Farming for health... an owner's biography
Growing up I would have never guessed I would one day be a professional farmer. As a kid I had a dream to grow up and be a successful business woman living in a high rise condo in New York City. Like most people around me, food was something that came in a box off a shelf at a grocery store and it didn't matter what it was as long as it was cheap and tasted good. I ate candy bars for breakfast, cereal and skim milk for dinner, and loved my soft drinks especially Mt. Dew. I cared more about making good grades and trying to deal with all these weird aliments as a kid that none of the doctors could explain, that was documented as growing pains and treated with an array of medications.
All that changed in 2005, then in my early 20's when I went to a Gastroenterologist for issues with GERD. "We need to take out your stomach", he said with limited emotion, still staring at my medical file. "WHAT?", I was sure I heard him wrong. "You have something wrong with your stomach, it doesn't work, and we need to take it out". "Can't I change my diet", I asked, hoping it was something related to food. "No, you already avoid spicy food and we have you on medications, Jessica, you need surgery". I was devastated and confused, being told I would need to have my stomach removed and have to have a bag instead was not something I could process at such a young age. Desperate I reached out to friends and family hoping for reassurance and support. One of my friends as the time was a health professional who followed a lot of alternative functional and integrative doctors in California. When I explained the situation, he stressed that I should get tested for a gluten allergy and work with a different doctor. When someone wants to take out an organ, you'll be open to anything. Within a couple weeks, I found a integrative doctor and they tested me for gluten sensitivity. It came back positive for Celiacs and my first experience with autoimmune disease, unfortunately not my last. Back then there were no "gluten free" processed foods. The way to avoid was to go off all processed food completely and limit myself to meat and vegetables and fermented foods. Eating out was a struggle and as I worked in tech sales at the time, corporate parties and events were hell. It was also very expensive. For some reason in this country we can buy $200 worth of crap food products that will last a week, but real food with minimal processing is triple that. But I did it, and it worked. I lost 17 lbs., permanently resolved my GERD issue (much to the surprising anger and disbelief of my Gastroenterologist) and was able to get off all medications in the process.
This experience, although unfortunate, solidified my passion around food and understanding its direct relationship to health. At the time of my diagnosis I had tried some fad diets to lose weight. I was completely convinced that fat was bad and that soy was the savior for replacement and that sugar intake didn't matter as long as I exercised. After working with my doctor, I learned about the faulty science that was used to demonize fat and my own body became a working experiment eventually realizing what is now paleo (before it was popular) supported my health. I learned quickly that to eat right costs a lot of money and as someone still early in her career, it was a struggle to afford all the food that was helping me to heal and the stress with trying to eat healthy and navigate this issue in a corporate setting.
Fast forward to 10 years later, although I was off gluten, my health started declining again. My hair was falling out, I had chronically swollen lymph-nodes, increased weight gain, headaches, and severe fatigue and muscle pains. After a few trips to the doctor and testing, I was diagnosed with Hashimotos, an autoimmune disease of the thyroid. I didn't understand in my 20's how other foods outside just gluten can be inflammatory to people with autoimmune disease and how most people who have one autoimmune condition are at risk for developing additional autoimmune conditions if not managed properly.
This time around my diet had to get stricter. I was put on the Autoimmune Protocol (AIP) which eliminates other potentially inflammatory foods like dairy, soy, additional grains, nuts, nightshades and then over time some foods are introduced back into the diet as the gut heals. This was another major issue as I was in SaaS Consulting at the time and traveled extensively for work. Eating out on the AIP diet is close to impossible, but my husband and I made it work. As part of trying to save costs and support the new dietary restrictions (you become really creative with veggies once you have to eliminate so many other food types) we built our first raised bed and small garden in a house we were renting in the city. I also started brewing Kombucha and making homemade ferments, which is how the name Drunken Cabbage came to be. As my husband and I started looking to buy property we came to the conclusion that land we purchased needed to be under our control and be zoned in a way to support agriculture.
In 2016 we found what would become Drunken Cabbage Farm in Palmetto, Florida. A few months after purchase, we would become the proud (but inexperienced) parents of our first flock of backyard chickens; 6 barred rock hens and a rooster. We remember the first time they started laying eggs and the flavor that comes from a freshly laid egg. From day one we were committed to having them on fresh pasture, Non-GMO organic feed and let them "be chickens" to forage, scratch and socialize. Four generations later and some "chicken math" we now have over 20 working chickens, six different breeds and continue to expand our poultry operation which is critical for our farm's ecosystem and sustainability.
In 2019, my corporate job downsized and my husband and I made the decision it was time for me to retire from tech after 15 years and make our dream of Drunken Cabbage come alive full time. We are excited to scale our products to a commercial level, but will never sacrifice the core principles of cultivating clean food and being stewards of the land.
Recently I was asked what it's like for me to exchange business suit for overalls (funny and stereotypical since I don't own overalls) and I smiled. At Drunken Cabbage Farm, my husband and I recognize the value and importance of this profession and the privilege it is to support our community, so I took the question as a compliment and continue to be excited to kick start this second career as "Farmer Jess".
Jessica Kesler, MBA, PMP, CSM, PMC-II is one of the owners of Drunken Cabbage Farm and is passionate about growing organic, non-GMO produce and chicken farming and supporting the regenerative agriculture movement.
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