The Institute of Sustainable Nutrition (TIOSN) at Holcomb Farm in West Granby is a haven of knowledge where, over the course of one year and 12 weekends, attendees can receive certification in Sustainable Health and Nutrition. The process involves gaining understanding and hands-on experience as to how food and herbs can help sustain health.

Joan Palmer, founder of TIOSN, is passionate about what she terms “The Art of Knowing,” explaining, “We’ve become so wrapped up in applying labels to ourselves, such as Paleo or Vegan, with strict rules around those labels, that we’ve stopped listening to what our bodies are asking for. We’ve lost sight of the health benefits and pleasures that exist in the food we eat. The main things we need to understand are: what real food is; what is the most sustainable, nutrient rich source for food; and what does my body want today, without any labels.”

Palmer has been growing and using herbs and extolling the benefits of kitchen medicine since the 1990s. She has a master’s degree in Human Nutrition, a certification in herbology and teaches the Art and Science of Eating as part of an accredited master’s degree program at The Graduate Institute.

Over the course of the 12 weekends, TIOSN’s staff offers four categories of instruction:
the science of food and nutrition, sustainable gardening, culinary skills and kitchen medicine.
In these classes, students plant, cook, ferment, forage, blend teas, grow, learn and
build community.

Science of Food and Nutrition

Throughout the year, students learn key concepts of functional medicine from Science Director Alison Birks. Concepts such as the role of nutrients in human health, the microbiome and strategies for healing the gut, inflammation as an underlying cause of chronic disease, the role of adrenal stress, food sensitivities and the elimination diet.

According to NPR, Western diets and modern-day hygiene have wiped dozens of species of bacteria from our digestive tracts. Without these, there are higher incidences of chronic illnesses connected to the immune system. TIOSN presents the latest research on the microbiome and how eating fermented foods is one of the foundations of health. Recently, Sandor Katz, the rock star of fermentation, presented a workshop at TIOSN to teach attendees how to prepare fermented delicacies teeming with beneficial bacteria.

“Fermented foods are one of the most important ways to reestablish bacteria in the gut that has been depleted from stress, antibiotics and chemicals,” notes Palmer.

Sustainable Gardening

“Soil is the foundation of nutrition. Because the majority of our soils are depleted, it’s important to find sustainable ways to remineralize them,” commented Palmer.

At TIOSN, students learn to remineralize gardens by making homemade amendments, including local rock dusts, fermentations, vinegar extractions and biologically-active and mineral-rich soil. The soil and amendments are tested and evaluated to understand changes. Students begin to understand the complexities of soil health and how it is intricately connected to our health.

“Our soil and outdoor consultant, Nigel, is a knowledgeable and enthusiastic teacher,” says Palmer. “As part of his teaching, he discusses the seasonal changes occurring around us in relation to the planets, bees, chickens and birds in our backyards.”

Kitchen Medicine

TIOSN strongly advocates the benefits of kitchen medicine. The course teaches students how to prepare simple, traditional remedies using cultivated and foraged foods and herbs to enhance health and prevent illness.

“We are frequently out gathering nettles, dandelion and other nutrient-rich ‘weeds’ to use in our culinary class and kitchen medicines,” states Palmer. “Students learn to stop the pain and swelling of a bee sting with local weeds, collect mullein flowers to treat earaches and cook immune-enhancing soups with wild and cultivated foods and herbs. We even instruct on how to formulate body care and cleaning products for the home using the same sources.”

During the year, TIOSN hosts a variety of events that are open to the public, including sought-after guest speakers, hands-on classes and open house evenings. TIOSN is also hosting its first 10-month certificate program called “Remembering Our Roots Herbal Intensive.”

From the classroom, to the kitchen, to the garden, to the woods, TIOSN is reshaping the way nutrition is taught and is preparing graduates of the program to go out into the community and spread the word of sustainable nutrition.

Now entering its third year, TIOSN is currently accepting students for the 2015-16 course, which begins in September.

The Institute of Sustainable Nutrition, 113 Simsbury Rd, West Granby. For information, contact 860-764-9070 or