I live on a small farm in rural northeastern Utah, with my husband, Chad, several housecats, a couple of dogs, a couple of sheep, and three donkeys. We also care for some feral cats, feed our local wild bird populations, and grow flowers for our local pollinators. As you can probably already tell, we like animals, and are the type of sensitive souls that are always at the ready to help a creature in need.
We grow as much of our own food as possible and are always looking for new ways to increase the diversity of our homegrown crops. We use the wool from our sheep for our own household needs, and use their manure to enrich the soil of our garden.
I cook all of our (gluten-free) meals from scratch and work from home as a freelance writer, in addition to working on this blog.
It’s a simple life that keeps me in close contact with the seasons, with weeds and plants, and with birds, insects, and other wild animals. It suits me.
But I never would have imagined ending up here ten years ago, when I was a resident of the city of Paris, France.
Home Cooking Culture
Before I moved to Paris, my idea of cooking from scratch involved opening cans of beans and stewed tomatoes to make homemade chili. Hey, it was good chili, but it wasn’t exactly fresh.
Over the 14 years I lived in Paris, I was exposed to a few incredible home cooks, spent a lot of time purchasing and cooking fresh produce from neighborhood farmers markets, and I eventually stopped relying on canned foods. I became a proficient home cook, ready to tackle even the most challenging recipes in my cookbooks.
I’d always liked cooking – particularly baking – so this was a natural development for me. I relish in the smells, textures, and feels of preparing edible creations from simple ingredients – food is a passion for me.
Gut Issues and Food Restrictions
But it’s also a struggle.
After dealing with gastrointestinal issues on and off for over 15 years, I finally got diagnosed with SIBO, histamine intolerance, oxalate overload, and candida to top it all off. Managing each of these issues requires following a restrictive diet – and this is on top of the gluten-free and corn-free diet I was already following.
Talk about a struggle!
However, once a baker, always a baker, and throughout these dietary restrictions, I have continued experimenting with making baked goods from scratch, as well as trying my best to sneak some flavor into my meals.
In 2009 I began studying Building Biology and quickly learned a lot about environmental health.
Little by little I made changes in my home and to my lifestyle, leading to an outstanding improvement in my health – no more migraines, no more brain fog, no more night sweats. I realized that I had environmental sensitivities, and I learned how to avoid exacerbating them.
I worked as a Building Biology Environmental Consultant (Building Biologist) from 2012-2019, helping other environmentally sensitive individuals tweak their homes to improve their health and feelings of well-being.
During this time I noticed with curiosity that most (perhaps all) of my clients also had gluten sensitivities and sometimes other food sensitivities.
Fermentation and the Gut Microbiome
After a year or so of timid attempts at making kombucha and sauerkraut, in 2015 I took a week long workshop on fermentation and wild foods led by the inimitable fermentation guru, Sandor Katz.
Learning about the microbial processes of fermentation got me interested in the human microbiome, a key element of our health and well-being, which I continue to study.
My histamine intolerance has required me to put a pause on my fermentation hobby, but I hope to return to this eventually.
From approximately 2013-2016, I took classes in the Certificate in Native Plants Studies program offered through the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, learning about botany, propagation, insects, birds, and of course, the value of using native plants in the landscape.
These studies gave me a holistic view of gardening and landscaping, and led me to always consider a plant’s origins in order to understand its needs, whether growing plants for food or simply for pleasure.
Gardening and Permaculture
I worked at a couple of different garden centers as a teenager and young adult, learning to sling a hose, to rub herbs to release their scents, and taking away some propagation and gardening basics.
I didn’t have many opportunities to garden while in Paris, so as soon as I moved back to the US, that’s what I started to do. I checked out every book my local library had on organic gardening and Permaculture and started growing food from seeds.
For a while I organized a Permaculture meetup group and a food swap in Charlotte NC. In 2017 I began to study Permaculture officially, and in 2018 I was certified as a Permaculture Designer.
I’ve been digging in the mud since I was a wee thing, and I still enjoy getting my hands dirty, getting into direct contact with the soil.
Nature as a Partner
The theme running through these various pursuits is that nature is going to do its thing whether we want it to or not. My studies and observations have taught me that we are better off when we understand what nature is going to do anyway, and use this to our advantage, treating nature as a partner rather than something to be struggled against.
Many traditional cultures around the world know this, having learned, over hundreds or thousands of years how to make good use of the world’s natural workings when it comes to fermentation, edible and medicinal foods, and natural building.
We can take advantage of nature to grow an abundant garden without resorting to synthetic fertilizers or chemicals, we can acknowledge the nature of our microbiome to cultivate healthy guts, and we can respect the nature of our ancestry and biology to feed ourselves appropriately.
And perhaps in doing so, we will feel more obliged to protect the natural world from the overuse of resources.
I hope to inspire you to look at nature as a nurturing partner, whether you are homesteading, gardening, cooking – or just trying to improve your health.
Originally published September 24, 2018. Updated May 31, 2021.