Elaine Boland of Fields of Athenry Farm near Purcellville, Virginia, is a mom on a mission to heal chronic illness with nourishing broth.
Her passion comes from knowing broth played a major role in restoring the health of her daughter Bernadette, who was diagnosed with Cushing Disease in 2008. Once she understood the profound connection between food and health, the mother of five daughters committed to two things: to produce the finest quality meats, eggs and dairy on her farm, and to cook the tastiest and most nourishing foods and broths possible in her kitchen.
She succeeded spectacularly on both counts. “Today Miss Bernadette is 18, heading to college, riding horses, working as a nanny and loving life,” reports the proud mom. And on April 20, Elaine was surprised and honored to win the Golden Plow Award at the 2015 Women Chefs and Restaurateurs’ conference in New York City. The Women Who Inspire gala was hosted by Gail Simmons of Top Chef and Carla Hall of The Chew.
The Golden Plow Award recognizes “excellence in growing or producing from nature’s bounty and honoring a woman whose skill in farming or making artisanal products results in food that graces our plates while respecting the environment.”
While there are many talented broth makers cooking today, few dare to include organ meats in their ingredients. Elaine does, and it’s a key reason that her Bernadette’s Broth has proven so healing for so many. Getting it perfect took several years of trial and error. A high priority was to make it taste really good so her daughter Bernadette would want to drink it — a major challenge as any mom knows who has ever tried to sneak liver into her children’s foods.
“If it was nasty, even one time, it would be game over,” Elaine said. And “game over” was not an option for a mom determined to find a way to nourish and support Bernadette’s failing organs.
The idea of healing through organ meats and broth came from chiropractors Pete and Lolin Hilgartner. “Pete said to me ‘Elaine, you have a farm and you have the organ meats. . . He went on and on, trying to explain to me how these foods could help nourish Bernadette’s failing organs. He told me food could be her best medicine. No doctor had ever explained this so clearly to me before.”
Elaine found much the same message in the book Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon Morell, which her friend Tara Rayburn, the Healthy Habit Coach, had slapped down on her kitchen table along with a challenge to read the first 37 pages.
“When my mom first got into this with the broth and essential oils we thought she was a witch doctor,” says daughter MaryTeresa, who now serves as her mom’s business partner. “We saw the chicken feet and said, ‘No way would we eat this.’ But eat the broth we did. In time, we realized we were all benefiting from the many changes she was making. And then we knew she was not crazy.”
“Tara Rayburn pushed my mom to to make a product that would make people feel the best they have ever felt,” says Bernadette. “She’s the woman who introduced my mom to the Weston A. Price Foundation and to essential oils, both of which help in healing in ways that I cannot even begin to explain. She introduced me and my mom to Drs. Pete and Lolin who have helped me heal and stay healthy since my surgery in 2008. . . I owe my life to these people.” To read Bernadette’s story in her own words, click here.
Bernadette’s health was clearly failing by the time she was seven years old, but it took many years to get an accurate diagnosis. Doctors — including top endocrinologists and specialists from the National Institutes of Health — assumed Bernadette’s weight gain and shortened stature were the result of poor nutrition and lack of exercise. In fact, Elaine came from a family of Olympic swimmers and a tradition of home cooking, and knew plenty about diet, exercise, health and high performance. Her maternal side of the family furthermore had a history going from one generation to the next of pituitary tumors, thyroid disorders and carcinoid cancers. Like many women in the late 1940s and 1950s, Elaine’s mother had been prescribed the drug DES (diethylstilbestrol) during her pregnancies to prevent miscarriage and premature labor. Rather than consider this inherited source of endocrine disruption, however, one of Bernadette’s doctors went so far as to blame her hormonal imbalances on accidental consumption of birth control pills despite the family’s word that “the pill” had never entered their home.
After years of seeing Bernadette subjected to endless poking, prodding, scanning, X raying and lab testing, the family got the correct diagnosis from a retired endocrinologist in Arizona, who took one look at Bernadette and recognized the clinical signs of Cushing’s disease.
In 2008, the expected pituitary tumor was found and successfully removed during a four-hour surgery. Although the tumor was less than an inch in size, it had caused Bernadette’s body to produce more than 758 mg of cortisol per day, as compared to normal levels of 15 to 29 mg. Despite the successful surgery, all was not well; Bernadette’s cortisol dipped to zero, and her adrenals and pituitary came close to shutting down. At that point she needed all the help she could get. While the family employed many healing modalities, they give primary credit to broth.
Over the years, Elaine has been scaling her operations up gradually, from cooking for her family of seven to selling at the Fields of Athenry Farm Store, to providing broth to a few select restaurants, ones that are genuinely committed to the locavorism and not just giving it lip service. With her daughter MaryTeresa as business partner, Fields of Athenry Farms is now handling mail order sales all over the country. To learn more and order, click here. With demand increasing, there’s sometimes a backlog of orders, but the Bolands will not rush, skimp on or compromise the quality of their products in any way. It’s all still done by hand and deliveries arrive with a handwritten note in the box.
Since winning the Golden Plow Award last month, Elaine and MaryTeresa Boland are fielding offers to go big time with their business. While they are honored by the new-found celebrity status, their focus remains on producing deeply nourishing products on a small scale and helping others on their healing journeys.
“People come to the farm at a loss and we’ve been given the gift of being able to help,” Elaine says. “We are proud and humbled to now be in the Women Chefs and Restaurateurs family. The award reopened our eyes to the importance of why we do what we do.”