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Hamptons Life

Mar 8, 2013 3:00 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

Getting Back To Food Basics In The Garden

Mar 11, 2013 10:15 AM

As a girl, Ana Nieto always knew where her food came from. She could watch it growing in her backyard—from fruit trees and potatoes to rabbits and pigs.

In Spain, gardens are a significant part of the country’s culture, Ms. Nieto explained during a telephone interview last week. Her childhood is marked by memories of navigating bustling markets and bounding from vendor to vendor, picking out the freshest ingredients to pair with those already at home.

It is a side of herself that she lost touch with when she moved to Manhattan nearly two decades ago, she said.

“I was so disconnected from that for years. I didn’t even think where these things, these foods, were coming from,” she said. “I would eat from all these different restaurants and enjoy various foods, not thinking.”

And then one day, it clicked, Ms. Nieto said. She had a breakthrough, moved to Noyac three years ago and founded Turtle Shell Health after first running a personal training studio in Manhattan, where her interest in food started, she said.

“People go through phases in life when we don’t care that much and then, suddenly, you just wake up again and you’re like, ‘whoops,’” she chuckled. “I just know it did happen. I started missing knowing what happened to this food, how it came to my plate and who was growing it.”

She isn’t the only one. The global trend toward buying local, organically grown foods is on the rise, she said, though work still needs to be done, which she will discuss this Sunday with several other health practitioners during the bilingual program “Garden of Health/Jardin de la Salud” at the Hampton Library in Bridgehampton.

“Local didn’t start until a few years ago,” Ms. Nieto said. “Now, it’s a big trend and we all understand why.”

Buying local or starting a backyard garden positively impacts the environment, from reducing transportation emissions to putting more oxygen into the atmosphere, “Garden of Health” speaker Andrea Zeledon explained during a telephone interview last week. Not to mention the health benefits, she said.

“It’s such a huge concern with all these Frankenfoods,” she said. “How do I know what I’m eating unless I’m planting it and growing it myself? We’re very lucky to live out here where people have a little bit more consciousness of that. Still, I struggle when I see people who are really affluent and have the comfort of being able to afford having a garden and they choose not to. They have these manicured lawns instead.”

Starting a backyard garden is relatively simple, explained Ms. Zeledon, a holistic health and wellness practitioner. It doesn’t take much—a couple bags of soil and a few planters to begin growing an assortment of vegetables and herbs. She reported that she saw a quick return on her $100 investment last summer at her home garden in Center Moriches.

For example, on average, a cucumber costs $1.25, the native of Costa Rica said. A pack of cucumber seeds runs $1.50 and it produced two vines’ worth.

“I had more cucumbers than I knew what to do with,” she said. “Literally. I probably saved myself a good three, four hundred dollars in cucumbers this season. Same thing with tomatoes. It’s the little things, and I grew up with it. In Costa Rica, it’s so lush and beautiful and there’s so much food you can plant and live off of. So I guess it’s in my blood.”

The same rings true for Nadia Ernestus, who was born in Russia. It’s all about going back to basics, the holistic health coach said. Food should come from the garden.

“I’m from Moscow, but 30 years ago. This is how I know how to make a lot of things, because we had to make them back then,” she said. “If you didn’t cook, you didn’t eat. You had to prepare food. You couldn’t buy ingredients.”

The basic premise is to eat food that has one ingredient and is as close to the original form as possible, Ms. Ernestus said. A multivitamin will not out-supplement a poor diet, she added.

“You can’t just take pills and eat crap. It doesn’t work,” she said. “When things grow, they make us happy and each food is a ‘superfood.’ Every single food that occurs naturally, as close to the way it’s created, becomes superfood because it adds something good to our heath. We are, as human beings, something that God created or naturally occurred on this earth, and we are completely set up to process things that also naturally occur on this earth. Things that grow in the garden or run around in the yard. If it’s made in a lab, not so much.”

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