“This is a sage flower, taste that.”
The freckle sized purple flower provided a burst of flavor before quickly dissolving. As promised it tasted like sage.The charming little oddity is just one of many edible flowers that Naomi Call grows at Alchemy Farms, her little corner of the universe.
“I love the word alchemy. I love words and their different meanings. One of the definitions of alchemy is something where seemingly magical things happen.”
Her flower and herb farm feels like there’s magic lurking around every leaf. Small, colorful and located in Maple City, she’s turned it into an oasis where nature and beauty intentionally meld together.
Naomi has had a deep connection and involvement with natural food for most of her life. Raised in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, she used to teach cooking classes.
“So my primary occupation while raising my kids was teaching cooking, and it was macrobiotic. So my kids initially were raised macrobiotic, so no dairy or animal. You know, it wasn’t really called vegan.”
Macrobiotic is a ‘70s health food movement inspired by Sagen Ishizuka, a Japanese doctor who created the diet to give balance to the human body. Western culture puts an emphasis on protein and carbohydrates, while Ishizuka said that supplying our body with proper minerals like sodium and potassium are just as important for the body to be nutritionally aligned. Macrobiotics had the basic tenets of modern-day veganism.
Her interest in macrobiotics came from a desire to fuel her body in the most effective way.
“People started putting their cancer into remission. It was the first time that we really understood the power of food.”
She raised her two sons to care about their nutritional needs too in upstate New York with fresh air and a few acres of land. She filled gardens with fresh vegetables, herbs and flowers.
“When I had my little garden in New York, it was maybe 20 years ago, I started growing edible flowers. When I really started learning cooking I had Japanese teachers and it was all about the art of garnish and plating and presentation. ”
The gardens in upstate New York had a strong influence on her son, Loghan Call. The local, vegan chef is the owner of Planted Cuisine and frequently hosts pop-up dinners in the area. All of his food is plant-based and made with locally grown ingredients, including the flowers Naomi grows.
“Adding a few flowers to this or that, it’s incredible how much more beauty and how many more colors you can add to something. It’s unique. In New York, I worked with a lot of caterers and they would make those horrible, frosting food-colored flowers with blue and pink coloring. And so I would say, ‘I’ll grow the flowers, you can come out to the farm and pick them. I’ll decorate the cakes.’ To bring that level of beauty and freshness was amazing.”
She doesn’t use all of her flowers and herbs to make food beautiful. She also makes them into teas, tinctures and other elixirs. While sitting in the garden she offered me an iced tea she made from elderberry, hibiscus petals and rose hips. The red, slightly tart tea was right up my alley. I like elderberries and they provide a lot of vitamin C, not as much as pine needles do, however. Yep, you read that right. Pine needles have more vitamin c than elderberries and even oranges.
“So that’s Native American wisdom. It’s actually what kept the settlers alive, really because there’s so much vitamin c. A lot of times what I’ll do is put white pine needles in water and make sun tea. It tastes fresh. You can make white pine needle tea. When you cook it the water turns pink.”
Plants that many overlook are commonplace in Naomi’s salad. She knows what plants are edible and what their nutritional value is including ones that are considered weeds.
“You can see there’s a zillion weeds, but most of them I eat, so it’s fine. A lot of these are really nutritional. We have like a lot of lambsquarters and purslane. I can show you if you don’t know those and you can nibble on them. They’re like the highest source of omegas on the planet, like the weeds that are in half of those beds,” she said gesturing to them.
Her extensive knowledge of plants, nutrition and gardening have also inspired her spiritually.
“Gardening is an alchemical process. You have the energy of the gardener, you have the energy of the soil. You have all of these elemental energies. So then you start to put these things together. I just see everything is like a co-creation. I think it’s really important the energy that we bring in.”
To spread some of her knowledge in a positive way, she created a set of oracle cards. Oracle cards give the creator the freedom to design whatever kind of deck they want. Naomi chose to pair photographs she’s taken of flowers with positive affirmations and insight into looking after oneself.
The cards, naturally, are ecologically printed. From the two cards, I picked a peony and a ranunculus. The corresponding readings with each gave background and meaning to the flower, and also a specific practice to apply to everyday life. The peony urged me to delve deeper into my feminine energy. The ranunculus said to create space by clearing unnecessary things out of my life. Too real, too real.
Alchemy Farms flowers are sprinkled like pixie dust throughout Traverse City. Her teas can be found at Bubbie’s Bagels, and her edible flower bouquets are available at Oryana, Lakeview Hill Farm Store, ordered online for Wednesday’s Sara Hardy Farmers Market, and will also be available at Farm Club when it opens mid-July.
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