Join us in welcoming back June 2021 Featured Chef Alicia Diehl! As we learned last June, Alicia is a stellar cook who purposes nature’s bounty with intentional nourishment and flavor. Check out her four incredible recipes featured on our blog: Oven-Baked Curry Pork Chops, Grilled Sesame Ginger Chicken with Grilled Bok Choy, Sneaky Sloppy Joes with the ground organ blend, and Grilled Cilantro Pesto Skirt Steak with Avocado Crema.
As a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner, Foodie, Master Gardener, and Wellness Advocate, Alicia answers our interview questions about gardening, composting, farming, and holistic health.
Alicia worked at a farm-to-table restaurant in college, where she witnessed farmers bringing in fresh produce. Her interest piqued; she desired to observe the growth cycle of plants, from seed to fruit. Alicia nurtured her first garden in 2008, starting with container herbs as they are simple to grow and versatile in use. After graduating college, Alicia moved to a farm for a few years, fostering flowers to sell at the market, laboring with the animals, and much more. This experience blossomed Alicia’s passion for nutrition and led her to pursue her NTP license. In another role after college, Alicia worked at a local food alliance. There she helped farmers sell their food at farmers’ markets and helped build relationships between restaurants and farmers. Alicia encouraged purchasers to “Buy Fresh, Buy Local,” a value that rings true to her lifestyle today.
Reconnecting to Our Food
The disconnect between modern society and the food on our plates is a topic that weighs heavily on Alicia’s heart. Our food does not simply come from the grocery store. Alicia encourages everyone to “honor the process” from the soil to the plate by growing their food or buying directly from farmers. Raising our food is therapeutic as we pursue a connection to our biome, mother nature, and the sun. We find purpose in getting our hands dirty and moving our bodies how nature intended. We understand the consequences of nature’s conditions— too much or too little rain, sun, or bugs. Gardening is labor-intensive, bringing intention to your days and connection to the outdoors.
Fresh and Local, That’s the Key
However, if the gardening lifestyle isn’t calling you, you can consider partnering with a local organic farmer. Your fruits and vegetables will likely be in-season, rather than imported or harvested in the off-season. Our ancestors evolved to eating fresh and local options that generally supply higher nutrient content.
In addition, buying locally or growing your food typically provides more autonomy in your food selection. For example, Alicia grows 11 different varieties of greens to encourage biodiversity in her garden. This also allows her to benefit from the bitters of nature in plants like arugula.
Our ancestors ate fresh and local— they worked with nature. Alicia encourages everyone to spend time outdoors and work in the dirt. Ground your bare feet in the soil and grasses. Feel purpose through your toils. Connect with nature and fuel yourself with nutrient-rich byproducts of your efforts.
All Things Gardening and Composting
New to Gardening
If you are new to gardening, Alicia recommends starting with container herbs. Small, easy to grow, and fun to work with, herbs add fresh flavors and polyphenols to every bite. Alicia loves sprucing up her dishes with a variety of herbs. Follow Alicia on Instagram to keep an eye on how she uses her herbs this spring and summer. Pro tip: head to her “Homestead” story highlights!
In addition, Alicia suggests starting with some cherry tomatoes in a container as they are very prolific and easy to keep alive. You can start your vegetables from seeds in the springtime and keep them in well-lit, south-facing windows. Some vegetables that sprout up pretty quickly are lettuces, cucumbers, and zucchinis. On the other hand, larger tomatoes have a longer germination time, so Alicia will buy tomato plants to transfer into her garden. Be sure to know your zone! In Iowa, Alicia plants her vegetables in the ground around the second week of May.
Raised Garden Beds or Plots
Raised garden beds are an excellent option for gardening and allow you to choose the soil where the plants take root. Local soils can differ significantly— some very depleted of nutrients, others rocky, sandy, or mostly clay. When choosing soil, aim for nutrient-rich and organic, and don’t be afraid to add some compost to the mix! Off of the top of her head, Alicia named soils to explore: Dr. Earth and organic options from Miracle Grow. Look for things like bat guano that are potent nutrients for the ground. If you are comfortable with the local soil to a plot you want to turn into a garden, you can dive right in and till up the area you want to use— perhaps 20 feet by 20 feet, for starters.
The key to gardening is to dive right in! You might want to explore community gardens in your area where you can volunteer and gain hands-on experiences. Alicia’s most significant learning curve came when working on farms and fully immersing herself in labor.
Suppose you are ready to take your gardening to the next level. In that case, it’s time to diversify the ecosystem with various plants that will attract pollinators: colorful flowers, bee balm, butterfly bushes, and milkweed are a few examples. Last year, Alicia grew an abundant butterfly bush that attracted beautiful butterflies. Diversifying the garden is especially essential in urban environments where there are a lot of grasses and sod that do not attract pollinators.
Pest control is another hot topic in the gardening world. Alicia steers clear of harmful chemicals and sticks to natural mixtures: neem oil protects against pests and diseases, vinegar-based products protect against weeds, and plant-based soapy water protects against Japanese beetles.
Supplementing the soil with nutrients from homemade compost is great for furthering your garden. If you’re anything like us and have a lot of leftover fruit and veggie remains, Alicia shares tips on how to start composting. Composting your leftovers allows them to make healthy soil and feed the earth instead of ending up in a landfill. Alicia recommends keeping a three-gallon bucket or sectioning off a small area of your yard to discard your compostable scraps. As you add your leftovers from the kitchen, add dried leaves and sticks to assist the scraps in biodegrading. Stir the compost so it has air to breathe and recognize when it needs time to “do its thing.” You can add your compost to your garden for natural, nutrient-rich soil.
You might have access to a public composting option if you live in a city. If so, you can line your bucket with a biodegradable plastic liner and add it to your yard bin. With this option, you won’t personally be using the compost in your own garden, but your food remains will give back and nourish the earth.
Indoor Toxicity and Air Quality
Alicia is also passionate about our air quality and living as toxin-free as possible. Our indoor environment is frequently overlooked but is massively important as many homes are filled with synthetic chemicals and air pollution. To decrease indoor pollution and exposure to chemicals, pay attention to the products you bring into your home. You spend a third of your life sleeping, so when your body rests and rejuvenates, it should be on an organic mattress and sheets cleaned with nontoxic detergents void of chemicals that remain in your body. Volatile organic compounds are found in our furniture, paints, wood finishes, and more, so using GREENGUARD Certified products and low VOC (low toxicity) will limit your exposure to these harmful chemicals.
Air purifying plants are a great touch; spider plants help to purify the air. However, take caution that we are not meant to live in the rainforest, and too many indoor plants risk bringing mold indoors. Importantly, Alicia suggests using air filters to safely and most effectively cleanse toxins from our indoor living environments.
Thank You, Alicia!
Alicia, thank you for piecing your story together for us and demonstrating your passion for holistic, healthy living. We hope that our patrons are inspired to connect more deeply with nature and their food supply. We look forward to keeping up with your garden and future endeavors on your Instagram!
Our founders have always valued “know your food, know your farmer.” Alicia shares this passion for using high-quality, grass-fed products from farmers you trust in cooking. Check out her featured recipes!
Browse the Discover Blog for more health and wellness articles and recipes!