Linking Tilth to Table: A Food Conversation with Tourmaline Farms

Rebecca Subbiah, RD talks with Pam Holloway, MS, RN from Tourmaline Farms about food, farming, the soil and quality food for your plate.

16 years ago, Pam and Amanda (Field to Plate) worked side by side in Heidelberg, Germany. Today they find themselves working towards the same cause: connecting the health of the soil to the health of humanity.
Tourmaline farms, deary Idaho

Tourmaline farms, deary Idaho

 Tell us a little about yourself, how long have you been farming and what lead you to farm?

21 Years ago my husband and I left the Palouse to travel the world in service to our country.  After living in Kentucky, Germany, Belgium and Virginia we are happy to finally be home.   Through our travels we’ve been thankful to learn a lot about food, farming and community.  I started my career as a Neonatal Intensive Care Nurse and progressed into Maternal-Child Care, Pediatrics, Health Promotion and Community Well-Being.  Throughout my career, I noticed a significant increase in auto-immune related diseases in American children.  Additionally, I found that the European children who were living in the smaller locavore oriented communities were much healthier.  

Once we returned back to the United States, I experienced a health crisis.  I went to my physician who provided no answers other than “take a pill.”  While it was tempting to “just make it go away”, I knew it wasn’t the right answer and began my research into the relationship between nutrition, the tilth and health.  Within a year our family was growing our own garden, raising chickens (for meat & eggs), raising beef and milking our own cow.  Shortly after that, our friends and colleagues began asking us to provide them their food as they recognized our passion and commitment.  Soon I found myself walking into Serco in Reston, wearing heals and pulling large coolers on wheels behind me, delivering food products to my colleagues.  “Coffee breaks” became opportunities to share recipes and connect people back to their food and farming.  Eventually it became evident that it was critical for me to focus on connecting people to their health through the tilth and the table.  Our most recent step, applying to become a Savory Hub, allows us to tie it all together with a holistic focus on the health of the environment, the economy & the community.

2. What are some important questions the public should think about when buying food?

It’s simply asking the same questions that we were all taught in grade school, Who, What, When, Where, Why & How?

1) WHO raised it?  Is it a farmer contracted to a corporation or an individual at the local farmer’s market?  Know WHO your farmer is.

2) WHAT are the conditions like on the farm?  Is it an industrial mono-culture environment or is it a poly-culture multi species farm?  To quote Joel Salatin, "Godly farming should be aesthetically and aromatically sensually pleasing."

3) WHEN was the food produced?  Is it fresh & will it spoil or was it harvested/collected before it was even ripe and then shipped halfway around the world to look perfect in a grocery store?  Nutrients rapidly degrade after food is harvested.  It should either be consumed fresh or rapidly frozen to preserve nutrients.  

                                 Pam holloway

                                 Pam holloway

4) WHERE was the food grown?  Was it grown in “toxic rescue chemistry” or natural tilth, full of earthworms & minerals, holistically managed to sequester carbon and promote a healthy micro biome?  Whatever our food consumes, we consume- this applies to vegetable and animal.  If our animals consume toxins, we consume toxins.  If our plants consume toxins, we consume toxins.  We are inextricably linked to our food.

5) WHY is the food available to you at that time & place?  Is the food seasonal has it been shipped halfway around the world so that you can have it at that time? Food is seasonal and local.  We are healthiest when we honor the locality and seasonality of food.  

6) HOW did you come across the food?  The best food comes from sources that you know & trust.  Know Your Farmer.  Know Your Food.


3. Soil health is so important can you explain this to us?

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

Life begins and ends in the soil, it is where our food comes from.  It sounds overly simplistic to say, but it is profoundly true.  One handful of soil contains billions of forms of life and all of these life forms are connected directly to the health of the soil.  Soil provides the minerals and microbes that are directly key to the health of the human micro biome.  When we deplete the soil of the minerals and microbes critical to the health of the soil, we deplete ourselves of those same elements that are essential to our health and well-being.  Adding herbicides, pesticides and fungicides to the soil is the equivalent of our taking chemotherapy.  It may kill off the invader, but it also weakens the host, eventually depriving it of the opportunity to sustain itself without intense support, rendering it unsustainable.  If we want to be healthy, we must return to holistic principles that honor the micro biome of the soil as well as ourselves.  

4. How do you see the future of farming? 

There has never been a better time to go into farming.  With the portable, movable structure that we have now, we can have portable farms that are technologically capable to rapidly set-up and start farming.  Farming doesn’t have to be capital intensive.  I see young farmers leasing land and stacking enterprises to create a polyculture of agrarian practices.  Multi-species symbiotic relationships are critical to the future of farming.  Young farmers will need to be willing to give the time & relationships to learn from older farmers on the land, rather than a text book.  Our job as agrarians, is to make our farms accessible and palatable so that the youth have the opportunities to start farming.  

The future of farming is exciting, dynamic and marries the best of technology with nature.  Farms are smaller, more local and an intimate part of their community.  Multi-species polyculture is key with a focus on nutrient dense, high quality food that delivers the best of the tilth to the table.  Aesthetically and aromatically sensually pleasing, farms become gathering places in the community where relationships with the soil and food are solidified into a holistic balance that is economically, environmentally and socially healthy.