Photos: my record size king salmon – age 6, being primped for a sister city celebration in Hokkaido, Japan – age 15, photo of Homer – photo credit unknown.
In the beginning…
The core philosophy behind Leaf People is largely influenced by my childhood in Alaska, with its entrepreneurial and self-sufficient spirit. My family lived 24 miles outside the nearest town of Homer, which had a population of about 2,000 people. Our home was on the main highway—a lonely two-lane road that acted as the only artery in and out, surrounded by forest and wildlife, perched on a bluff overlooking Kachemak Bay. We lived in a wood house heated by a wood burning stove, with a “party line” phone shared by other households in our remote area.
Growing up in a secluded environment, we learned how to be self-supporting from an early age. Our summers – outside of a summer job – were filled with cutting and chopping dead wood to heat our house in winter, preserving fruits and vegetables and fishing for winter food stores. Winters were spent preparing for fishing season in summer, fixing nets and other equipment needed to complete the job. My fishing experiences started when I was in the womb. My dad missed my birth because of a large salmon run coming through, and my mom wanted to be out there with him but, unfortunately, she was in labor. My father, an electrician by trade, also commercial and sport fished various types of salmon and halibut. I grew up watching him make his fishing poles by hand, as well as custom lures and fishing accessories. We lived on fish, as most did in our area, freezing it, smoking it, canning it, pickling it, getting-creative-with-it. I spent a big part of my life on the water, sustainably fishing for our household, and at 14, much to my disinclination, I started helping my dad with the dangerous work of commercial fishing. Although we were living relatively far from town, we did have common comforts, like electricity and a car. The small town of Anchor Point, located about five miles up the road, between our house and Homer, was home to a very small market/post office, an inn, volunteer firehouse and a K-8 school. My parents co-mingled sustainable living with modern comforts, and we were kept fairly up to date with the rest of the world by our eagerly awaited sunday paper. It was a crazy mix of both worlds–wild animals having their babies in our yard and still stressing about what to wear to a school dance.
In our free time, we typically read, foraged in the woods or explored around the beach. We wild harvested fiddleheads and berries while constantly staying aware of other edibles growing nearby, like fireweed, lamb’s quarters, dandelions and nettles. Our television was very sketchy and had three channels that were barely visible on the screen because of all the snow interference. About five miles down the road, though, there was a VHS rental store, so we watched whatever movies were available. I developed a passion for cooking and baking, entering every baking contest I could and hand painting chocolate truffles at home. When I was 12, I got my first job at Alaskan Wildberry Products (back then you just didn’t mention your age). This was my first introduction to wild foraging on a larger level. People would come in from deep corners of the woods, where they had picked buckets of berries, among the bears and wild animals, and we would transform them into jam. The company produced their products on a commercial level, utilizing industrial pots and machines for canning and labeling. I saw the things I had done my whole life at home translated into a commercial setting. Subconsciously, ideas were starting to brew.
During high school, I got a job at the Fresh Sourdough Express Bakery, an organic bakery that was extremely ahead of its time. The owners, Donna and Kevin, were two fiercely independent entrepreneurs who held deep integrity about the quality of their ingredients. Donna was adamant that everything be organic, before the word organic became part of the American lexicon—let alone that in Alaska. We ground our own wheat, maintained a 50-gallon container of sourdough and collaborated with certified organic suppliers. I learned there for six years, starting as a dishwasher and working my way up to the role as second baker. My fellow employees were quite the eclectic group, ranging from Buddhists to hippies to city folk and people trying to escape society completely. Some even lived in buses they’d converted into homes. Being raised in a strict Catholic home, this was a total departure from anything I had ever been exposed to before. It was my first introduction to Buddhism and veganism, which would go on to inform the way I lived my life. The bakery instilled in me the importance of organic farming, focusing on where food comes from and how to transform that into a thriving business.
Next stop, the beginning of life overseas and my first formal introduction to herbal medicine.