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ME

Something deep inside me lights up in the presence of fresh herbs. I am enraptured by them, as well as those who grow and use them.

Fresh herbs have been a symbol of my own artistry and creative spirit since I started growing them in my garden in Eugene, Oregon, in my early 20’s. Not only are they a staple in my cooking, but they have sprung up in every aspect of my life ever since.

My Herbal Roots is the creative manifestation of everything herbal I have experienced along the way, and a projection of all to come. It’s a place for me to share my herbal passion indiscriminately, allowing me to document the herbal moments that light my path, providing a home to pause in celebration and appreciation.

I have been conscious of my own innate passionate streak from an early age. Like many others, I remember coloring outside the lines as a child. What set me apart was the self-confidence I had that couldn’t be swayed by anyone telling me it was wrong. My inner strength carried me forward from the get-go, fearlessly driving me to where and who I am today.

I have been teaching myself most subjects since a young age. My father nurtured my independent nature. I suspect he was similar. He was as far from a helicopter parent as one could get. With no mother in the picture from early on, I was buffered from stereotypical gender boundaries as an integral member of a family of men: three brothers and a strong father. This gave me substantial self-confidence early on and helped shaped me into the creative and confident woman I am today.

Two factors from my youth set me on my life’s path. My one-of-a-kind father carried my brothers and me across the globe early in life, landing us in war-torn Nicaragua in the height of Central American brouhaha in the mid-80s. I experienced the unbelievable generosity of Nicaraguans, many of whom had nothing of monetary value. They guided me to discover what I carried in my soul. My father’s openness and exuberance for life, wrapped in a bold and courageous attitude, helped me build my spirit. Both my father and the Nicaraguans helped define joy for me at an early age.

From an early age I desired to embrace life to the fullest. I knew there was no pre-planned road map to follow. I have spent the majority of my life traveling. That is when I am happiest and at my most humble and learning. My love of traveling eventually translated into global agricultural assignments, working with organic, fair-trade, and sustainable farmers around the world. Through my work in agriculture, famers have invited me into their homes and kitchens. Here I discovered the deep connecting power of food, culture, and community. Through this, I have also discovered how complex so many simple things can become, once business inserts markets and money into the picture.

MY FOOD

I don’t consider myself a chef.  I’m more of a culinary artist and food storyteller. I’ve built my culinary repertoire of skills, flavors and techniques from travels, and electrified them by my deep connection to organic farmers. Many regular people with extraordinary kitchen talents have contributed to the melting pot of ideas brewing inside me. My culinary artistry is a result of the openness with which I approach the world. It is fueled by the giving nature I so often encounter as I experience the world.

My food is soulful, honest, and unconfined. I follow my diverse palette as much as my heart. I attempt to recreate the beauty I see on farms, in gardens, and in ordinary kitchens. I’m not afraid to put my own twist on any dish, my magic is as important as anyone else’s.

I’ve learned most of my cooking skills, techniques, and knowledge of ingredients by watching women in their kitchens in rural parts of Israel, Holland, Peru, Mexico, Tunisia, the Dominican Republic, South Africa, Ecuador, Italy, Greece, and beyond. To most of the world, fresh herbs are not a garnish. I took notice. I noticed where there were lots of fresh herbs in the food, lots of flavor resulted. Where there was flavor, there was a connection to farming and devotion to community. Where there was devotion, there was joy. Fresh herbs, much like my work with mangoes, bring joy.

My food is always fresh and herbaceous, as a result. Few would describe my style as refined or polished, but nor am I. Refinement feels restrictive. It keeps me from swerving freely in the random directions I need to go. It’s not that I can’t do refined or polished, because I am a professional after all. But I gravitate towards projects and people who are bewitched by lack of borders.

I have devoted increasing time to the culinary arts and teaching everyday folks about food. There, I seek to share. I aim to demonstrate how to connect with food and food origins on a deeper level. The educational dimension has been quite gratifying, especially when teaching kids as young as 4 how to cook. I’ve noticed a remarkable phenomenon: children somehow deplete me and fill me up all at once. It is the greatest exchange of give and take I have ever witnessed and the hardest work I have ever done.

My culinary education style mirrors the rest of me. It is open and down to earth. I started my cooking school Ger-Nis Culinary & Herb Center (established in Brooklyn, New York in 2011) less than a year after taking a cooking class that bored me to death and didn’t let me touch the food. Not only did my students get a hands-on experience in a home-style kitchen (custom built by my brothers), but I made it clear that I am no more capable than they are. We cook together is my teaching motto. I learn and teach simultaneously, and I am no more an “expert” than anyone else. I may, in this case, simply have more experience.

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MY AGRICULTURAL WORK

My agricultural work often confuses people. The average person has no idea of the inner workings of the produce industry. My agricultural work has always revolved around re-shaping systems and thinking and doing so while sharing information and operating transparently.  I help small farmers grow power in supply chain and sales systems. I help consumers see more of the realities in their food systems.  It’s neither easy nor pretty work, and I think it takes great courage in addition to an extreme amount of skill. My work gives small farmers a stronger voice and ideally more financial potentiality in the American produce industry – an industry that has systematically marginalized them – in the hopes of creating more equitable food trade.

I started out like many young folks, wanting change the world. I haven’t changed the world, but I did discover how I could be useful in it. Eventually I discovered the exact meeting point where my skills created the most professional impact and my personal joy was highest. My agricultural work today doesn’t revolve around fresh herbs, but that is where it all began.

It happened accidently, or perhaps subconsciously. I was heading to a job interview, for which I was totally unqualified, in Southern California. Suddenly I came across a gigantic field of basil covered by rows and rows of plastic hoop houses. I was mesmerized, and I stopped in and asked for a job – any job at all. From that point forward, I could not have imagined life without fresh herbs.

That job happened to be at one of the largest fresh herb suppliers in the nation, at the time. It was called The Greenhouse, which eventually became Herbthyme Farms and now Rocket Farms. When I arrived, the Greenhouse was in bankruptcy, but I didn’t know. My first job was in customer service, which meant dealing with problems. I was (and still am) good at problem solving. It’s one of my greatest skills, and I give credit to the way I think about them, and the need to find facts and truth. The company’s corporate tone and temperament gave me a foundation and tools that I have developed ever since. My organizational skills became mechanized there. Looking back, it was the best training I could have had for what I went on to do.

I spent many years in the fresh herb business, including building my own company Ger-Nis International, which specialized in importing and distributing fresh herbs from Israel and Palestine. This was my first big entrepreneurial venture, and it was BIG dollars. It was probably too much for a 29-year-old who lacked skills in high-dollar business ventures.

Like everything in my life, I have been self-taught, and I have evolved in terms of skill and wisdom as time has progressed, making many mistakes along the way. I was lucky to have had verve early on to go after things that interested me, the smarts to pull off complicated things, and the people skills to survive in a male-dominated, conservative industry.

My work has always been blanketed in fresh herbs, farmers, and the culture of those that grow and make the food we eat. It roots even deeper with those that do it by organic, sustainable, and regenerative means, and especially those doing it fairly.

My days of traveling for work started in Israel, visiting the homes and farms of small farmers. I spent nearly ten years traveling from Brooklyn to Israel every few months. To this day, the Middle East is one of the most important places in my life. The fresh herb usage in the culture (culinarily, medicinally and economically) seduced and captivated me. I will never forget my first bite of Marak Kubbeh, a crimson soup filled with beet and herbaceous semolina dumplings made by Kurdish Jews. They immigrated to Israel and were farming and exporting fresh herbs. The experience changed me, as did the multitude of similar experiences I had while traveling for agricultural work over the last few decades. I will forever resonate with farmers who delight in their own products.

Today my herb work is more separated from my work with farmers. I never forget that I am the cook I am today because of ordinary people who used herbs in their everyday lives. I am the system shifting, voice giving, business developer, marketer, grower, storyteller, and product seller for the same reason. My desire to work with small organic growers was born from the realization that the people who worked hardest and were innately most generous had the least possible chance of success in the supply chain. My unique way of looking at the world, coupled with my authenticity and power of self, has made me an asset for building and lending a powerful voice to many small farmers throughout the world. I have made an economically good and joy-filled living, which epitomizes what fair-trade should be.

Giving small growers a larger voice and more power in the multi-billion-dollar produce industry in America is a job I feel I was born to do. It’s not easy, but when I look back at my path in life so far, I am exactly where I am meant to be, doing the work I am meant to do.

 

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MY FUN

I consider work to be fun. I like most dread certain aspects. I think of it kind of like being a kid at an amusement park, standing in line is part of the journey to fun.

My venture into cooking was born out of stubbornness and necessity. Growing up poor in southern California – at a time when it was normal to let kids fend for themselves – both ignited my independent nature and turned me into an inquisitive, good cook.

My recipe-concocting days began as a means of acquiring better after-school nourishment. My brothers were happy with boxed macaroni and cheese, but I was not. I have loathed processed foods since my toddler years. Early on, I derived great joy from pleasing my palate.  Despite being poor, we were blessed with ample fruits and vegetables – a perk of growing up in Southern California.

Immense joy arrives to me when  I’m conceiving and actualizing treats to eat, drink, rub on my skin, or just place around the house. If these treats are herbal, they produce even more joy. Dining in restaurants provides another channel to fill my head with ideas. I can take these ideas home, let them marinate, and unravel them into new form in my own kitchen.

What soothes my soul is “plodding” (as my father would say, because I have a loud and heavy presence) around the world and absorbing the food, culture, and spirit of extraordinary people. This humbles me and opens my heart.

These days you can find me waking up happy in the sleepy, hippie-ish beach village of Bolinas, in Northern California. Here I work, garden, cook, walk, and breathe in solitude daily. I am not sure yet if I will stay forever, but for now it’s the place I call home. My sweet dog Inca, who has been with me since my New York days, joins me here and reminds me how easy it is to love and how patience is essential for love. Wherever life takes me, you will always find me with a dog near water. With both by my side, I feel invincible.

About Me | My Herbal Roots