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Natural Awakenings Coastal Carolinas

Ashley Walsh: From Personal Health Crisis to Organic Farming

Mar 29, 2024 09:29AM ● By Carrie Jackson
Ashley Walsh-PoconoOrganics

Ashley Walsh-PoconoOrganics

As the founder of Pocono Organics, one of the largest Regenerative Organic Certified vegetable farms in North America, Ashley Walsh understands that the way food is grown can determine its nutritional properties and significantly impact the environment. Her own journey from illness to wellness led her to organic foods and responsible farming practices. It is a remarkable story of triumph over adversity and can inspire others on the path to lifelong well-being.

In her late 20s, Walsh was diagnosed with gastroparesis, a devastating condition that involves the partial paralysis of the stomach, making every meal a painful prospect. “I couldn’t digest most fruits, vegetables or meat, and was in excruciating pain with vomiting and nausea, which led to malnutrition,” she recalls.

Desperate for help, Walsh exhausted every treatment Western medicine had to offer. “I cycled through medications without relief and even tried Botox. When my doctors recommended feeding tubes and cutting out parts of my stomach, I turned to functional medicine,” she explains. “After experimenting with juicing and smoothies, I was finally able to get nutrients and nourishment from real food. This led to a broader detox. I cut out processed food, additives and dyes and introduced plant-based supplements and non-toxic personal care items.”

The more Walsh moved toward an organic diet and lifestyle, the better she felt. “I started seeing undeniable results and went from feeling sick five days a week to having symptoms only five days a month. My whole life, I’d eaten low-quality food like corn chips, cheese sandwiches and pizza, not realizing what I was putting in my body,” she muses.

While she transitioned to a healthier lifestyle, Walsh was assistant director at Fox Sports, a job that required constant travel, and finding the healthy ingredients she needed was difficult. “I was frustrated that the supply did not meet the demand for nutritious, whole food. At the same time, I wanted to share my passion for using food as medicine, and it was in the back of my mind to start a small community farm for a while,” she recalls.

At a 2015 impact investing conference, Walsh learned how a business could help people and the planet, while still making a profit. “This truly resonated with me, and the seed was planted,” she explains. “I leased a 50-acre parcel of land from the family business and called Rodale Institute, the leader in organic and regenerative farming practices, for consultation.”

Pocono Organics opened its gates to the public in 2019 and has flourished ever since. The 380-acre farm hosts tours, community events, cooking classes, an organic market and a café. It is a global center for research and discovery, as well as an agritourism destination for guest retreats. “Pocono Organics creates moments and experiences that inspire change and transform lives through wellness, health, food diversity and sustainability,” Walsh asserts. “We give people emotional souvenirs through experiences where they can taste and touch real foods and learn why things like soil health are important. Guests develop a connection with nature and see where their food comes from.”

Walsh hopes to instill preventative wellness and lifelong healthy habits to a younger generation. “We have a program called Clean Food, Dirty Hands, which teaches kids to plant, harvest and cook in a healthy way. From an early age, they’re out in the fields eating raw broccoli and cauliflower! They can still have their favorite foods, but they learn to add squash to the macaroni and cheese and end up liking it better. These habits stay with them their whole lives,” she says.

More than anything, Walsh wants people to be mindful of the impact their food choices have. “Every day you have at least three opportunities to make a difference in how you nourish yourself,” she says. “The more we can get food from farms and not factories, the better we can live and work in harmony with nature. Food truly is medicine, and making an investment in your health helps the planet, and therefore other people, too.”

Carrie Jackson is a Chicago-based freelance writer and frequent contributor to Natural Awakenings. Connect at CarrieJacksonWrites.com.

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