Vicki Westerhoff demonstrates the importance of a good diet to funsherpa. Curing herself through a diet based on organically farmed food, Vicki Westerhoff, the community farmer behind Genesis Growers, talks to us about the benefits of fresh farmed food and her life in the world of agriculture.
F: Reading a writeup of you, I discovered that a personal sickness drove you to start organic farming. Can you walk us through how you felt before you started eating ‘fresh’ and what major transformations occurred after you got involved with organic farming?
V: I was to the point where I slept 16-18 hours daily and when I was awake I never felt good at all. Three months after I began my new routine I began to feel the first signs of improvement. It took 6 months to know I was truly better and a year to make it the whole way. Now I often work 16 – 18 hour days and am full of vigor. What a switch around.
F: You started this a long time ago before organic farming, Whole Foods, and local sourcing became hip. Are you surprised how large the movement has become or did you have a clear picture of where this was heading back when you started?
V: I am not sure really. I suppose I felt there was an enduring aspect to organics – perhaps with roots going back into the 60’s and 70’s – doing things differently. I was absolutely sold on organics as the way to go and assumed the world would come to agree.
F: Are big industrial farmers afraid of you? Should they be?
V: No, they are not. Rather, they have begun to infiltrate and attempt to take over organic agriculture. Now the movement is not only organic, but has moved into the local movement. I am sure agribusiness will do their best to move into that arena as well.
F: Seems like we still have a long way to go to change the direction of our fast food nation. If you were President, what 3 things would you do to improve the food we eat?
a) Put real food back into the school systems of the nation
b) Require all food stamp and WIC purchases be used for real food
c) Oh well, I have two
F: Chicago seems to have a lot of great environmental programs and people who care about the environment. Can you share with our readers some things they can do to experience and learn more about environmentalism?
V: First, learn to appreciate nature. Go to nature centers, wildlife areas, looking for specifics to a given area. If in Florida, check out the Everglades. In Colorado, check out the Forest lands, etc. See what environmental groups are in an area. Join a river clean up, sponsor a road clean up, etc. Just get out there and see what is in one’s area.
F: What types of fresh fruits and vegetables are popular with local Chicagoans these days? Why is that?
V: All fresh foods, pretty much. They like the staples, like tomatoes and so forth, but are very open to the new and unusual. Almost any crop we might grow folks are willing to try. Chicagoans are very food oriented and gourmet cuisine tempts their pallets, so we have a great marketplace.
F: You seem to be one of the pioneers in the field of local and organic farming – who are your mentors or who do you learn from?
V: I research many sources, but my best mentors are the older folks in the farming community who say I grow the old fashioned way. These are fellows who knew how to grow food before chemicals were the main stay of farming. Much of my learning comes from perusing University web sites on organics and from trial and error.
F: Can you share with us some of the feedback you get from your customers who decide to switch over from traditional industrially farmed food to your locally grown produce?
V: Hands down it is the taste that wins them over and keeps them coming back for more. One CSA member told me her Iguana sold her. She did an experiment with store bought kale and our kale. The iguana always went for our kale and left the store bought to rot.
F: You can’t be farming 24/7 – can you shed some light into your life outside of farming? What else do you enjoy doing?
V: I do farm 24-7 during the season. It is my life. Hopefully some day in the future I may get more free time, and it would be spent enjoying nature. When I do get away, I always head for the great outdoors.
F: Do you have any words of wisdom for people out there who are contemplating on pursuing their passions/interests?
V: Do it with clear thinking, carefully evaluating the costs and investment necessary. Then, go for it with gusto.