People in Iowa #2: LT and Ahilia
My second interview for "People in Iowa" was with LT and Ahilia. They are operating "LT organic farm", which is a community supported organic sustainable agriculture farm, restaurant, and farm store.
One summer day, I was enjoying an adventuresome drive. Along the way, a lovely signboard caught my eye. Attracted by it, I decided to stop by a house surrounded by a beautiful garden.
Their lunch was fabulous. It was an unforgettable experience. It was a mixture of tastes of Guyana and India, beautiful scenery visible from the terrace seats, a refreshing breeze and interesting stories about the owners.
Before they started their farm, LT and Ahilia worked at a hospital as a doctor and a nurse. When they started it, they were influenced by a Japanese method of farming.
Taking into consideration the experience they had running their business, I talked to them about eating and how they discovered their life's calling.
Q. Could you tell me about your career?
LT (hereinafter called "L"):
After graduating from university in Guyana and the U.S, I worked as a doctor for more than 10 years.
My specialty is the Cardio-Pulmonary system, which deals with diseases of hearts and lungs.
When I thought about the health of my patients, I realized that preventive medicine is superior to medication and that preventive medicine begins on a farm.
I discussed retiring from the clinic and becoming a farmer with my wife and she agreed with my idea. That is what lead us to become farmers.
The reaction of our community was wonderful, but some people told me that I shouldn't start farming because it can be difficult to make a living just by growing vegetables.
When I talked with a nurse in our hospital, she told me about the concept of "CSA".
After we read a book about CSA, we realized that this is the way to go.
We began our research and experiments with growing food in 1995 and then in 2000 we started our farm and restaurant.
We also offer cooking and nutrition classes, and we are going to publish a book about our history and how to eat in May.
Q. What is "CSA"?
It's a partnership system between a farm and a community of supporters which provides a direct link between the production and consumption of food.
This system was started by a Japanese housewife in the 1960's.
Community members pay for the produce in advance in early spring, and they receive a bag of fresh farm products once a week from late spring thorough early fall.
The farmers can get investment in advance, and the customers can get fresh, organic vegetables directly from the farmers.
These are the advantage of CSA.
Q. Why were you especially interested in nutrition?
After moving from Guyana to America, I noticed the change in excretions.
For example, when I was in Guyana, the color of urine was yellow, but after a while I came to the U.S., it became nearly colorless.
Since I noticed the change, I became deeply concerned about nutrition, and I started studying nutrition with my wife.
Excretions are the first thing where changes in the body appear.
Q. What was the most difficult thing in your business?
Finding ideal place for our farming was the most difficult.
We used to have one year lease for lands, and repeatedly moved from place to place.
Once we moved because of vandalism, and another time we changed the place because of the quality of soil.
After 2 years passed since we moving here, we finally decided to live here for good.
We are endowed with good soil, nice customers through the CSA system, and a convenient location.
Q. What was the most touching moment in your business?
Ahilia (hereinafter called "A"):
People who have health problems visit us everyday.
After they started a meal in the way that we recommended, they tell us that their physical condition have improved.
Our hearts are moved by their words.
Q. In 1995, organic vegetables were not so common, but now more and more people become interested in it. Why?
Those with health problems remembered the diet of their grandparents.
They realized that grandparents who had eaten many of the vegetables raised in a home garden were much healthier than themselves.
Parents of children who had allergies and ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) started to realize that they should give children healthy meals.
Our customers are thinking that way and are visiting here.
Organic food has become common in Iowa seven years ago.
It was about seven years ago that Trader Joes started here.
After that, supermarkets such as Whole Foods, Fresh Time, Natural Grocery are started their operation.
Today, we also find organic foods at HyVee, Walmart, and Target.
Q. What kind of problems are there in the American diet?
Some people do not know how to cook vegetables and eat only beef, pork, chicken and potatoes.
Therefore, we focus on cooking classes.
When we asked customers who bought vegetables "How was the taste?", they frequently answered, "I'm keeping them in the refrigerator and have not eaten them yet", or "I gave them to friends".
I saw their reaction and thought that I should start cooking class.
When I go to the supermarket, I'm often asked by cashier, "What is this vegetable?"
There are people who do not know what cabbage, cucumbers, or zucchini are.
Therefore, the top priority now is education about food.
We are not prescribing medicine here.
Based on medical knowledge, we advise people how to eat.
We also publish a book because we want everyone to know how to eat.
Q. If you publish a book, people who do not live in this area can also learn about healthy eating habits and CSA, can't they?
Not only in the United States but also those living in Canada, Europe and Japan, I would like them to know the mechanism of CSA that can support local farmers and provide fresh vegetables.
It is the best medicine to make healthy meals using vegetables purchased directly from farmers.
It can strengthen your immune system and prevent diseases.
Q. What is the difference between American and Guyana diet?
When I went to Kentucky Fried Chicken for the first time in the U.S., I ordered 3 pieces of chicken and biscuits, and potato fries.
When the meal came out, I was surprised by the quantity.
I wondered if the store's person made a mistake.
When looking around, everyone was eating that amount as usual.
I thought that this amount was not good for our health.
Also, as I studied nutrition, I noticed that they were taking only a few kinds of nutrients.
Nutrients can be divided into micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) and macronutrients (proteins, fats, carbohydrates).
Americans consume unnecessarily large quantities of nutrients, but intake of micronutrients by vegetables is insufficient.
Approximately 400,000 Guyana live in the U.S., but the first thing they faces is weight gain.
My relatives also suffer from diabetes because they were following American diet.
On the other hand, people in Guyana eat a small quantity of rice, fish, meat and many beans and vegetables such as spinach, pak choi, bitter melon, and eggplant.
I think that it is similar to the traditional Japanese diet, especially the eating habits of Okinawa.
If you would like to incorporate Guyana's cuisine in everyday life, please try Okinawan cuisine.
Q. I heard that the lunch menu here is a mix of Guyana and Indian cuisine.
Is Guyana food itself influenced from India too?
Yes. Because our ancestor came from India.
As there were many people who came from China, Guyana cuisine is the mix of India and China cuisine.
Also, we did not eat raw vegetables in Guyana.
Q. What do you think about eating raw vegetables?
It's not bad to eat raw vegetables.
However, there is not much merit to eat them.
Until recently, there were no countries eating raw vegetables.
After world war I, since everyone started taking in American diet, raw vegetables became common.
When thinking about nutrition, most vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, spinach must be cooked well.
It would be better to make stew or soup.
Q. Won't nutrients be destroyed when vegetables are cooked for a long time?
Some people have such images, but in fact we can absorb nutrition better by cooking them.
In order to absorb nutrients, it is necessary to break the cell wall by heating.
Q. Do you have a habit to keep your good mood?
Listening to good music.
I like music related to Hinduism and Buddhism.
Also, before going to bed, I will comb my hair in front of a mirror and check if I look handsome!
I like getting up early, going out to the garden, and seeing the crop growing.
When I am looking at the garden, I feel so happy.
In summer, my husband and I go out every morning and confirm the state of the crop.
It's my pleasure.
Q. The two of you have raised four children, could you tell me about parenting?
Our children have been helping agricultural work since they were little.
When they were two years old, they were close to us working in the fields.
When they were four years old, they helped raise vegetables and feed livestock.
By the time they reached the age of 15, they were explaining about our farming to guests of the restaurant.
Through those experiences, they learned our way of thinking.
Our children are leaving home now to learn medicine and nursing.
They are learning and thinking about their life.
If they want to succeed our business, they will come back.
Q. When I hear the story of the two of you, it seems you have harmony between work and and family life, and you exactly found your calling.
Could you give us advice to find our calling?
When I chose my career, I did not know what to do.
I became a nurse because I thought that professionalism and enough income can be obtained.
Then, we started agriculture and a restaurant to contribute more to our community.
We love what we are working on.
If you love what you are working on, it will surely lead to success.
We should think two things; how to acquire expertise that can maintain quality of life, and how to contribute to society and other people.
Rivers do not drink that water themselves.
Trees do not eat their own fruits themselves.
We are alive thanks to the grace of nature.
So, we can say that we are human when we help others.
Also, I want children to have more opportunities to talk with their grandparents.
They will find hints from their stories.
Q. What did you learn from your grandfather and grandmother?
I don't know my blood grandparents, but there were many elderly people in the village where I grew up.
They talked about how I moved from India to Guyana when they were young.
As their lives who immigrated as servants were severe, they encouraged me to receive education.
My parents did not want me to become a farmer, so they advised me to learn medicine and help a lot of people.
And now, I am a farmer.
I think this is good karma.
Q. Could you give us a message at last?
I am very grateful that our success is due to a Japanese housewife who started CSA in the 1960s.
The title of the book to be published in May will be "Doctors' Silent Partners, Our Farmers".
It is not a thick book, but it contains many important things about our story and how to eat, so I'd like many people to read it.
Also, when coming to Iowa, I hope you enjoy our dishes while listening to birds' voices in our restaurant.
Thank you so much, LT and Ahilia!
Here is Japanese version↓