The beautiful bowl in front of me was overflowing with microgreens — tiny broccoli, kale, arugula and radish, no longer sprouts but not yet “baby” vegetables. Sprinkled over the greens were delicate petals of edible flowers. This wasn’t just another pretty salad but, in Jane Darrah’s experience, a life-saving salad.
When the immune system is failing, as Jane’s was a few years ago, adding nutrient-rich microgreens to one’s diet is a good way to feed and heal the body. Health restored, Jane started growing her own micro vegetables and herbs.
Farming was not in her original script. She was headed toward a career in mental health services. But some things just happen that steer one in unexpected directions.
Jane served as a court-appointed special advocate (CASA) for a few years, working closely with children in foster care. She then joined Lompoc ACT, an assertive community treatment team that provides rehabilitation and various support programs to individuals with some of the most serious forms of mental illness.
The Finleys opened the Honor Stand in 2008, as an outlet to sell produce leftover from sales at the farmers’ markets. They would hose off the produce, give it a fresh cut and put it on the table. People came.
“I saw how our clients benefitted in supported employment programs that allow people with mental illnesses to take real jobs,” Jane explained. “Clients blossomed. They socialized. They felt some sense of worth. Their recovery changed dramatically.
“This community really mattered to me. I was investing a lot of time and energy in pursuing this line of work. I loved it. But I was always stressed. I thought about what else I might do that would make a difference to the wellness of our society. Maybe a website based on organic living,” she said.
Jane picked up some bug while vacationing in late 2017. Once home in Lompoc, she was bedridden. After months of testing, she was finally diagnosed with a compromised immune system, depleting her natural killer cells and leaving her open to any variety of opportunistic infections.
Laying low for months gives one time to think. Jane dug deeply into research on longevity foods, foods that promised a healthier life, foods that might very well revive her immune system and save her life.
Don and his wife Ann run San Marcos Farms Honey Company, a small family-owned business specializing in artisanal bee products. Whereas some apicurists pour their honey into 55-gallon drums and sell them to packers as is, Don is a producer-packer who currently sells his varietal honeys along with...
Enter microgreens: young vegetables and herbs that already contain the same level of nutritional value as they will have once fully grown. One tiny microgreen contains up to 40 times higher levels of vitamins and minerals than that of its mature counterpart. And they’re also aromatic and tasty.
Jane was immediately captivated. With a backyard and enough space to grow these superfoods, it wasn’t long before she was tending to her own microgarden.
It took about six months before Jane returned to her work with ACT, but the stress was eventually too much for her still-frail health. She had no choice but to again step back from the mental health community.
That’s when plan B came into play. The question of what to do next was answered with the very real possibility of going into the business of growing and selling microgreens along with nutritional edible flowers. Research showed that there was a viable commercial market for the products.
As Jane started spinning plans for her new venture, she saw an opportunity to involve others in her project, namely those who suffer from disabilities, those in need of a community and a purpose.
“Farming satisfied my need to promote organic living and wellness,” Jane continued. “Once I discovered what I could accomplish in my small backyard, I realized that farming microgreens could be a life-changer for those who struggle with food insecurities. You don’t need a lot of room to grow healthy foods.
“And when I’m able to move my farm to a larger property, I could offer supported employment to those with mental and physical disabilities. Anyone can work a microgreen and flower farm, even someone with ambulatory limitations. Someone in a wheelchair can sort through flowers, and they can add value to the business and to their own life,” Jane said.
Jane was checking off all the boxes of what she had envisioned for her life’s course, and it was all coming together along with her good health.
Jane’s Good Witch Farm is now just over a year old. By definition, a witch is “a woman thought to have magical powers.” Born on Halloween, Jane would tell you that she’s committed to using her powers for good in the world.
I had hoped to spend an afternoon gardening with Jane, but, considering the current surge of new COVID-19 cases, we thought better of it. We made eye contact only briefly when she stopped by my place to deliver a collection of microgreens and edible flowers.
While Jane’s wholesale business has slowed due to the pandemic’s punishing impact on restaurants, including Solvang’s First & Oak, Pico Los Alamos, Pony Espresso in Santa Ynez and other customers of Good Witch Farm, home cooks have discovered Good Witch, narrowing the gap between consumer and farmer. Jane wants to see microgreens and edible flowers going mainstream as part of one’s daily diet rather than just a novelty garnish.
This good witch intends to take her homegrown farm to the next stage, creating a profitable business and an opportunity to develop a supportive employment environment for the disabled, good for everyone’s physical and mental health.
Postscript: Did you know that antidepressant microbes in soil stimulate serotonin production, leaving one feeling happier and more relaxed? Go play in the dirt!
Although homebound for the holidays, food, gifts and especially, good “cheers”, are still in order. In lieu of hosting a large holiday cocktail party, spend that precious dough on yourselves – while giving back to local businesses who need our support now, more than ever, during the stay-at-home order.
FROM THE VINE While it seems most of us have little patience for this pandemic, let alone unexpected accidents such as a bad spill I had that broke my back, just believing in ourselves can pull us through.
FROM THE VINE I believe we wine aficionados all love Champagne and sparkling wines for celebrating special moments in our lives. Yet I intend to offer some tips on why you shouldn’t just save these wines for special celebrations.
Jamie Edlin heads Hollywood & Wine, a marketing communications agency geared to the wine and hospitality industries. She serves on the Advisory Board of Woodbury University’s School of Media, Culture & Design and is the recipient of the 2019 Spirit of Entrepreneurship Award in Media & Communications. Jamie can be reached at Jamie@HollywoodandWine.net
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