Jacqueline Maisonpierre’s way of life is centered on living simply. She wakes up at dawn in the summer, tends to the harvest, eats seasonally and lets her body rest in the winter. As the Farm Director at New Haven Farms, she is responsible for producing food for the CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) Farm Shares and leading the Farm-Based Wellness Program where she supports families with diet-related diseases living in the greater New Haven community.
We’re glad to partner with her, whose mission, similar to ours, is to bring people together for better health. You might have met her while picking up your own share of local organic produce at mActivity this summer. She describes her work as hard but not complicated—a refreshing admission in a world where the word “wellness” itself can feel pressure-packed. I sat down with Jacqueline to learn more about how her work and her life inform her perspective on living well. Let’s get down to earth with Jacqueline, shall we?
Stephanie: Let’s begin with how you got into farming. Did you always know it was what you wanted to do?
Jacqueline: I never decided outright I would become a farmer. I studied environmental science at the University of Vermont and whether you’re into farming or not, the culture and the local food movement is very present there. I was so steeped in all of it, yet didn’t have any involvement in farms until I took a semester off in college and WWOOFed [cultural exchange program for sustainable agriculture] in Ecuador. At first it was a way to travel cheaply, but it ended up as an experience that turned me onto farming. The first farmer that I ever worked for professionally was a 75-year-old man. He was in just absolute awe of his job. I would find him in the greenhouse cheering, “this is incredible!” just watching plants grow. That’s when I thought, ‘if I can be 75 and still in awe of my job every day, sign me up.’ After a stint of working on a farm in Maine, I have found my home at New Haven Farms. I make the crop plan, I manage all of the seedlings in the greenhouse, I harvest, I plant, I weed, I coordinate. The best part is leading the farm-based wellness program where I teach gardening and meditation.
Stephanie: Gardening and meditation, sounds idyllic. What is the wellness program all about?
Jacqueline: The New Haven Farms Farm-Based Wellness Program is led by a social mission to support healthier families through the food that they grow. The families who have been referred to us by their primary healthcare provider have a range of diet-related diseases. We follow the CDC (Center for Disease Control) diabetes prevention program, and have tailored it to include nutrition education and cooking. With about 25 families per night, two nights a week in the summer, we garden for a half hour, meditate for five minutes, and then an hour and a half of cooking and nutrition class. Our families take home a share of organic produce each week, and recipes as to incorporate the weeks vegetables into their family meals.
Stephanie: How and why do you incorporate meditation into the program?
Jacqueline: Many of our clients are Hispanic women who always put their family first. We support these women by teaching them tools for better mental health, like meditation. I look forward to this time that we get together to reset our brains. I ask everyone to close their eyes. Start deepening their breath and do a body scan—I ask them to notice their thoughts, where they are holding tension and to try to bring energy back inward through breath and quiet. It really settles us as a group, and washes away the shit everyone has been dealing with. And it’s free. You need nothing but the motivation to make time. We all have to learn to care for ourselves before we can properly care for others.
Stephanie: On that note, describe a farmer’s wellness routine.
Jacqueline: The first thing that comes to mind is that I am an avid sleeper. In the summer my body is attuned to wake up with the sun. I am at the farm by 6 a.m. two days a week, and 7:30 a.m. the other days. But when 8 o’clock p.m. rolls around, I am getting ready for bed. Get up early in the summer, sleep in in the winter. It’s what our bodies are supposed to do.
When it comes to nutrition, I say everything in moderation, including moderation. Eating well is a huge benefit of being a farmer. I have amazing access to fresh vegetables, so I have no excuse but to ask myself, “how many fruits and vegetables have I had today?” In the winter I eat a lot of kale, citrus, carrots, things that grow abundantly. I was a vegetarian for 10 years, but was really a cheese & pasta-tarian so I needed to abandon that. I do eat meat now, but pretty sparingly, and I like knowing where the meat is coming from.
I have never been very athletic. I was always the slowest on sports teams and resentful about it until college when I was going through a hard time and I started running. It gave me such an emotional release, I felt powerful. Now I love running. I love its simplicity. I love that all you need is a pair of shoes. It is really meditative for me, and cheap therapy.
Stephanie: As a meditation teacher, what advice do you have on mindfulness?
Jacqueline: No one is Buddha. I struggle with anxiety and depression. Everyone struggles in some way, so it’s important to find a practice or discipline to come back to. For me, as extroverted and social as I am, I need solo time. I take a run in the woods. Sit outside. Grow flowers at home—I’m a big Dahlia grower. Dahlia’s actually made me fall in love with farming. I love growing and arranging flowers, it's my creative outlet. You just have to prioritize you, and that’s the hardest part. Doing things you love and getting real about examining your own habits will cultivate self-awareness and help you get better. When it comes to food mindfulness, well, maybe I’m biased, but it’s really simple to start by asking yourself, “did I eat enough fruits and vegetables today?”
Stephanie: I’m for sure going to start doing that. How can our community get involved in New Haven Farms?
Jacqueline: We still have space for 20 weeks of full and half CSA farm shares of organic produce. Sign up for CSA farm shares on our website, and the first share will be available in June. Come to New Haven Farms each week for pick up through October or at mActivity in East Rock on Wednesday evenings.
The #mActivityPeople interview series focuses on the mindful lives and health routines of mActivity’s inspiring community. Submit your own on Instagram—post your mindful mActivity (tag us @mactivitynh!) and include the hashtag #mActivityPeople for a chance to be featured on our blog.