Howard Lake-Waverly Herald, July 16, 2001

Organic grower says good health is in her diet

By Lynda Jensen

Getting back to the basics means more to Sarah Lea than just old words of wisdom. It's a way of life.

Lea is an organic grower who lives with her husband, Bob, about four miles southeast of Cokato.

Lea's 8,000 square foot garden is chock full of culinary and medicinal herbs, vegetables, flowers that she grows without the use of synthetic fertilizers, herbicides, or pesticides, she said.

Bottom line: health

The diet of typical Americans is saturated with sugar, additives, and preservatives, Lea said.

These items break down the immune system instead of build it up, she said.

In fact, Lea claims that a saturation of sugar, preservatives, and dye in children's diets can cause symptoms similiar to attention deficit disorder.

What people eat greatly impacts their health, she said.

She turned her back on this diet 25 years ago, when her health took a bad turn, she said.

Lea has a problem with sugar in her blood, but instead of using traditional medicine to treat it, she turned to organic gardening and changed her diet.

Her sons, who are grown now, were taking shots twice a week for allergies. This ended when their diet changed, she said.

Organic gardening is gaining popularity and, at times, a bit controversial.

For Lea, it was more than just changing what she eats - it was a change in her lifestyle, she said.

The Lea diet includes vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes. They also eat organically raised chicken and lamb.

Lea preserves most of her harvest by the process of dehydration, she said.

This method is best because it keeps intact the nutritional value of the item, without using heat, Lea said. Heat generally breaks down the nutrients in food, she said.

Planting the seed

Lea starts her year by planting literally "a gazillion" seeds, she said.

The seeds grow to fill her garden, which not only feeds herself and her family, but the livestock they keep as well; including sheep, chickens, rabbits, ducks, and geese.

She grows larger-than-life plants from every kind of herb, vegetable or flower imaginable. Her fertilizer? Sheep and bunny droppings.

A sample of her bounty is sage, lemon balm, St. John's Wort, tansy, peppermint, yarrow, parsley, and oregano, among others.

She dries most of what she grows, freezes some, and dines on the rest through the spring, summer and fall, she said.

The process starts in February in her basement, which is converted into a greenhouse due to the short Minnesota growing season.

She plants 100 flats of seeds. She uses electric grow lights set on a timer to manage the growing process.

In March, she moves the seedlings to an outdoor greenhouse, with kerosene heaters to keep the plants from freezing.

From there, she transplants her plants into a carefully designed garden, with plants arranged to form natural deterrents to bugs, she said.

She uses flowers to guard her vegetables, grouping different kinds of plants that are mutually beneficial to each other.

An example of this would be her potatoes, which she plants next to Jasmine Nicotinea, a flower. The flower attracts potato bugs, which would otherwise feed on her vegetables, she said.

Other flowers that naturally repel bugs are marigolds and nasteurtiums. The smell of such flowers tends to repel bugs and drive them away from her garden, she said.

She purposely plants yarrow and beebalm to attract bees to her garden, for pollination purposes. This helps her plants to grow large, she said.

"It smells good, tastes good, and looks good," Lea said.

Here are Lea's instructions for the planting process: dig a hole, fill it half full of bunny droppings, water the hole and then put the plant in. "It is always a good idea to straighten out the roots before putting the plant in the hole.

They way, they won't grow in a circle and eventually kill the plant," Lea said. "A lot of folks who buy plants do this, and then wonder why the plants die after a week or two," she said.

Lea has visitors from across the nation, and even other countries visit her garden regularly. People visit from as far away as India.

Lea taught nutrition for five years at the Christ for the Nations College in Dallas, Texas. She hosted a radio program called "Milk and Honey" and appeared as a frequent guest on Trinity Broadcasting Network with Dr. Donald Whitaker.

She majored in journalism at Ohio State University and graduated from Christ for the Nations Institutute with a degree in theology.

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