Our Guatemalan Chocolate Adventure

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Our Guatemalan Chocolate Adventure

Kristen & Joshua (the newest addition to the Origins team) reporting from colorful Guatemala! Guatemala in the Mayan language means “land of many trees,” and we’ve found ourselves in the heart of a tropical jungle dedicated to the biodiversity of the forest.


Our new friend & partner, Laurent, owner of El Porvenir Agroforestry Farm, set forth on a mission to protect a plant that we all known and love — one that has been sacred to the indigenous people of Central America for thousands of years — cacao. Cacao is at the heart and soul of every morsel of chocolate that you have ever consumed. In its raw form, it is a potent medicine. Not only is it packed with antioxidants, magnesium, calcium and iron — on an energetic level it is a powerful heart opener, boosting serotonin. It also contains the bliss and love molecules (anandamide and phenylethylamine). Additionally, cacao contains the compound theobromine, “Food of the Gods,” theo meaning God and broma meaning food. It reduces blood pressure while improving your blood circulation.


There are three distinct varieties of cacao growing in the world. The variety which has been used ceremonially in Guatemala and much of Central America for thousands of years is known as “Criollo.” It’s is distinguished from other varieties because of it’s pure white seeds (rather than brown). Criollo cacao differs in flavor and has stronger medicinal constituents. Genetically this variety has recessive traits, making it unable to co-exist with other varieties of cacao with dominant genes. With the dominance of other commercial varieties of cacao, Criollo cacao has been driven to the verge of extinction.


Our friend Laurent and his wife, Veronica, pictured here, are dedicated to protecting this sacred variety of cacao. We had the incredible opportunity to spend time on their 1000 acre agroforestry project. At El Porvenir Agroforestry Farm, they have planted a diverse variety of over 250,000 trees, including cacao and various hardwoods, restoring the forest’s natural biodiversity which was previously decimated by intensive coffee production. They go through extreme measures to select and propagate pure criollo cacao plants; each tree is grown from a hand-selected seed. Their good work has created more biodiversity in the forest, and has also pioneered a method to help criollo cacao not only survive but thrive!

This coming Origins season, look forward to learning more and tasting the magic of this important project in our specialty drinks and desserts! We’ll also be serving cacao ceremonially at select events. Stay tuned!

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Camino Verde


Camino Verde


Madre de Dios 

This winter we took a deep dive into the Amazon rainforest. The Madre de Dios region of Peru is one of the most biodiverse places on Earth, considered to be the largest remaining region of relatively intact tropical forest left in the world! 

From the wild jungle town of Puerto Maldonado, we took a 10 hour boat ride up the Tambopata River to reach our destination -- an incredibly inspiring project, Camino Verde


The Challenge

A rainforest of 1000+ species used to stand here. Now we see one species -- papaya -- which will be grown with heavy pesticides and shipped away to be eaten in a distant city. A few burnt stumps remain amidst the young papayas. This slash-and-burn method of clearing rainforest is a common means of creating space for intensive farming. 

This is a recently emerging challenge here. While this area was historically isolated, without dependable roads to reach the nearest city, the creation of the Interoceanic Highway is changing the landscape. The highway spanning South America coast to coast - crossing Brazil and Peru - now makes it possible to transport fresh, perishable foods to the nearest city. Suddenly there is a big market for products such as bananas and papayas where there wasn't before. The response over the past ten years since the highway opened: deforestation has skyrocketed.

Camino Verde is grassroots reforestation project which is working to address the serious threat to this precious habitat. It was founded by Robin Van Loon to create economic opportunities for local people in an ecologically responsible way. 


Camino Verde

Since its conception in 2006, the good people of Camino Verde have resurrected land which was severely damaged by intensive farming in the past. They have turned this land into a Living Seed Bank - home to over 300 species of trees - including fruits, medicines, crafts materials and culturally significant species. Seeds and young trees are being grown and distributed to local communities with one major goal: create income through a standing forest, rather than clearcutting to intensively grow one crop. 

Camino Verde is working to support jungle communities in keeping their forests intact, providing economic incentive for tree planting. 


Moena Essential Oil

One product that Camino Verde is partnering with communities to produce is essential oil from the tree, Moena Alcanforada, pictured here. 

Moena is a close botanical relative of the highly endangered Rosewood, which was overharvested due to the popularity of the fragrance Chanel No. 5.. The name Moena Alcanforada refers to the camphor-like scent and therapeutic properties of this tree. In traditional Amazonian medicine, the tree is regarded as having cooling properties, and used to reduce inflammation, especially associated with fever and heat such as arthritic conditions.

Camino Verde has worked with 20 families in four communities, planting over 5,000 trees on small farmers' land. Only the lateral branches and leaves of the tree are used, which are pruned to benefit the trees’ growth and health. 

This is the largest reforestation of Moena in the world, and Camino Verde is the only organization in the world distilling this species. Camino Verde plans to plant thousands more of these trees on partner farmers' land, and to provide the growers with distillation equipment as a source of livelihood within a few years.

Look for this very special essential oil at Origins this season! 

Check out this video of good times at Camino Verde! We helped out with projects around the farm such as tree maintenance, harvesting fruits, and roasting & grinding cacao!

Video by Erik Danielsen 


Origins Weddings


Origins Weddings


Love Grows Here

Over the years, our greenhouse cafe has blossomed into a special venue for hosting weddings. We feel so honored for the opportunity to host incredibly inspiring, intimate & unique celebrations of sacred union.

Take a look at a few beautiful moments of 2016 and 2017!


Growing the Youth Food Movement


Growing the Youth Food Movement

The Youth Food Movement continues to grow in Cooperstown! 

Who are we? We are the world's future leaders, entrepreneurs, farmers and consumers, part of an international grassroots movement toward a sustainable future of food!  The Youth Food Movement is a global network of young activists committed to bringing positive change to the world through our food choices. We recognize that industrialized, large scale, monocultural food production is damaging to the natural environment, cultural heritage, planetary biodiversity and personal health.                               

We unite to change this by being activists of SLOW FOOD, food which is Good, Clean and Fair, prepared with care and respect, grown as sustainably as possible and supports fair wages for farmers & producers.                                                                        

Our local chapter of this international movement has roots in Cooperstown schools and is open to all in the surrounding area. In kitchens, gardens & classrooms we aim to encourage & mobilize responsible food choices, and take part in the public debate about current issues such as:

How can we feed the growing population of the world?  What do we do about food waste?  How do we produce food that supports the health of our bodies and the environment?


Journey to Izotalillo, El Salvador


Journey to Izotalillo, El Salvador

Thanks to the connection through a dear friend, Dean Stevens, we have the opportunity to travel to a small mountaintop community in El Salvador to meet the growers of Origins coffee!

Not long ago, El Salvador was torn apart by civil war. One percent of the population (about 15 rich families) controlled almost all the wealth and land of the small nation.  There was a revolution for change by the 99%. The 1% was ruthless, murdering 70,000 people over twelve years and driving 1 million refugees out of the country. Struck by the injustices of this war, Dean Stevens traveled to the mountaintop villages in northern El Salvador, close to the border of Honduras, and fell in love with the people and the land.


We can understand why. Together we hiked up to El Higueral, a village of about 200 people who dwell in the earthen homes, growing corn on the steep mountain slopes and coffee in the forest understory. The people here are beautiful – simple, grateful, hardworking and resilient. In 1980, this village was burned to the ground and about 100 people were massacred by the government forces. Many more fled to hide in the mountains. The people returned to rebuild, and with the help of a sister city in Massachusetts, now have a schoolhouse, community building, church and clean water.

We sisters enjoyed the forests surrounding the village during the days, helping out with a family’s coffee harvest. Under the shade of goliath mango trees, and broad banana leaves, we plucked deep red berries off the coffee plants and filled our woven baskets.


Continuing our coffee adventure, we hiked for three hours up to a neighboring mountaintop to the smaller village of Izotalillo. The rise in elevation brought cooler air under pine trees, sweet relief from the sweltering heat. Here we experienced the next part of coffee processing – the plump red berries are depulped, and inner bean soaked in water for a short fermentation. 


The beans are dried in the sun, outer skins are removed, then roasted. We'll bring our beans home green to be roasted at Stagecoach Coffee! 


It feels good to offer these delicious beans to our hometown, knowing that this meaningful collaboration is making a big difference to the hardworking families of Izotalillo! 


Season Four | Feeding the Roots


Season Four | Feeding the Roots

“The soil is the great connector of lives, the source and destination of all. It is the healer and restorer and resurrector, by which disease passes into health, age into youth, death into life. Without proper care for it we can have no community, because without proper care for it we can have no life.”  Wendell Berry, The Unsettling of America, Culture and Agriculture 

Origin's fourth growing season was a beautiful testament of this truth, of soil as the great connector of lives. As our roots continue to go deep, we feel the nourishment of those who join us around the table with shared dreams for the future of food.

Each season, we are privileged to host a team of volunteers and co-workers who are seeking connection to soil, to land, to community. We give our thanks to the team that made this season possible. First to our dear Andy and Howie, who fueled the fire, bringing the fruits of our passions into manifestation all season long - one quiche and one pancake at a time.  


This year we had the special opportunity to host family members, two talented young women with great potential to bring positive change to the world with their gifts. For several months we hosted our Canadian cousin, Becca, who shared with us her musical gifts and good humor around the campfire. Aly shared her great artistic abilities making signage, that now bedecks our food truck and cafe. 

We were inspired by Meghan from Virginia, who joined us through the WWOOF network, an adventurous world traveler and teacher. Mahan Deva from California shared with us her electrifying passion for the delicious union of beauty, vitality and nutrition through her masterful raw food creations. A beautiful young Japanese family shared their passion for learning through cultural exchange, as they travel the world collecting recipes and experience to inspire their own new restaurant endeavor in Japan. 

All of these wonderful individuals nourished the soil of Origins with their adventurous spirits. And they made all of our efforts serving the community possible. Together we joined forces with Springbrook to build a garden for the Cooperstown Food Pantry. We held fundraisers help people in need rebuild after hardship - from Nepal to Jordanville. We served local, organic food to wonderful folks at The Smithy, The Art Association, The Otsego Land Trust, and Cooperstown Rotary, and for many of our friend's wedding festivities. 


Thanks to all who made this growing season possible! 

With Love,

Kristen & Dana 





Aloha from the Garden Isle


Aloha from the Garden Isle

We come from the earth, we return to the earth, and in between we garden. 

My passion is in the herb garden - growing and learning from medicinal plants. This winter I was called to an herbal oasis on a small island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean --  Kaua'i, Hawaii. 


The Kaua'i Farmacy was birthed by a family driven to empower others with access to the healing power of potent, organic herbs. On their small farm, along a lush riverbed on the north of the island, a wonderful diversity of plants are grown, harvested, dried in a solar dehydrator, packaged, then sold from their 'Tea Wagon' at a nearby farmers market.

The Tea Wagon offers fresh brewed herbal infusions and cold-pressed juices of ginger, turmeric, starfruit and whatever the daily harvest may be. 

Here I volunteered with daily farm work -- planting lavender & ashwagandha seedlings; fertilizing with neem & spirulina; cleaning and sorting galangal ginger & yacon; mulching between cacao & papaya trees, harvesting gotu kola & tulsi; juicing all kinds of goodness to create herbal elixirs. 

Gotu Kola is an herb used to rejuvenate nerve and brain cells, aiding memory and meditation. It leaves are used to promote longevity; in traditional Chinese medicine it's name indicates "The Fountain of Life."

Tulsi is an herb that has been used for thousands of years to treat colds, coughs and flu. According to Ayurveda, tulsi cleanses the respiratory tract and soothes bodily stresses with it's antioxidant properties. 

Galangal root is common in asian kitchens and has a stimulating effect on the digestive system, much like ginger does. It is recommended for stomach troubles such as indigestion and nausea.  

I take home with me the teachings of the plants, as well as the incredible feeling of peace which permeates that magical garden -- the memory of waking to simmer in the dawn, full moon sinking behind the mountains in pale morning light, listening to bird songs and walking through a jungle of coconut palms, towering ginger and sugar cane. 

Life started in a garden, and to the garden we will return. 

Look forward to fresh Kaua'i Farmacy tea at the cafe this season! Carrying home Mamaki Chai from the farm - a delicious blend of Hawai'ian nettes (mamaki), allspice, cinnamon, ginger, lemongrass, tumeric & tulsi - good medicine made with Aloha! 




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January 13, 2014

For the past several years, my father Brent and other members of the Presbyterian Church in Cooperstown have worked with an organization called Living Waters for the World to provide clean drinking water systems to villages in Honduras. This January, twenty of us left the Cooperstown snow globe and headed south, with trunks packed full of plumbing supplies, collapsible hula hoops, and gardening tools. Our mission was to plant native fruit trees in a small village called El Pilon, share hula hoops with the children, and improve health in the village by installing pit toilets and a nearby water filtration system. 

A young member of the El Pilon community helping to construct a pit toilet 

A young member of the El Pilon community helping to construct a pit toilet 

Right away we began the work of digging holes to plant more than 100 native fruit trees throughout El Pilon. Each of the fourty-four houses in the village received a young orange, avocado, and mango tree. The home owners and local children joined us in the planting with great enthusiasm, providing compost, water, helping hands, and fencing to finish. Despite language barriers and cultural differences, working with soil and roots connected us to one another, reminding us of our universal dependence on the earth. The energy of the children was uplifting, as our future depends on the working hands, minds, and spirits of these younger generations.  

Aside from planting fruit trees, I passed many hours hula hooping with the children. My love for the hula hoop was ignited a year and a half ago, when I spontaneously decided to purchase my first hoop at a general store. Since then, hula hooping has become a great source of inspiration, expression, and movement in my life. Because of it's simplicity, durability, and low cost, hula hoops are the perfect toy for village children to share. With very few material possessions, the children of El Pilon have boundless imaginations for play. They were fascinated with the hula hoops, creating new games and spinning in circles for hours and days. 

On the final day of the trip, we traveled to a nearby village called San Miguel where my dad and others had installed the clean water system provided by Living Waters. Hundreds of villagers, politicians, and town leaders joined us to celebrate a new era of clean water and health in their community. During the ceremony, villagers were encouraged to replace soda for water in their diets, which was previously the less expensive product. The ceremony concluded with the distribution of hundreds of cups of clean water, an exalting cheers, and a vibrant celebration with music and dancing.  

My father, Brent, implementing a water filtration system in San Miguel, Honduras

My father, Brent, implementing a water filtration system in San Miguel, Honduras

While we had arrived in Honduras to help others, we too were greatly enriched by learning from and connecting to these small communities. The villagers taught us the importance of community; that there are still corners of the world where multi-generational families live together and raise children together. Their livestock roam freely around the village, signifying a people who are directly connected to the animal lives that nourish them. With little money and few extraneous possessions, the villagers in El Pilon depend on simple earthen houses and wood fired ovens, utilizing what is locally available and treading lightly on the planet. In both El Pilon and San Miguel, the cross-cultural exchange revealed the shared humanity in all of us: the desire to connect and share, laugh and love, and to live healthy lives filled with fruits, clean water, and plenty of play. 

The photos below were shot with a 35mm film camera that my father used during the 80's 

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Terra Madre

Terra Madre 

Origins Cafe Attends Worlds Largest Sustainable Food & Global Community Summit in Torino, Italy

In 1989, the Slow Food organization was founded as a reaction to standardization of taste and the unrestrained power of corporations in the food industry. Today, the conference gives a voice and a face to people engaged in producing food in their own geographical realities.

In 1989, the Slow Food organization was founded as a reaction to standardization of taste and the unrestrained power of corporations in the food industry. Today, the conference gives a voice and a face to people engaged in producing food in their own geographical realities.

After our third season of exploring food and farms in the Cooperstown area, my sister Kristen & I embarked on our second pilgrimage to Italy - home of the world's largest sustainable food conference. Every two years, food producers from more than 130 countries descend on the city of Torino to experience Terra Madre, an inspirational week-long event hosted by Slow Food International which brings together a network of small-scale producers and ethical food enthusiasts. 

The Terra Madre network - including over 5,000 farmers, artisans, scientists, chefs & community organizers - spans six continents and encompasses extraordinary diversity. Representatives present at the conference were people who cultivate the soil of distant lands, fish faraway waters, and save the seeds of diverse crops. Yet they share a common commitment to caring for the land they they labor on, the families they feed, and the quality of life for future generations. The unifying elements that bring these diverse people together are those of aligning human values: hunger for quality food, the desire to build a better world by promoting sustainable food production, respecting traditional ways of life, and celebrating the strength of diversity. Here we had the opportunity to further explore how food systems impact the welfare of Earth's ecosystems, people & animals.

On the train from Rome to Torino. Photo taken with Dad's 1976 AE-1 film camera

On the train from Rome to Torino. Photo taken with Dad's 1976 AE-1 film camera

The sensory experience of this event transcends all geographic borders and language barriers. Seeing the colorful traditions of dress; tasting the extreme diversity of flavors produced by family farms, from Scandinavian Reindeer cheese to wild African forest honey; hearing the voices of people sharing products and perspectives. A major topic of conversation throughout the conference was family farming. 2014 has been declared the "International Year of Family Farming" by the United Nations, as family farms provides food for 80% of the world's people. While global population continues to grow in the face of resource limitations, family farming provides food security & nutrition and improves livelihoods worldwide.

The Slow Food Youth Network

   Within the Slow Food organization, the Slow Food Youth Network (SFYN) unites young activists, entrepreneurs, and consumers who are concerned about the future of food. It is a forum for the worldyounger generations to share ideas and discuss ways to engage our home towns & cities in improving food systemsAmidst inspiring new friends from around the world, we moved to music, shared craft beers, exchanged stories and culinary creations, and felt connected by the underlying values and goals that had brought us all together.

Throughout the conference, classes, taste workshops and panels took place to address specific topics and create a more intimate dialogue among people. Throughout these events, we explored new subjects and those of more familiarity, from the Art of Bread Making to The Economics of Happiness. Smaller groups covered topics such as, “Meet the Indigenous Youth,” and, “The Formula of Success in the Disco Soup.” A "Disco Soup" is a kind of community event spearheaded in Europe to divert expired but perfectly usable produce from filling landfills. These events have rescued hundreds of pounds of ripe food from supermarket dumpsters, while bringing together & educating community about significant food issues. With live music or a DJ providing a good beat to chop to, attendees create a soup that they can make and share together... and have fun! Thanks to the sharing of ideas through Slow Food Youth Network, similar events to engage communities in a fun way are now popping up all over the world. 

Sharing ideas of how to create a successful Disco Soup event with fellow Slow Food Youth Members. Photo by  Steffen Schweizer

Sharing ideas of how to create a successful Disco Soup event with fellow Slow Food Youth Members. Photo by Steffen Schweizer

the ark of taste

Another Terra Madre event offering great inspiration is called the Ark of Taste, a display of traditional foods from around the globe that are at risk of extinction. The world's diverse heritage of fruits, vegetables, animal breeds, as well as traditional methods of food production come together in this living catalog. Plant & animal varieties and methods included are all threatened in large part by global agri-business giants. The industrial food system does not support diversity, as it depends on intensive large-scale production of only a few standardized varieties of plants and animals. The Ark of Taste demonstrates that outside the chief commodities of world trade exist an enormous variety of products that create livelihoods for thousands of farmers and communities. By identifying, preserving, and honoring these heirloom and special varieties, the Ark of Taste works to celebrate biodiversity and foster a sense of pride around small-scale traditions.

During one panel discussion called "Cooking to Spread Awareness," we had the exciting opportunity to hear chef Jamie OliverSlow Food founder Carlo Petrini, and edible education activist Alice WatersWe felt a bit star struck to be in the presence of these great leaders who have raised awareness and inspired action through their respective sustainable food initiatives around the world. They focused on how to bring nourishing food into school lunchrooms and where the political roadblocks lie. While strides have been made to teach children where their food comes from and to provide nutritious school lunches, we were reminded that changing the system is no easy feat. As Jamie Oliver emphatically stated, “there is no one thing we can do to fix the problem, it has to be an ambush!”


   After five days at Terra Madre, we left Torino with our journals full of ideas, our minds full of new names and memories, and our stomachs full of a week’s worth of tantalizing tastes. Our spirits were lifted by the sense of shared humanity we had found with people from all corners of the globe. Topics relating to the global food crisis are not easy to swallow. There’s the exodus from the farmland, the depletion of natural resources, agricultural pollution of air and water, and the loss of crop diversity due to GMOs, to name a few. These topics are large and complicated and difficult to grapple with. But our experience at Terra Madre has strengthened our commitment to provide our community with fresh, clean, and ethically grown food. In this way we can honor each person we met in Torino, as well as all those who wish to bring health and prosperity to the table.


We were fortunate to meet a new friend, Daniele Tinti, who brought wine and olive oil from his family vineyard in Tuscany to the conference. And so, accepting his invitation to visit the Tinti family farm, our adventure continued into the rolling Tuscan hills.





Three Seasons of Growing Community

Rising to meet a crisp October morning in the garden, we find the Tuscan kale shimmering with ice crystals. The first fall frost has officially ushered away the third growing season of Origins. It has been an eight month journey of learning, from seed to harvest. Strengthening our connections with local food producers; connecting with new friends in our community and around the world; moving toward our collective dream of bringing positive change to the world through food. 

This season has been one marked by both joys and challenges. The most significant challenge came in the early spring, when our father Brent was diagnosed with cancer. He is one of the greatest loves in our lives - the one who manifests dreams into reality - the one who makes anything and everything possible. Our superman never wavered from confidence throughout treatment, and is now on his way to recovery. This experience has illuminated the love that resides in the Cooperstown community, as our family was blessed with constant support in the form of visits, calls, and meals. We saw the healing power of food in a new light as friends appeared on the front porch day after day bearing homemade casseroles and soups. A home cooked meal is the ultimate gesture of love. To all who have supported our father during these challenging times - infinite thanks! 

Blessings also came to us through the people who made up Team Origins this season. Volunteers joined us through the WWOOF network and other connections - Wally from Wisconsin, Maddie from Delaware, Shivani from New Jersey, Scott from Texas and Laura from DC - enriched and inspired the year, each with their own unique flavor. We are so thankful for he creativity and drive that each of you possess. And of course, so much gratitude to the foundation of our team who sliced and diced throughout the season - Sandy, Jaimi, Annie, Nicole, Sophie, Josh, Andy, Jijme - we could not have done it without you!

It has been such a joy to experience the evolution of this greenhouse cafe into an ever-changing community space - a place to practice yoga, to celebrate weddings, to raise awareness about global humanitarian issues, to meet with friends or simply to seek peace in the beauty of plants. Also so beautiful to be a part of Growing Community -- our network of local gardening enthusiasts -- facilitating edible education at Cooperstown Elementary at Kid Garden, and bringing town together around a homegrown harvest at the annual Main Street Harvest Supper. With each season we are inspired by the people who make Cooperstown a place we love to call home. 

And now, we're off to explore the international sustainable food movement at Salone del Gusto and Terra Madre in Italy! At this biannual global meeting of traditional food communities, we'll dive deeper into issues that surround the current food system - and solutions to change the future of food.

We're looking forward to continuing growing with you next season! 

With thanks and love,

Kristen & Dana 




Wheels of Change


Wheels of Change

Last week Sandy and I returned from an 86 day bicycle tour across America.

San Francisco, CA - St. Augustine, FL, 3,800 miles. 0-96 miles/day.

We slept inside churches and fire departments, camped on baseball fields and community parks, under Redwoods and in the homes of many good people met along the way. We climbed two mountain passes, crossed 7 state borders, and pedaled 900 miles through Texas, which felt like a country of it's own.


The trip was inspired by many things, to satiate an appetite for adventure, to gain a deeper understanding of our Nation's character, to experience the joy of living with only the bare necessities.

And, at a time when the threat of hydrofracking looms close to home, the seat of a bicycle seemed the best place to gain perspective on our country's collective addiction to fossil fuels. Travel by bicycle meant one less car on the road, it meant creating a new personal vision of renewable transport. As cyclists we became part of a larger movement, formed by a community of individuals who fuel transportation by personal strength & spirit rather than by fossil fuels derived from destructive practices.

After cars, the modern food system uses more fossil fuel than any other sector of the economy — 19 percent.

As Americans, we put nearly as much fossil fuel onto our plates as we do in our cars. Our industrialized food system depends on fossil fuels during every stage of production, using natural gas to produce chemical fertilizers and petroleum to power machinery, process, package, and transport food to supermarkets. As Michael Pollan eloquently states in his article Farmer in Chief,  "when we eat from the industrial-food system, we are eating oil and spewing greenhouse gases."

The consequences of a fuel dependent food system reach far beyond the tangible costs to the economy, environment, and health. It brings with it the loss of agricultural heritage, culture, and traditional culinary wisdom. Already, many places in America are trapped in a fuel-thirsty desert of canned & processed foods. In others, fresh & healthy foods are a luxury for the elite.

As travelers, we became witnesses to the sharp dichotomy between the grandeur of an $8 glass of green juice at Whole Foods in the ever trendy city of Austin, and the selection of packaged goods available at a Coca Cola sponsored market in the Apache Indian Reservation.

 Despite the grim picture I feel compelled to paint, there are seeds of hope blossoming across the American landscape. Many of us continue to savor unique regional flavors, support local food economies, and labor the land through personal and community gardens. Countless times, locals insisted that we gather around the dinner table to experience a home cooked meal. With a certain pride, they shared with us the salty flesh of gulf shrimp, the creative concoctions of local brewers, the sweet decadence of Pecan Pie, the creamy textures of homemade cheese, or the succulence of homegrown oranges.

This celebration of local foods & brews not only satiates a yearning for cultural understanding, but also paves the delicious path to becoming a less energy-dependent nation. Indeed, if every U.S. citizen ate just one local & organic meal each week, our country would save 1.1 million barrels of oil every week.

Living on a bicycle served as a pleasant reminder to feel gratitude for all that I have, a shower, a bed, a place to call home. Beyond these creature comforts, I return with a new appreciation for the rich agricultural heritage that survives in Cooperstown, NY. Here, I know the farmers that grew the ingredients for my next meal, that hold the ancient wisdom of cultivating the land that we, as a community, depend on. They are the unsung heroes, the strong backbone that supports our culture & the path to a more sustainable future. 



Love from India


Love from India

Namaste, friends! As the last sunset of 2013 paints the sky over India, I reflect on the incredible journey of past months since leaving Cooperstown.  Thailand and India have been nothing less than an explosion of color, flavor and passion for the spirit and the taste buds. On every step of this pilgrimage I have found wild inspiration - from Thailand’s northern countryside to its peaceful islands of the south; from India’s palm dappled coast to the highest tea plantation covered mountains, to the beautiful chaos of Delhi.

During this time, I have discovered a recurring theme in the teachers met along the way. They are people who nourish, heal and empower others - illuminating the diverse ways in which we can all bring healing to this world. They revive depleted soils and heal wounded spirits. They nourish the hungry and nourish community, family and cultural authenticity. With stories of just a few of the special people I've met, I will share a glimpse of my journey so far..

From a mountaintop in northern Thailand..

The story of my first teachers began with a small piece of land in countryside of northern Thailand and a dream. Pijo and Peggy dreamed of creating a seed saving center – a place to bring back the tradition of seed saving amongst farmers and growers by collecting, propagating, and exchanging indigenous and rare varieties of plants. By bringing seed saving back into the hands of farmers and growers, they set off on a mission to empower people and to support biodiversity. They bought a small piece of land which was severely degraded by years of slash-and-burn agriculture and breathed new life into the land; with succession planting and composting, they helped return nutrients to the soil. Walking through the gardens – a jungle of bananas and citrus, under vines heavy with passionfruit – it is amazing to see how they transformed a mountainside from barren and nutrient-starved into one of rich and bountiful diversity.

With time, as more and more people were attracted to the project, a small community developed at Pun Pun and it’s now home to about 20 extraordinary people, young and old. Together they strive for a self-reliant lifestyle by growing organic food, building their own natural homes and experimenting with appropriate, renewable energy technologies. Pijo’s motto is “Life is simple. Why do we make it so hard?” The empowerment that comes with knowing how to provide shelter and nourishment for one's self and community is so inspiring! At Pun Pun I also learned from an incredible entrepreneurial chef and cafe owner, Yao Chookong, and we’ll be carrying her beautiful handmade cookbooks at the café next season!


From mountaintop spice plantations of south India…

Nestled amongst mountains of the world’s highest tea plantations and understory forests of cardamom and peppercorns is the city of Munnar. The air is cool and clean, the spices are fresh and tea is a way of life for most who live here. It is here that I met Nimi, the woman who inspired my spicy love affair with south Indian cooking and taught me her family kitchen secrets.

Being in Nimi’s kitchen, I tasted the power of food to nourish cultural diversity and authenticity. Like most women in India, her recipes have been passed down through generations of mothers teaching daughters, not with measuring spoons and cups but with an intuitive sixth sense for flavor. Woven into each recipe is the tradition of this place. A sip of masala chai and I can see the cardamom pods growing in the shade of their own towering leaves; I see the women climbing up the mountainside with woven baskets balanced on their heads and broad smiles on their faces, preparing for a day of tea harvest. I feel the warmth of tradition – from an old saucepan over open flame on a dusty roadside, to the gift of hospitality visiting a new friend’s home.

Nimi shared more than the secret to sublime meen mulagittathu; her story was also one of empowerment. Beyond hosting students in her home, she also dedicates her days to educating local youth by offering cooking classes at the local public school and directing the school’s kitchen. Nimi was voted one of the top 10 woman entrepreneurs in India in 2013 by the India Times!

From the south Indian ashram of a divine healer…

Coastal south India in the state of Kerala is a jungle of palms weaving between tranquil backwaters and rice paddies. Taking it all in from the top of a river boat taxi, I felt the water as the life force of this place. Men slowly lift broad Chinese fishing nets, waiting patiently for a catch; women stand waist deep in the water washing clothes and crouch in the rice paddies under unforgiving sun. In a small fishing village along this waterway is the home of Amma - a visionary, humanitarian and spiritual leader. While Amma is of Hindu faith, the message she spreads is of universal compassion. According to Hinduism, the suffering of an individual is due to his or her own karma – the results of actions performed in the past. This principle drives her to action; today she asks, “If it is one’s person’s karma to suffer, isn’t it our dharma (duty) to help ease the suffering and pain?” And so she created Embracing the World, a global network of humanitarian initiatives that includes volunteer-driven work to relieve hunger all over the world - feeding over 10 million poor people in India every year and tens of thousands around the world. In her ashram in this small fishing village, I sat beside Amma in awe. I saw how this woman magnetizes thousands of people every day be close to her, to receive her blessings and to hear her teachings on universal language of love and selfless service. Through Amma's work, we can see the amazing capacity of humanity to relieve the suffering of one another when motivated around a positive cause.

From the streets of New Delhi..

India is a land of shocking contrasts and contradictions, where the purest light of humanity coexists with its bitter darkness in plain sight. There are more than 1.2 million child sex slaves in India today. The average age is 14. Now here I am outside Delhi in the home of another inspiring teacher, Roma, a woman who is a healer of spirit. For over twenty years Roma has been combating the trafficking of children and women in India, especially around the trans-border areas of Nepal and Bangladesh. She founded STOP India to rescue victims of human trafficking and created a family home for young girls who are rescued. Here, the girls can heal from traumatic pasts of sex slavery and abuse, grow in a nurturing environment and become empowered to build new lives with education and vocational training. Roma is now the mother to about fifty beautiful young girls, most between 10 and 15 years old. Playing and dancing with the girls, it hurts my heart to know about the pain they have felt, but their radiant smiles are a testament to the resilience of the human spirit. We are now beginning a project to help create jobs for the girls, raise money for STOP India, and bring the beauty of Indian fabrics and handiwork home to Cooperstown! Many of the girls learn tailoring at the family home to prepare for future careers. Next season at Origins, look forward to colorful, handmade cotton kitchen aprons, napkins and more made by the girls! All of this is possible because of the selfless motivation of Roma, and I am very grateful to be bringing in the new year with her and the girls.

From the hearts of friends..

These musings of inspiration and teachers along the way would be incomplete without mention of my two great friends and travel companions at the moment, Ashira (of Gomde Cooperstown) and Andy (previously of Origins Cafe, now of Gomde Cooperstown). Andy and Ashira are on a mission to empower artisans across Asia by creating a marketplace for their work with a new business called Jewel and Lotus. It is so inspiring to be with young entrepreneurs with a genuine desire to support social and environmental consciousness! Look forward to learning more about their endeavors next café season as well!