D  e  s  e  r  t     E  x  p  o  s  u  r  e  April 2006


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Food in the Raw
Living Foods Learning Center offers an alternative to a "toxic" world.

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Food in the Raw

See our updated Sustainability Index

Off the grid and uncooked, the new Living Foods Learning Center near Columbus offers an alternative to life in a "toxic" world.

By Jeff Berg


"Let me share my vision with you: I see the world without sickness, sorrow or mental disturbances in which we are living in perfect balance and abundant health and harmony."

—Dr. Ann Wigmore

If I had known I was going to go grazing with Taiwanese native Shu Chan and former Coloradoan Dwayne Madsen when I went to their new Living Foods Learning Center, I would not have had breakfast. And I certainly do not admit to them that breakfast had been my addiction of the moment—a convenience-store breakfast burrito. Not exactly health food, since it can barely be classified as food to begin with.

But no sooner do we walk into the small greenhouse attached to the front of their home, than Shu Chan starts offering samples of some of the 15 different "beyond organic" greens that were growing happily in the sunny room. And certainly the samples are things that would not normally be found in the Chihuahuan Desert, just a few miles north of Columbus. Wild dandelion, which Shu said may be the most nutritious green plant on the face of the Earth, sunflower greens, magenta spreen and Sonoran wolfberry are among the selections in this ultra-fresh salad bar.

Shu Chan in the Living Foods
Learning Center greenhouse.

"We will eventually grow 100 kinds of tomatoes, and tomatillos and peppers, too," Chan says, sharing her infectious smile.

She and Madsen have just opened the Living Foods Learning Center, which they describe as an expanded version of Dr. Ann Wigmore's Living Foods Education Program.

Not familiar with Wigmore? I wasn't either, at least not directly. But if you have ever had or heard of wheatgrass juice, then you are aware of at least one of Wigmore's contributions to her version of healthy eating. Wheatgrass is a young version of the plant that will eventually be a stalk of wheat. Much different while it is still in the grass stage, the plant can be cut and juiced after only a week or so of growth. The deep green juice is said to be filled with a number of vitamins, minerals, enzymes,and an abundance of chlorophyll.

Wigmore was born in Lithuania in 1909. Later immigrating to the United States, she lived in Massachusetts, married, and had a daughter. When her marriage ended, however, her life began to go in a much different direction. Sickly and determined to return to good health, Wigmore began working with plants that her grandmother had told her about, and developed a diet that was not only almost vegan, but made up only of raw foods, or, better stated, "living food."

In midlife, Wigmore learned that she had colon cancer, and turned to the all-plant diet as a cure. It is said that within a year, she was cancer free, and never again had any symptoms of the disease.

It was her belief that live foods offered a person's body the necessary nutrients for it to take care of and heal itself. The foods are easier to digest, thus helping to strengthen your immune system. In various forms and often dehydrated or fermented, seeds, grains, nuts, fruits and vegetables make up the bulk of the diet of someone who subscribes to the Living Foods theory.

Wigmore believed that there are two main causes of disease: "deficiency" and "toxemia." Deficiency means that our bodies are undernourished because we cannot get the nutrients we need from indigestible cooked food. Toxemia is a term used to describe poisons that are stored in the body. These toxins are formed from eating unnatural, processed and pesticide-tainted foods, as well as through destructive emotions and stress. Living Foods, which are easy to digest and rich in nutrients, combat this deficiency, according to Wigmore. The Living Foods Program also addresses the problem of toxemia: When the body isn't using all its energy to digest food, it can turn to other tasks, such as releasing stored toxins and healing.

Although Wigmore's Natural Health Clinic began in Boston, it is now located in Puerto Rico. Later, she began the Ann Wigmore Foundation, which is now located in San Fidel, NM, between Grants and Albuquerque. The good doctor died tragically of smoke inhalation in a fire in 1994.

"I met Ann (Wigmore) in Boston in 1981. I have worked in Boston several times," Madsen relates, "and a friend had mentioned City of the Sun (a sort of alternative housing cooperative, just down the road from Living Foods Learning Center). Shu Chan, as Dr. Ann's successor, had taken over for Ann when she passed away, and her dream was always to do her own program."

So he met Shu Chan, and they both ended up in rural New Mexico. As Madsen puts it, "The universe brought together two people who have the same goal.

As Shu Chan snaps off fresh stalks of asparagus for each of us to munch on, Madsen goes on, "We started the first building on Feb. 19, 2001, and were going to open this year on that date, but family illnesses prevented that."

Not only is the Living Foods Learning Center a place for nutrition and good health from eating, it is also taken Madsen's mostly self-taught building skills to a new level. Most of the compound is built with recycled or handmade building materials such as papercrete, which is also called fibrous cement. Papercrete is made with recycled paper or cardboard, sand and Portland cement.

The entire operation is completely "off the grid" and is equipped with solar and wind energy. It also allows for some use of graywater and blackwater (state approved) recycling programs for irrigation and household use.

"There are about eight buildings up now, and we will expand up to 15 before we are finished," Madsen explains, as Shu Chan hands us each a wafer made of dehydrated sauerkraut, and other seeds and plants. He laughs as he says, "The builder (Madsen himself) is pretty damn slow."

The couple works on 80 acres, and all of the buildings will be of Earth-friendly materials. Each will also have its own greenhouse.

They've shared their greenhouse expertise with the greenhouse group in Silver City (see box). Madsen built the greenhouse the group is now using as part of a community food-growing and sustainability effort, when he lived in Silver City. He and Shu Chan also taught two classes in making "Bokashi" to the group, which is now teaching the same class to others in Silver City.

The Living Foods Learning Center acreage also contains a rarity for this part of the world—a root cellar. Actually, it more accurately is a seed cellar, where large containers of seeds, grains and other foodstuffs are kept.

The root/seed cellar is just uphill from Madsen's experimental building that is made of old recycled steel barrels. The barrels are filled with dirt, and covered with concrete. "This building will be for staff quarters when it is complete," he explains.

The tour continues to the small, pleasantly painted dormitories, before returning to the main house that is the classroom and kitchen, currently in use entertaining family from out of town. The large room that contains a living area and the kitchen has a very peaceful and quiet aura to it, almost Zen-like in some way. In the kitchen are two refrigerators and a freezer made in Denmark, which Madsen feels are the most energy-efficient for their needs.

It's a good thing he is doing all the talking, since Chan has now handed me a patty made up of sprouted wheat, celery, carrots and half-a-dozen other things that are good for me. (I can envision the battle between the burrito and the real food I am having now that will soon take place in my digestive tract.) Next she gives me a small chewy cookie made with dates, dried fruit and mesquite flour (plus a sample of the gently sweet flour itself), and a cup of tea to wash down this first round of my raw-food buffet.

For round two, she hands me more samples of some of the other greens that are being grown in an area past the butterfly garden, which is near the hummingbird feeders. If there really was an Eden, this place might be patterned after it.

The Living Foods Learning Center program is much more than just a change in diet, however; it is a total lifestyle change. "This diet is more than cleansing; it is nourishing, too. It does cleansing and rebuilding, and allows the body to balance itself," Chan says.

But she emphasizes that living foods are not a cure, nor are they something that will heal a particular illness. "We are running a school and learning center and within a week they (guests) should see a difference—a positive difference. So, what we do is say, 'If we were you, knowing what we know,' this is what we would do. We teach you how to be your own doctor, and then you go home to build up your own community."

The center also teaches a principle of place that allows for reconnecting to the Earth, she adds. Permaculture methods are being used to bring life and abundant food to the desert.

Back at the main building, I am offered still more dehydrated treats, and select another of the patties made of sprouted wheat and such, as Shu Chan tells me about "live pizza." There are even forms of "cheese" available in the diet, but not a bit of dairy will be found in it.

I ask Madsen what he feels is the worst kind of food a person can have.

"Anything you find in the grocery store," he replies. Further, he feels that "refined anything" is toxic. Finding and supporting local growers is the only way to guarantee the quality of the foods you eat, he insists, and at the same time to support local economies.

To find some of the foodstuff that they need to operate the center, the couple will go rather far afield. "We get apples (varieties that rarely see grocery shelves) from Willcox (Ariz.)," Madsen says. "They cost 40 cents a pound, and they are different, in that if one spoils, it is only that one. The spoilage does not spread to the surrounding fruit.

"Citrus fruit comes from Mesa, Ariz., and is picked ripe from the tree on the day we arrive. It is the best quality available and again, a relatively local resource."

For certain grains, they have enlisted Joe Hollister of Cliff to do contract growing—again bringing the source close to home and supporting local growers. The sea solids that are used as one their fertilizers come from Baja, Calif. Honey comes from Rodeo, NM, from "people who really love and care for their bees."

But soon Living Foods will be even more self-sufficient, as more than 300 trees have been planted on the site, including apple, mulberry, peach, fig, plum, acacia, cherry and pomegranate.

Using custom-made soil is also something that the center will teach workshop attendees. As could be expected, worms, especially red wigglers, play a big part in the success of this operation.

Madsen tells workshop attendees that their lifestyle is a large part of their illness and should be left at home. The new lifestyle that they will be introduced to here will be part of the process that will lead them to new life and an energetic life.

"Our culture has been on a free ride for far too long," he says. "That kind of thinking and its associated problems will be addressed in the changes that people will experience here. People need to start paying attention."

The learn-by-doing program offered at Living Foods includes classes on internal cleansing, food preparation, how to properly combine foods, gardening and sprouting, herbal preparations, EM (Effective Microorganisms) Composting, and a host of other subjects to help one change toxic lifestyles. Madsen and Chan believe that their program will help people to eliminate toxins from the body and blood, assist in weight control (although I had so many samples during my visit, I probably gained five pounds) and teach the ability to "naturally and quickly" overcome stress and fear.

After seeing the solar-water distiller and the remains of an old Datsun pickup truck that once powered a retired generator, we head back for the main building. I have also had crash courses in "chem trails," the chemical trails purportedly left by aircraft, paramagnetic rock, dowsing, "EM-1" (a rather interesting recipe that does everything from clean drains to eliminate odors), and orgone generators, a device made of fiberglass resin and metal shavings that is filled with quartz crystals. These are to be used for different "life energy needs."

For more information about the Living Foods Learning Center, call 531-2450 in Columbus. Classes start on April 3, last 18 days and will be held monthly throughout the year, except for June and July. The tuition range starts at $1,800, and includes room and board, all course activities and instruction.

Shu Chan busily prepares bags of beautiful greens, small stacks of various dehydrated foods, and a big jar of Energy Soup—a blend of greens, juices, avocados and seaweeds—for me to take home. I have eaten a lot, but don't feel full, which is always the case when I follow an animal-product-free diet.

Chan and Madsen have been successful in building this desert oasis, but that is not to say there have not been setbacks. A late frost last year killed many of the fruit-tree blossoms, and probably because of the warm winter, the apple trees began to blossom in December.

But Madsen takes it all in stride. He says, "We are not people who believe in failure.

Senior Writer Jeff Berg also wrote this issue's feature on graffiti artists.



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