Farm-fresh vegetables beat medicine, farmer says
L.T. and Ahilia Bhramdat know that there isn’t much money to be made in their style of farming, but they feel they are helping more people through their current vocation than when they worked in the health-care profession.
“We try to educate consumers on how to eat, one person at a time, one family at a time,” L.T. Bhramdat said. “Instead of the power of medicine, we talk about the power of food.”
The Bhramdats strongly believe that vine-ripened, fresh-from-the-farm fruits and vegetables are the keys to health and essential to prevent diseases and chronic starvation from a lack of nutrients. But they estimate that about 95 percent of the food consumed in Iowa is not locally grown and was picked before it was allowed to ripen.
“The plant accomplishes a lot in the last 24 hours,” L.T. Bhramdat said. “If the food we eat is not fresh from the farm to the table, each hour after it is picked, it loses essential nutrients that are supposed to be in your food to build your immune system.”
The Bhramdats moved to Iowa from Chicago seven years ago in search of a safer place to raise their growing family. He was a cardiologist at the time and she was a nurse. The longer they worked in hospitals, the more compelled they became to wage a war against the source of many people’s conditions: the food they ate.
The Bhramdats started L.T. Organic Farm Restaurant and Store five years ago at their home south of Waukee. They grow more than 80 kinds of fruits and vegetables
on their seven-acre property, and also raise small animals such as free-range chickens, ducks, goats and lambs.
Their year-round restaurant, located inside a remodeled corncrib, serves two meals each day, one vegetarian and one non-vegetarian. Each meal consists of five to seven dishes prepared by Ahilia Bhramdat. The food is predominantely Indian food with a Caribbean flair, influenced by L.T. Bhramdat’s childhood in Guyana on the northern coast of South America.
The farm itself follows the principles of community supported agriculture and sustainable agriculture and the crops grown there are certified organic. As a CSA organization,, the farm sells memberships. Before the crops are even planted, members purchase a stake in the crops. That means that if bad weather wipes out a portion of the harvest, the loss is felt by all, One share at L.T. Organic Farm costs $600 for the growing season, from May to early fall.
Each Tuesday, the farm’s co-op members receive their basket of vegetables for the week. As an added service, the Bhramdats host cooking classes that night to teach their members how to cook the varieties of produce they’ve just received. Non-members are also invited to attend, but are asked to call ahead for reservations.
“To help members appreciate the program, we must offer the cooking classes because they may not be familiar with some of these vegetables or have never had okra or eggplant prepared with different spices like we use,” L.T. Bhramdat said.
“You need to find a local farmer and make them your best friend. You should know more about that farmer and what he produces for you to eat than you know about your car dealer.”
L.T. Organic Farm’s members tend to be affluent and highly educated, the Bhramdats said, which is consistent with national trends for organic food consumption. Des Moines resident Alissa Varnon said she joined L.T. Organic Farm’s co-op this spring out of concern for her family’s health. Varnon, who owns an executive search firm, said being a part of a CSA farm is well-suited to her lifestyle.
“I would love to live on a farm and raise my own food and raise my own meat, but my work is in a professional field. I don’t know that I would have the time to focus on farming as well as executive recruiting,” Varnon said. “Being part of an organic farm and co-op gives me the opportunity to maintain my professional responsibilities while enjoying the benefits of having farm-fresh vegetables.”
Varnon said she takes her two children, ages 5 and 7, to the farm about once a week, and said they are all learning from the experience.
“I’m glad that children have an opportunity to learn, in a hands-on way, where nutritious food comes from, and they really enjoy helping out with chores,” Varnon said. “I am learning a great deal about organic vegetable gardening as well as how to raise organic, free-range animals. L.T. very willingly shares his knowledge and experience in farming techniques and nutrition. This information, in addition to the cooking classes, has been beneficial and enjoyable.”
The CSA movement is only about 20 years old in the United States, and its popularity appears to be increasing in Iowa, particularly in metropolitan areas, according to Kevin Jensen, the information coordinator for the Iowa Network for Community Agriculture. An estimated 40-50 CSA farms operate in Iowa, about a dozen of which are located in Central Iowa.
Even CSA farms located outside Central Iowa are benefiting from the increased interest in this style of agriculture. Jan Libbey, owner of One Step at a Time Gardens in Kanawha, said her customer base in Des Moines is growing. Two years ago, she began delivering produce on a weekly basis to co-op members in Des Moines, about 100 miles south of her farm.
“While there is interest here where I live, it’s not growing as quickly as in Des Moines, where the population base is expanding more rapidly,” Libbey said. “I grew up in Des Moines and have connections here that developed into memberships.”
Libbey said she would like to see Central Iowa’s CSA farms band together to do cooperative marketing projects, similar to what takes place in Madison, Wis. There,
several farms join together to host an open house each spring to educate the public on the importance of local agricultural systems.
L.T. Bhramdat would like to reach more people with his message on the importance of eating fresh vegetables, but said marketing his family’s business is a challenge with his limited resources.
“A lot of people come here sick and dying or they have a family member who is sick. They have tried all the doctors and forms of medicine. When they feel that there is no other hope, they come knocking on our doors and are surprised at how much better they feel within a few weeks.
“They ask us why we don’t write a book or market this more if the answer to people’s problems is this simple. I say, ‘There is not much money to be made from planting turnips, beets, eggplants and so forth. But if you support our business, we’ll be here to educate you and your children and your grandchildren.’”