My name is Jessica Bauer, a Certified Nutrition Specialist, and founder of Good Farma. But please, call me Jessie! Here I am, finally starting off on a long-awaited and ambitious journey. And guess what? I am ecstatic to take you along for the hay-ride. I have ginormous plans for Good Farma and am here to lead the charge. But don’t be fooled, I will need all sorts of unwavering support from the Good Farma family. That’s you! We are in this together, and I can’t wait to see the disruptive, yet positive impact we will all have on this world!
I figured I’d start our journey together by sharing a bit about my personal story. It is only fair that you know who I am and where I come from before jumping aboard what is sure to be a wild ride.
So, shall we begin?
The Early Days
I am a loyal Wisconsite, born and bred among corn fields and dairy farms. My childhood consisted of scraped knees, bare feet, a plethora of animals, and even more imagination. I come from working-class roots and morals: work hard to get what you need, not what you want, and work even harder to keep it. My earliest years were spent having dance parties in our living room with a strobe light from 1982, while a camcorder rented from the local library captured the memories. Mom and Dad worked harder than I was ever able to comprehend, sometimes juggling three jobs each at a time. They always dreamed big - building a family fast and young, buying too-old of a house on too-large of property, adopting horses with no previous equestrian experience, as well as launching their own entrepreneurial adventures. All of this was dreamed up and accomplished despite the financial strains they always found themselves in. Looking back at it now, there were moments that I thought we were having adventures, but were really instead instances where my parents struggled to make ends meet. For example, we spent an entire month (or three?) all living in my parents’ bedroom in the heart of winter with a very sketchy space heater. Mom made us believe we were having an extended pajama party and movie-night marathon together because the heater was broken. We had moved the T.V. as well as all of our mattresses into their bedroom. I now expect the truth was that they couldn’t afford to fill the tank that month. Either way, we had a blast!
Despite dollar stresses, my parents always managed to keep us warm, fed, and entertained with creative solutions. There was a time where I felt embarrassed of our social status, but I now see my unique childhood as an absolute privilege. My parents’ persistence, perseverance, innovation, and imagination were the greatest gifts I could have ever asked for and perhaps are to blame for my sometimes frustrating ambition today. I will forever raise the Good Farma goblet to Ma and Pa Bauer, my forever heroes of today, tomorrow, and yesteryear.
The Health Journey
Growing up in Wisconsin, nutrition is as popular as the Minnesota Vikings. Meals revolve around dairy, corn, potatoes, beef, and ranch dressing. To this day, iceberg lettuce is a salad, ketchup on a burger equals a vegetable, and a day without milk is blasphemous. My earliest years were the toughest financially for my family, so our diet consisted mainly of Ramen, Campbell's soup, canned ravioli, and many times, pancakes for dinner. My parents did the best they could with what they had, and to be fair, much of rural Wisconsin falls under the categories of Food Desert or Food Swamp (discussions on these coming later). We had one local grocery store at this time, so an entire community’s nutritional well-being was dependent upon them and what they supplied. Today, I can admit their offerings were, and possibly still are, appalling. Grandma’s house offered a bit more variety in choices, but cheesy potatoes made of Velveeta may still fall short in regards to the nutritional needs of growing children.
Let it be known, food was always available. I never went hungry, which is something I am forever grateful for. But I did suffer from nutritional inadequacies. I noticed this more in adolescents, through puberty and school performance. I was an honor student, a musician, an athlete, and a member of multiple clubs and councils. But I had constant brain fog, poor energy, skin issues, mood swings, and body image insecurities. For years this has been chalked up to symptoms of puberty - a natural process. However, science has shown and continues to show, that drastic swings in hormones and energy to the current degree are in fact abnormal. And what we eat and are exposed to in our environment has been shown to be the strongest link. So, was I a so-called typical teenager? Or was I, like most in this country, nutritionally depleted?
The Eating Disorder
Like many teenage girls (and very often boys), I suffered from an eating disorder. I often tell people I don’t know where it stemmed from, but the truth is that I do. It all started the summer before 8th grade. Like every summer before, I spent the entire break at home, in the country, alone, babysitting my two younger sisters. These times were great, but as a teen, I of course wished I was off doing something else. I felt very isolated, and was no longer able to relate to my younger sisters still in elementary school. I started getting the Teen Vogue and teen clothing magazines in the mail. Flipping through them five times a day not only left me yearning for clothing we couldn’t afford, but also for unattainable body types. I was always thin and lanky, but boy could I eat! I was a maturing teen after all. But did I understand that? No. I was almost to my full height of 5’4”, but weighed 80 pounds, had long black hair, and golden skin. Family members and friends were constantly telling me I could be a model. Ignoring the fact that I had to be at least 5’6” to even be considered by modeling agencies, I started picturing myself in those magazines. I started doing sit-ups and running a bit more, to “tone up” for a new dream I never shared with anyone. I didn’t start thinking about food and calories until a thinner friend started calling me fat. Obviously, not a friend for long. Her reasoning still leaves me baffled - having to wear a training bra somehow made me overweight. But words dig deep and stick like a tick. And with a new pipe-dream of being in magazines, I was quick to crumble. I started skipping breakfast, which then led to decreasing lunch calories, then to skipping dinner. Lunch became four saltine crackers with a bit of canned tuna, and if I could swing it, nothing until the four crackers the next day. My mother was quick to pick up on what was happening, but I’d try to maneuver my choices around “I’m not hungry” or “I don’t feel good.” I will forever feel guilty for putting my parents through this unnecessary stress, but despite their concerns and frustrations, they were gentle enough to let me navigate the process. Come the end of summer, I had lost about 15 pounds, which on an already lanky girl is extremely detrimental. I agreed to go see a local Registered Dietitian (RD), and this is not only where I started to turn the eating disorder around, but to also question our entire healthcare system.
The Birth of the Healthcare Rebel
My struggles with body image and weight carried on throughout high school, but never again to the degree of that first summer. Thanks again to my parents, I was able to snap out of the darker side before it became too late. In this time, I did a lot of self-educating and experimenting. I took vitamins, nutritional shakes, drank juice, ate granola bars, and salads. Of course, I learned later that none of this was healthy, despite being advertised as so, but more on that later! I took what the RD told me to do, and did the complete opposite, because I called poo-poo on her suggestions. Even at the ripe age of 14, I knew that her suggestion of 100 calories of Ritz crackers being healthier than 120 calories of avocado was Looney Tunes. OK, Bugs Bunny, ¼ cup of cottage cheese is not healthier than that carrot you are chomping on (this was also part of her pitch). Suggesting that a young girl falling into the pits of an eating disorder count her calories, measure her food, and pit good against bad, did not seem like an educated, and up-to-date medical plan. I walked out not caring about losing any more weight, but instead to prove her wrong and show that I could eat the plant foods I wanted and still be healthy.
My health journey continued on through college, where I experienced my very first farmer’s market and community food co-op. I learned of herbal medicine, Chinese medicine, yoga, meditation, all the works of traditional medicine and ancient wisdom. As I slowly became healthier living away from home, my family continued to get sicker. It was through the experience of watching my grand-father deteriorate with Parkinson's, my extended family from ALS, obesity, and cancer, that I started to explore the greater effects of food and our food system on our health. I started to question everything every doctor told me (Disclaimer: I don’t think all doctors are bad). When I was told to take painkillers and steroids for weekly migraines after a whole three minutes of interaction, I again called poo-poo. Seeking alternative treatments, I learned to better manage my stress and decreased my intake of processed sugar, and wa-la, no more migraines. Funny how that works …
These experiences eventually led me to a year of naturopathic medical school and later on to a graduate-level nutrition program. The journey was long and still continues today. But in an effort to save internet space, I’ll roll credits here.
Food is my passion. Everybody eats and everybody determines their future with each bite. This is what I have learned, and this is Good Farma’s truth and mission.
* Be sure to sign up for the newsletter!