolic meltdown, caused by all the strange food we are eating.

What is the solution? I think the start is a move to eating real food. This means food that doesn’t come from a box and has no ingredients list. Things like fresh fruit and vegetables, grass-fed meats, fresh eggs, cheese and butter from grass fed animals, and healthy fats like olive oil and coconut oil. For many people, this might just solve the problem. For others of us who are having problems with our weight and blood sugar (they go hand in hand), we might need to restrict the amount of carbohydrates we eat and lean more toward green vegetables, instead of fruits and starchy vegetables. For EVERYBODY, the overweight and underweight, eating fresh real food is the best thing you can do for your life and health. For moms and dads, feeding our children fresh real food, instead of “food” marketed to children, is probably the best thing you can do to ensure their health all the way into old age. The food we feed kids now will be the food they choose as adults. You can’t trust the food industry to make the decision about nutrition for your kids. Their bottom line is profit, not your health. I think that is how we got here to start with.

So have compassion on the overweight. They are not moral failures. They are not lazy. They are not gluttons. They might even be only two years old. We all thought we could trust that food bought in the grocery store aisles would nourish us. It may be that not only is most of it not nourishing us, it is the root cause of our obesity epidemic. Eat fresh and real.

Eat your veggies!
Robin

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Roasted Butternut Squash with Rosemary, Butter and Garlic

roasted-butternut-squash

It is fall, and that means butternut squash are all around the market and in your CSA bags. Butternut squash are one of my favorite fall foods. They are sweet, creamy and delicious. They also are full of nutrients such as vitamin A and B vitamins. Butternut squash are also high in antioxidants and phytonutrients. You can eat the flesh and even roast the seeds. With fresh vegetables, the best preparation methods are always “keep it simple”, so try this easy recipe for roasted butternut that brings out the delicious natural flavors of this yummy vegetable.

Ingredients:

  1. 1 butternut squash with the seeds scraped out and the flesh cut into about 2 inch chunks. No need to peel the squash.
  2. A few tablespoons of organic or grassfed butter
  3. Chopped fresh rosemary
  4. Chopped Garlic
  5. Salt
  6. Cayenne pepper

roasted carrots kohlrabi and turnips

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees
  2. Spread the squash chunks evenly on a baking sheet (or do the following prep in a bowl, then move to the baking sheet)
  3. Toss the squash with melted butter and chopped rosemary and garlic
  4. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and cayenne to taste
  5. Bake approximately 30 minutes, or until they are barely beginning to brown

This simple recipe makes a great side dish at any meal. We even love this squash for breakfast. Although the skins are tough when the squash is raw, they are plenty soft when cooked and add nice fiber. Don’t forget to save those seeds and roast them.

You can make this your own by changing the oils and spices. Try olive or coconut oil. Try it with cinnamon, chunks of apples, and cayenne. Try tossing it with oregano and garlic. It is really hard to mess this one up. Get creative. Fear not the squash!

Eat Your Veggies,
Robin

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