Connecting the Dots Between Soil Health and Our Health, One Veggie Box at a Time
Connecting the Dots Between Soil Health and Our Health, One Veggie Box at a Time

"In a veggie prescription program, just simply increasing the number of servings of vegetables someone's getting a day can have a profound impact not only on their physical health, but also on their mental well being. Studies have shown if you increase simply from one and a half servings of fruits and vegetables a day, to eight or more, there's a 30% risk reduction for heart attack and stroke." 

- Dr. Amy Sapola

"Take your broccoli and call me in the morning." Imagine a world where prescriptions sound like this. Join Elizabeth in a thought-provoking conversation with Dr. Amy Sapola, the visionary Director of Farmacy at the Farmer Jones Farm at Chef’s Garden. Driven by her mission to blend regenerative agriculture with human well-being, Dr. Amy takes us on a journey to uncover the interconnected magic of farm and pharma.

In this week's episode, Amy talks about the enchanting synergy between soil and soul. She shares her wisdom on how we can develop a more profound relationship with food and the chefs that grow them, paving the way for a healthier future. As a certified wellness coach and Institute for Functional Medicine practitioner, Amy shares her advice on how to eat better, the art of eating seasonally to optimize nutrients, and the challenges we currently face in farming that we will have to overcome in the near future.

Amy and Elizabeth talk about the different boxes that Farmer Jones Farm offers, including the limited edition collab box with Purely Elizabeth!



    Elizabeth Stein 0:00
    Hi, everyone. I'm Elizabeth Stein, founder, and CEO of Purely Elizabeth. And this is Live Purely with Elizabeth, featuring candid conversations about how to thrive on your wellness journey. This week's guest is Dr. Amy Sapola, the director of Farmacy at The Chef’s Garden - Farmer Jones Farm. Farmacy at The Chef’s Garden is about building a greater understanding of how our health is impacted by the regenerative agriculture principles practiced on the farm. Dr. Amy Sapola works to help guide consumers toward a mindful relationship with food by connecting the benefits of healthy soil to healthy plants and ultimately to healthy people. She's a Certified Wellness Coach, Institute for Functional Medicine Certified Practitioner (IFMCP), and Doctor of Pharmacy with a B.S. In Nutrition. She has also completed a two-year fellowship with honors in integrative medicine from the Academy of Integrative Health and Medicine. In this episode, we talk about the intersection of the farm and pharma of using food as medicine, why soil health matters to human health, and how the soil microbiome affects our gut microbiome. Amy shares why it's important to eat seasonally, how to optimize nutrients in vegetables, why it's important to eat the rainbow, tips for eating more vegetables, along with mindful eating habits, and how nutrient-rich plants taste better. I love this conversation connecting our soil health to our health. Keep listening to learn more. Oh, and we are so excited to partner with Farmer Jones Farm this month by offering a collab box available for pre-order now, shipping mid-September. The box includes farm fresh salad and a Mini yogurt bowl incorporating our granola and beautiful fresh veggies like pineapple tomatoes. Visit To learn more. Enjoy. Amy, welcome to the podcast. I'm so excited to pick your brain and learn about all things soil health, body health, plant health, plant health, and all of that good stuff.

    Amy Sapola 2:22
    Thank you so much for having me. It's such a pleasure to be here.

    Elizabeth Stein 2:24
    So I first discovered you guys over the holidays last year, and I was looking for a gift for our team. And I wanted to find regeneratively grown produce. So somehow, I stumbled upon what you guys are doing at the Chef’s Garden, then what you are doing within the Chef’s Garden. It spoke so perfectly to my heart. As a company, what we're trying to do, and getting behind region is connecting the dots with soil health, and our health. I am psyched for you to be able to explain all of that, dive into that, and help our community understand why it's so important. But before we get started, I'd love to hear your background, how you got into this, whether have you always been into health and wellness, and what got you on your journey.

    Amy Sapola 3:15
    Yeah, totally. It's kind of a long journey. But I've pretty much always been into health and wellness. I did my undergrad in nutrition at Ohio State. Before that, I was competitive in sports, running, in tennis. I struggled with an eating disorder. So I went to school, studied nutrition, then knew I wanted to be a pharmacist. But I had said all along I wanted to be the pharmacist that helps people get off of medications. I felt like that fundamental understanding of nutrition was going to be how I did that. But I didn't have a plan at that point. I knew I was pretty different in my class. But I got into Ohio State, went to pharmacy school there, then was recruited by Mayo Clinic to come up and work at Mayo. So went to Mayo Clinic, worked there in outpatient, and then was promoted, into a specialty pharmacy where I specialized in hepatitis C and oral oncology. During that time, patients kept asking all of the questions you would think to ask, but don't necessarily know who to ask. I kept getting a lot of supplement questions, a lot of questions about nutrition, a lot of questions about, is my hair gonna fall out? What do I do to keep my hair? Like those sorts of things where it's just like, oh my gosh, I have this serious diagnosis. Now what? I didn't feel well prepared as a pharmacist, to be honest, to answer a lot of those questions. So I ended up going back and doing a two-year fellowship in integrative medicine. And during that time, found out about functional medicine. So then studied functional medicine, became a certified wellness coach, and got into mindful eating. I also have practiced yoga since I was 15. So, got certified as a yoga teacher. I live and breathe it every day. Then I went to work at a rural hospital. And at this hospital, it was nice because it was much more holistic in their approach. They were open through our wellness committee to create hospital gardens. My husband is a landscape architect. I always think he enables me but he helped us design and build gardens at the hospital. We were able to utilize what we grew there with our hospital inpatients and nursing home patients and in the cafeteria.

    Elizabeth Stein 5:27
    What a floral-looking hospital.

    Amy Sapola 5:30
    Yeah, and then we got involved with our local food shelf to increase the amount of vegetables people were able to access there. Then I developed a veggie prescription program there, where we did a pile up with 10 people initially, and then the following year, we aim to get 50 people. And now it's still ongoing. But basically, providing money through various grants to people so that they could shop at our local farmers market. Long story short, I was thinking about going to culinary school and was going on vacation and knew that the Culinary Vegetable Institute which is associated with the Chef’s Garden was here in Milan, Ohio, and my in-laws live close. I was coming to visit my in-laws and wrote the Culinary Vegetable Institute this long love letter about how I just thought they were so amazing. And what they were doing was so amazing, and that I was thinking about going to culinary school. This was during COVID. They were kind enough to let me come visit. And I spent about two hours with Chef Jamie Simpson. He showed me all around and told me the story of the farm. While we were talking, he's like, “Why don't you just move here?” And I was like, “If I had a job, I really would.” He's like, “Well, send me your resume.” I wrote up my job description, like what I thought I could do and what I could offer .and now a year and a half later, I'm here.

    Elizabeth Stein 6:45
    That's so cool. What a great journey. So many questions, so many parts of it. Tell us a little bit about the background of the Chef’s Garden and Farmer Jones farm and, what your mission is with your work there.

    Amy Sapola 7:03
    Yeah, so the background, the Chef’s Garden started about 30-plus years ago. Originally, Bob Jones senior and his two sons, Bob Jr. And Lee, which most people know is farmer Lee Jones with the red bow tie were selling primarily kind of commodities to grocery stores to farmers markets. And they hit hard times in the 80s and lost the entire farm. They ended up rebuilding from scratch. They lost all their land, they lost their house, they lost their mom's car and rebuilt the entire farm and started going to farmers’ markets and connecting with chefs and chefs started asking for really specific things. That's where they started growing these unique, beautiful, that's shovels with really a lot of care, and very hands-on. They were growing for flavor and color and texture. That just grew and grew and grew. Now today, we ship to all 50 states in 17 different countries around the world. The pandemic is when we started our home delivery. When restaurants essentially shut down overnight, and we have greenhouses full of vegetables, we decided to start offering our vegetables to home consumers. So the same vegetables, the chefs are getting at the Michelin star restaurants are available to home consumers now. We started that with the pandemic, and then kept it going. My role now as director of Farmacy with an F is really to help curate our vegetable boxes, especially our health and wellness vegetable boxes for specific kinds of disease states or supporting general health. We have an Eat the Rainbow box that is all about phytonutrients and color. Every month, it has all the colors of the rainbow in it. And it's all seasonal. We also have a build-your-box function where it's by disease state, so say cancer or cognitive health, blood pressure, things like that. You can select what you're interested in. And then the vegetables that show up on the page are vegetables that have some evidence to show that they may help support that condition. I say that I want the farmer to become part of every health and wellness team. So I also work on the farm here to help kind of bridge the gap between agriculture and healthcare. Agriculture and healthcare both have a lot of the same problems. And I think they should be talking and working together. A lot of my work is outreach and speaking and education. We also have a lab on-site here. We're looking at our soil health, we're looking at microbial activity. We're looking at the minerals in our vegetables that we're growing and we're trying to look year over a year to see how that changes because hopefully by practicing regenerative agriculture, we're building the soil which in turn helps us grow healthier plants, which in turn, obviously helps feed people and helps nourish their bodies and make them healthier as well.

    Elizabeth Stein 10:00
    Well, I love all those pieces of your mission and your Farmacy with an F, which is so cool. So first on the Farmacy with an F, how many plants are you guys growing on the farm? What is available in your pharmacy?

    Amy Sapola 10:19
    we grow over 600 different varieties of vegetables, microgreens, edible flowers, and herbs every year. If you look at the skews, the different parts of the plant we sell, we sell over 10,000 different skews. One of the things we like to talk about is eating root-to-leaf or flower seeds. All parts of the plant are often useful and have different flavor profiles and different cooking applications. We have fun working with chefs thinking about how to use all parts of the plant's life, just like it's really popular now to talk about how to use all different parts of an animal. The same thing goes for plants.

    Elizabeth Stein 11:00
    That's so cool. So a big thing also is, as you mentioned, in your helping to grow the soil is your regenerative farming practices. Can you help to explain what is regenerative agriculture? And what are the benefits from your standpoint on soil, on the environment, community, etc?

    Amy Sapola 11:26
    Yeah, absolutely. So regenerative agriculture is really about giving back to the soil, growing in harmony with nature. It's about trying to build versus simply an extractive process. So oftentimes, if you look at conventional agriculture, the focus is really on yield. How much can you grow in an energy-intensive way? And how much can you get out of it? In regenerative agriculture, it's really about building the soil. And the health of the soil influences the health of the plant. We know that by not tilling as much, reducing tillage by keeping roots in the ground, and using cover crops, we like to use multi-species cover crops here. So each plant has its function of what is adding back into the soil by resting the land, rotating crops, avoiding monoculture, by helping to reduce water runoff, like keeping those roots in the ground and also sequestering more carbon. Those are all benefits of regenerative agriculture. For us, looking at how we build up that microbial life in the soil. Because soil is alive and soil has so many microorganisms, at least healthy soil. And that's the difference between soil and dirt. Dirt is like. Soil is alive with microbial life. And that biodiversity is actually what helps work symbiotically with the plant to allow it to take up the nutrients it needs to thrive, but also that we need to thrive. So to take up minerals in the soil, that microbial life has to eat those nutrients first and take them up. Then the plants, it makes them more bioavailable to the plants. If the biology isn't alive in the soil, the nutrients can be there in the soil, but they're not going to be able to be taken up by the plant.

    Elizabeth Stein 13:17
    As you think about the differences, certainly there are greater differences with conventional farming, but I do think it's important to still touch that most of our land here is this monoculture with six ingredients, not a lot of diversity. Touching on that, but then also what the difference is with organic because I think sometimes it can be confusing, and I feel like in some conversations I've had with people, it's like, “Well, isn't that what we're doing already everywhere?” And it's like, “No, it's not really.”

    Amy Sapola 13:46
    Yes. I think it's really important to understand both. Organic is about what you're not doing. So organic is about only using a specific list of OMRI-certified products or chemicals. And these are chemicals or inputs that have been deemed to be okay to be used in organic agriculture. Otherwise, everything else is pretty much off the table. It's not necessarily telling you what you're doing with your soil, or how you're maintaining your crops. I think the combination of organic and regenerative is pretty important. But organic alone isn't the whole story. And again, I don't think probably regenerative alone is the whole story. It's really about getting to know the farmer and understanding how they're farming and what they're doing to understand beyond kind of the buzzwords.

    Elizabeth Stein 14:48
    And then handle it from a conventional standpoint as you think about how did we get here, kind of in the first place. And as you mentioned we have this problem with our healthcare system and this problem with our agriculture system. So touching on what has been the problem and how did we get here in the first place?

    Amy Sapola 15:00
    Yeah. Oh my gosh, that's the big question. In conventional agriculture, there is heavy utilization of synthetic inputs. We're talking about herbicides, pesticides, fungicides. We know that those can have an impact on human health. They also have an impact on soil microbial activity. So those inputs can kill life in the soil. If you don't have that biodiversity and aren't growing in a way that's supporting a healthy plant, you're putting on, again, all these applications to take the place of the plant’s immune system, you're just trying with chemistry to keep that plant going and get it to market. And that isn't healthy for anybody. There's water runoff from that, there's the contaminants left on the plant, and there's the destruction of the soil. Again, if those plants aren't able to take up the nutrients they need, just think of our bodies if we are nutrient depleted. So if you're walking around with a mineral deficiency, which most people in the US are, if you look at the data, it's tremendous. The number of people who have some sort of vitamin or mineral deficiency, and usually it's multiple. But if the food we're eating is already deficient, what are we supposed to do? Conventional farming isn't focused on the health of the plant, it's just focused on the yield, and how we keep our plants alive, how we resist pest pressure. One thing I would say in our modern system, we have this emphasis on everything having to be perfect in the grocery store. Like, oh, my gosh, an apple couldn't happen to have a blemish. But that pest pressure, that caterpillar taking a bite out of an apple or whatever, that causes the increase in phytonutrients, or phytochemicals from the plant to fight it off naturally, its defenses. Those phytochemicals have a role in our body as well. There are over 25,000 different phytochemicals in plants. Those all play different roles, but oftentimes, they're recognized as being anti-inflammatory, antioxidants, and they can be beneficial in several ways. Some natural pest pressure is okay. There are beneficial organisms as well. So I think there's that. But then also thinking about where are we subsidizing. If you look at the farm bill, there's a lot of subsidy for corn, soy, etc. And those become cheap commodities. They're a lot cheaper, they get incorporated into a lot of our food supply. Then vegetables are perceived as very expensive or pricier, unaffordable because there isn't a subsidy for growing vegetables. And I think that needs to be switched around. I think the focus should be on growing vegetables, and crops for human consumption, beyond corn and soy and other things. And that has such an impact on human health. Like in a veggie prescription program, just simply increasing the number of servings of vegetables someone's getting a day can have a profound impact not only on their physical health but also on their mental well-being. Studies have shown if you increase simply from one and a half servings of fruits and vegetables a day to eight or more, there's a 30% risk reduction for heart attack and stroke. I think that's on par with using medication for reducing the risk of heart attack or stroke. So I think it’s important to recognize that food can have such a powerful impact on our health outcomes. The CDC data shows that 1 in 10 Americans are eating the recommended servings of vegetables. And that's only two and a half cups a day. So if you look at functional nutrition and some of the functional, therapeutic food plans like Terry Wahls has out or Dale Bredesen for cognitive decline or MS. They're recommending six to nine servings of vegetables a day. And I talked with Terry Wahls, and she said she eats more like 12. So not everybody in that space can do that. But I think there's a big gap between where we're at currently, and where optimal lies and how you eat in a way that supports optimal health versus just kind of just getting by.

    Elizabeth Stein 19:32
    Absolutely. When you talk about the future, when do you think that happens? Do you see foresee in the next three, or five years where today, most doctors get their one hour of nutrition? And I think that that's certainly changing with younger individuals going to school and being more aware of the concept of food as medicine, but it certainly hadn't been in the conversation. So at what point does foresee things starting to change and utilizing the Farmacy with an F as a means to heal and write a prescription for, you gotta get your eight cups of broccoli or whatever it may be?

    Amy Sapola 20:15
    I hope that we'll see the pace pick up in the next few years, there are a lot of exciting projects going on around the country. Certainly, veggie prescriptions becoming more popular, and more and more places are utilizing that sort of concept. Regenerative agriculture is becoming more popular, which I think is also really important. And I think hospitals are starting to at least have a little bit of internal dialogue about culinary medicine, food as medicine. I've been talking with a couple of different hospitals, about how they're starting to have some cooking classes and stuff. I haven't seen that apply, though, and what they're serving patients. And there's still a really big gap there. So I hope that in the next 10 years or less, that changes. Because I think to be able to teach and model for patients what we're recommending, we have to start internally at the hospitals, at the health care clinics. The food that we're serving, the food that we're serving in the cafeterias that we're serving people in the hospital, is far from what most people would recommend. So, support health and healing and also look at the sourcing of that food. We're still a ways off, but I'm optimistic at kind of what I'm seeing as far as interest. There's a lot more interest on the healthcare provider side. We're teaching a course here actually, on culinary medicine in the coming weeks. We had great interest. We have Chef Dr. Mike coming in from Montana. And we have Chef Seth coming from the East Coast. And we're teaching at the Culinary Vegetable Institute. It's neat that healthcare providers from all over the country are coming in for this and then they go back to their hometowns, their areas of expertise, and can hopefully kind of spread some of that interest.

    Elizabeth Stein 22:15
    Yeah, it's amazing. It’s just gonna start increasing that interest more and more. One of the things that I think about and I'm very curious to hear from you, as you have worked with clients in the past, is you can hear vegetables are great, and you should be incorporating 10 servings a day or whatever it is. There could be several issues, but they don't know how to make it right. They don't think it tastes good, whatever the reason for resistance is, the accessibility to it. So what are some of those tips that you like to give to people to start to incorporate more veggies in their diet?

    Amy Sapola 22:55
    Yes, this is the one where often people have childhood trauma of like, “I hate Brussels sprouts.” first say give it another try and don't make it the way your mom made it or whoever that you hated it. But I think Brussels sprouts are a really good example of a vegetable that recently came more in vogue with being able to roast them and adding maybe some bacon or maple syrup or whatever to bring out the flavor. Looking at seasonal eating I think can be important for this when you're thinking about vegetables and trying to get in more vegetables, how do you make it enjoyable? How do you find the vegetables that are going to taste amazing? Right now tomatoes are so good and tomatoes are fruits technically. But how do you find what is seasonal and enjoy that at the moment? And there's a lot to be said for the nutrient density of vegetables when they're ripe and in season and also the taste. So find things you like but also to my earlier point, maybe give some vegetables another try and look at how they're farmed. One of the things we say here is our vegetables taste like vegetables used to taste because of how vegetables are selected for supermarkets. It's often what's most durable, what can ship long distances, and what can stay on a store shelf. So thinking about some of the unique varieties maybe at your local farmers market, what are some flavorful varieties, and use all of your senses. So, look at it. Is it colorful? That's a good sign if the color is vibrant. Smell the vegetable. Does it smell good? That's again phytonutrients. Color tastes and smells are the phytonutrients of the vegetable. And don't get overcomplicated. I often see people want to make this elaborate spread or all of a sudden start cooking a new recipe every day. That might be a little too ambitious. Simply cutting up some vegetables on Sunday and having them kind of meal prep for the week and just being able to incorporate them into what you're making already can be an easy place to start. I also love microgreens. Because gram for gram, they're more nutrient-dense than their full-grown counterparts. If you do like micro broccoli versus full-grown broccoli, they're generally more nutrient dense. So sprinkling broccoli sprouts on your salad or putting them in a sandwich is just a really easy way to get in more vegetables. And again, thinking of nutrient density, I like to focus on nutrient density versus calorie density. Instead of focusing on calories or macros, just looking at overall nutrient density can go a long way.

    Elizabeth Stein 25:48
    On that note, can you talk a little bit about nutrient density and taste? Because I think that I love how you guys are focused on your farming practices, creating more nutrient density, which is then creating a better taste profile.

    Amy Sapola 26:00
    Yes, exactly. When we talk about nutrient density, that's often a result of multiple things. So it can be because of phytonutrients. Phytonutrients are essentially like the immune system of the plant. Phytonutrients are visible to us in the color, taste, and smell of the plant. If you think of essential oils, those are a phytonutrient, they are essentially a compound that the plant is making. That fragrant compound is the phytonutrients. Think of chlorophyll, the green color of plants, which is a phytonutrient. Beta carotene, carrots, orange color, that is the phytonutrient. So when I talk about phytonutrients, there's this big, huge 25,000+ category of compounds in vegetables. One thing I would say in fruits and other foods, especially as the pharmacist, is there is this innate wisdom. And that's often overlooked. We think we can just supplement our way out of whatever deficiency. But having the nutrients in kind of the complete package of the whole food makes a really big difference in how we're able to absorb it and assimilate it within our bodies. I think it's important not to feel like oh, it doesn't matter. I can just supplement all of these different nutrients. When they looked at antioxidants, for example, they did not see the same benefits from antioxidants taken as a supplement singularly versus taken as a whole food. And it makes sense. If you think, every vegetable or fruit has 1000s of phytonutrients in it. So oftentimes to think that that one phytonutrients that we've been able to isolate is the one thing that has all of the effect is probably a little too simplistic.

    Elizabeth Stein 27:58
    So the fact that there are so many different phytonutrients, as you started to talk about earlier, eating the rainbow, why is that so important so we can get that variety? Why is that variety and diversity important for our gut and our overall health?

    Amy Sapola 28:16
    Yeah. First, I think it's just the joy of eating. Oftentimes, we have a strange relationship. I can say that personally, a strange relationship with food. And so when you think about bringing joy back into the eating experience, how do you begin to enjoy bringing all of the senses to what you're eating and being mindful in that moment? even the simple act of mindful eating, changes how we digest food, you're able to secrete more enzymes in your mouth, which help start the process of digestion. But we know that when you're in a stressed sympathetic state essentially, where you're in that fight or flight mode, even if it's simply just thinking about work or thinking about the traffic you were in earlier, and you're eating, that takes blood flow away from the digestive tract and changes your glucose, how your blood glucose is handled by the body. Being able to shift into a more parasympathetic state, which is the rest and digest. Just taking three deep breaths, noticing the color and the fragrance of the food, noticing the temperature of the food, and then having that diversity. I think the color is creativity. It's really fun to think about how do I bring those colors into our meal and make it creative and visually beautiful without making it overcomplicated. So again, simply meal prepping some vegetables ahead of time, trying to think about how can I add red to this. Or how can I add purple? Purple is one of the hardest categories to find vegetables and fruits from typically. We know that 1 in 10 Americans aren’t getting enough purple in their diet.

    Elizabeth Stein 29:59
    What's your favorite purple veggie or fruit?

    Amy Sapola 30:00
    Yeah, blueberries are the go-to. Mulberries are my super favorite, but they're a little rare. Now we have Eggplant. Eggplant has that beautiful, dark purple skin. I think it's beautiful. We also grow purple cauliflower. And I love cauliflower with purple asparagus in the spring. So it depends on the season, but you can almost always find a purple vegetable. You just have to kind of look a little bit. But purple is anthocyanins. And those are great for brain health. So again, each of the colors represents different benefits to the body. If you think even of even ayurvedic medicine, and you think about fall, and eating with the seasons, in the fall, we often think of a lot of orange vegetables. Orange is high and beta carotene and beta carotene is converted

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