The evolution of a dream into a reality (almost).

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In 2005, my husband, Will and I,  moved to North Carolina from Athens, Ga, where we had lived for eighteen years. Will had been a pharmacy professor at UGA and most of his research had focused on HIV and nutrition, while I unschooled our four amazing kids and also painted and wrote and at times engaged in collaborative endeavors of different kinds and in different ways. We had been vegetarians for over fifteen years when we moved here and I had also been vegetarian off and on when I was a child. This was because I was raised Buddhist. My family lived in Toronto when I was very little, but when I was around nine we moved to the far north and there we were often offered moose and caribou by friends of my mother who were First Nations people. This seemed different than eating packaged meat bought at a grocery store, but once we had stepped onto that path, it proved to be a slippery slope!

Several of my  kids had become vegan while they were growing up. Our oldest daughter, Astra, was the first one to do so when she was about twelve, which was in 1991. She even wrote and published her own magazine at that time called Kids for Animal Rights and the Environment, or KARE, yet we did not succumb! She must have really thought we were dense. In other words,  Will and I had been exposed to the idea of veganism for many years before we finally, separately, each had our own epiphany, or “Aha moment” when it really clicked. Thus we know how challenging it can be to go vegan.This actually took place for me shortly after moving to Greensboro, when our youngest daughter, the only one who still lived at home at the time, called me a hypocrite. She said that I couldn’t actually be an animal rights activist if I wasn’t a vegan, because eating dairy and eggs just caused too much suffering for animals. She was 13  then and had never eaten meat in her life, but she resented that we hadn’t raised her vegan. I guess she was fed up! None of our other kids had ever called me out before and it worked!

We initially lived in Greensboro when we moved to North Carolina. Several years before, my husband, Will, and I were co-founding Board Members of an international 501 c3, along with Civil Rights icon, Ambassador Andrew Young. Its mission was to promote nutrition, education  and research. It was called the Global Initiative for the Advancement of Nutritional Therapy, or GIANT (I actually came up with the acronym). Most of our efforts were  focused on addressing concerns in developing countries, especially around the issue of appropriate nutrition for people with HIV/AIDS.

While in North Carolina we did try to work on a few new initiatives, but none of these gained much momentum.The main project that I initiated was called EVE. This stood for Eco Village Enterprises. We wanted to form a network of self-sustainable eco-village communities in developing countries, where we  could grow medicinal plants, and have research, educational and eco-tourism facilities, where they could also provide care for AIDS orphans. We  Traveled to Ghana and Romania to set up potential project sites and also networked with an organization in Nepal. We met Dr. Maya Angelou through Andrew Young and she agreed to be on EVE’s Board. Unfortunately this project lost steam as Andrew Young was wary of us working with orphans as he had seen too many situations where organizations took on caring for kids and then found out that the kids were being abused or, alternatively, the care givers were falsely accused of abuse,  so that money could be extorted. This was right around the time that Oprah was having trouble of this kind at her school in South Africa and I think that situation, as well as others that he knew about influenced his attitude. He said we would need many angel funders, as well as angels on the ground, and he didn’t think there were that many angels around.

One long-term initiative of Giant, which took us to Senegal  in 2002, was trying to help promote the use of Moringa in Western Africa. Moringa is a fast growing shrub; its leaves can be dried, made into a powder, and then used to treat malnutrition. It is very rich in vitamin c and has a complete balance of amino acids. Other parts of the plant can also be eaten, or used medicinally, which is why some people call it the “Miracle Tree”.  After traveling to Senegal, I arranged to have our oldest daughter return to make a film about how to grow and use it. This was her first movie (she is now a documentary filmmaker). The film is still in circulation and has been translated into many African languages.

After moving to Greensboro we tried to help our partner, Lowell Fuglie,  who was the main person behind creating awareness about Moringa, obtain funding to do conclusive research so that the World Health Organization would take it seriously and begin to implement its usage.  Unfortunately, we were unable to obtain this grant and then Lowell passed away. His legacy lives on and  because of his hard work, more and more people continue to learn about the “Miracle Tree” and Moringa can now be bought in most health food stores in America.

My last attempt, during this period,  of getting a project going  with GIANT, was when our CEO, Dr Oladele, alerted me to a call for applications for a grant to address the epidemic of rising obesity and related heath problems among immigrant kids.  I  came up with something that I called “Your Great-Grandmother’s Kitchen”.  I wrote a grant proposal to start an educational project that would encourage immigrant children to learn about their traditional diets, by interviewing their mothers, or even better, grandmothers if possible, and then share this information in the classroom. I knew that many immigrant children suffer from health issues that could be avoided if their families didn’t quickly adopt eating American food. In many countries around the world, meat, dairy, sugar as well as processed foods, are eaten far more sparingly than they are here in the USA. People also tend to grow their own food and shop locally. I wanted to have the children explore the combined values of all these factors.I found collaborators for this project at the local Children’s Museum, but again I was not successful in getting the grant. I decided to focus my energy elsewhere.

I heard about  a graduate program in Integrative Health Coaching (as well as one on teaching Mindfulness) being offered at Duke’s School of Integrative Medicine. After completing these programs, along with starting to coach, I began The Lunch Club, aka TLC, which was like a weekly pop-up restaurant in our home. I would serve a three or four course, mostly organic, vegan lunch to whoever showed up. It was advertised mostly by word of mouth, although initially I posted it on the local vegan meetup site that I was involved with, until I feared it would grow too big.

Folks sat at two long tables one in our dining room and the other in our adjacent living room. Many of the attendees were not even vegetarian, let alone vegan. I asked for a donation of $10. Financially it was a losing proposition, but I was doing what I could to develop interest in a plant-based diet. People kept encouraging me to open a vegan restaurant and I was tempted and started investigating what that would entail. One of the things that I came up with while I had the lunch club was a nutritional yeast gravy. Several people said that I should try to bottle it. I realized that going into vegan food manufacturing might be a good way to make vegan food for people, while having more autonomy and flexibility than I might have if I opened a restaurant. I began to do research on how to make and manufacture my sauce. At the same time,  I was increasingly dissatisfied with the status quo,  I convinced Will that we should start practicing even more of what we were preaching and buy a small farm and try to grow some of our food for ourselves.

I soon found a 7 acre farm about 15 miles from town that had a cool renovated barn on it that had been made into a home. It was in foreclosure and happened to be a really good deal. The place was funky, but it sufficed as a great art studio for me and a weekend retreat for us and our dogs. It also had a large outbuilding that happened to be a recording studio; as Will is a musician as well as a scientist, this was an added perk! It was a  perfect place for us to pursue our individual creative endeavors while also working on an agricultural project  together. Besides planting a vegetable garden and some fruit trees, we decided to try growing French Perigord truffles in the cleared, one-acre tract at the back of the property. We planted two-hundred oak seedlings, which had been inoculated by the truffle myceleum and embarked on our new  adventure of being part-time farmers. We dubbed the rural property Blue Moon Farm

We began to hold vegan events on occasion there as well, while continuing to host TLC at our home in town. I held our First Annual Local Vegan Harvest Dinner at Blue Moon Farm during this period. We really loved our blue barn house and tried our best to imagine ourselves retiring there, but we realized that for our needs, in the long run, it probably wasn’t the ideal setup.

While we had been looking at properties, before we found Blue moon Farm, we had found an amazing place that both Will and I fell in love with, even though it would have meant having to sell our house in town in order to buy it, but before we could even seriously consider doing so, the listing was removed. Perhaps, seeing this place had left us feeling that maybe the perfect place for us actually existed if we just searched a little harder. In 2011  we began to discuss whether we should try to consolidate back onto one property, which really suited all of our needs. We knew that it would mean great upheaval in our lives as well as having to let go of our beloved Blue Moon Farm (we never cared much for our home in Greensboro, so that wasn’t an issue). We had also come to the conclusion that we genuinely enjoyed the country lifestyle more than our city one.

I began to look at listings again and we found a place we thought could work and made an offer on it, which fell through. We were quite disappointed. Then I saw that the house that we had fallen in love with earlier was once again on the market! This time we were determined to try to buy it and although it was a very challenging process, and took almost a year, we finally moved into our home that we now live and call Arcadia Lodge/ Arcadia Healing Arts Center.

I no longer host The Lunch Club here as it is too far for people from Greensboro  to come to during their lunch hour and I am not sure I could find the support here in Archdale. Instead, I have focused on trying to develop this property as a vegan event center as well as the home of Loving Spoonfuls, my vegan food company. Our friend Scott helped us build a commercial kitchen in the basement for this purpose. In place of TLC I began hosting monthly potlucks and random vegan “Food for Thought” events, which I would cosponsor with Arcadia Lodge & Loving Spoonfuls as well as wit the vegan meetup group that I ran. In 2014 I held a three day vegan adult summer camp here, which was fun (we had workshops in vegan cooking, painting, juggling, improv, kimchee making, story-telling, mosaic -making, etc.) . I look forward to hosting other longer events/retreats again in the future. We  also offer  farm-stays here through Air B and B.

Over time my plans for this place have continued to evolve. Just in the last year I really  began to seriously think about transitioning the farm animal aspect into a traditional non-profit, or perhaps some other kind of innovative model, so that it could be more of a communal undertaking as well as educational resource. I know that when I hold events and potlucks, or folks stay at our place, they are always very curious about the animals and  want to meet them and participate in feeding them. It’s a big attraction, and I would like for us to be able to have other farm animals here, which would represent more of the varieties that many people eat, in order for them to get to know these animals and learn about why that kind of exploitation is so unjust on multiple levels.

With this in mind I decided to call the animal farm area, Dharma Farm Animal Refuge. Part of my mission, personally, is that I want to encourage people who are Buddhist, or Secular Humanists, as well as those who practice yoga, or are environmentalists, to really think about the suffering they are causing to others, as well as themselves and the planet, if they still eat animal products. These are the people who are perhaps the most akin to me philosophically. I was raised Buddhist, but felt very ambivalent about calling myself a Buddhist for  many years, because of the problem that I saw with folks who talked about compassion, but then ate mindlessly. I now see that I was one of those people as well, even though at the time I was a card-carrying vegetarian. We never know what we don’t know until we know it. That discovery can often only happen if we have an open-heart as well as an open-mind.

in order to help support the  farm refuge as a separate entity with a long-term goal of having it grow,  I needed to come up with a plan. All along, I have been hoping that Loving Spoonfuls will one day become profitable, so I could help my husband pay the bills (he is currently the patron of all my endeavors, but his ability to support all of this work could dramatically decrease when he reaches retirement).  I have finally jumped through all the hoops in order to get my flagship product, the sauce I was encouraged to make at The Lunch Club, on store shelves! It is called Nuchi Sauce and comes in three flavors, Regular, Smokey Maple and Hot Smokey Maple. It is a unique condiment made from the combination on nutritional yeast and organic gluten-free Tamari sauce. It is loaded with vitamins, including B12, which vegans need to supplement with. Now I just need to figure out how to market it!  I attempted to get it into the local Whole Foods with no success, so now I need to start a grass-roots campaign, along with marketing it online!

Along these lines, my latest endeavor here at Arcadia Lodge, is that I have started a monthly pop-up market. It’s intended primarily for vegan entrepreneurs, although I am not restricting it to vegans as we want to familiarize other people with this lifestyle. It’s called Harmony Marketplace and it is a place where people can buy and sell cruelty -free, hand-crafted goods, including food, or vintage stuff. We also offer entertainment, workshops, as well as cooking demonstrations. I also want it to be a site where people can pick up goods from a CSA that they can join, as well as a vegan, organic, bulk buying club. In conjunction with this, I am developing a series of vegan cooking classes.

Harmony Marketplace, which happens on the first Saturday of each month, is a place that I can help grow opportunities for the our local vegan community, while also providing a way to directly market Nuchi Sauce along with my other products; these include Talisman Chocolates, which are organic, vegan and fair trade and Supreme O, which is my  vegan oat-based ice cream. Many others products are in the pipeline. I  charge a reasonable fee for vendors to participate, currently it’s $10 per table, as well as a token amount per person admission fee ($1.00 at this time). This revenue goes towards supporting the animals.

Having my food products at the market  helps to promote them. A portion of my profits will also go to the refuge. When my food business begins to thrive, meaning when it is too large to function in the commercial kitchen in our basement, I plan to transition it into a cooperatively run company. At that time we could model our efforts on Newman’s Own brand and give some, if not all, the profits, above and beyond the member’s salaries, to supporting the refuge as well as perhaps other causes. This may seem like a crazy vision, but why not? I live in an economically depressed area, starting a real, albeit small-scale, vegan food manufacturing company would be good for the community at large in so many ways.

I realize that this is a complex plan, much like my ecovillage idea was, but with this undertaking, I don’t need to rely on angels, (although having angel funding might be nice), I just need to engage in creating a market for some really delicious, healthy products. Rather than caring for AIDS orphans we will be helping provide for some animals in need. And, as the animals are here, in my back yard, not in some far away land, I can keep my eyes on the situation and make sure that everyone is okay to the best of my ability.

Post script: We are not forgetting about people with HIV, or other diseases, in fact we have been discussing  that we might start a local Chapter of GIANT, or perhaps even a new NGO, that will have a new area  of focus, one that looks at the relationship between the animal agriculture industries and emerging pathogens.  To be continued…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

at Arcadia Lodge/ Arcadia Healing Arts Center

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