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Natural Awakenings Fairfield & Southern Litchfield Counties

The Institute of Sustainable Nutrition (TIOSN): Community Spotlight

Jul 02, 2014 01:09AM ● By Nicole Miale

Joan Palmer, founder and director of the Institute of Sustainable Nutrition, first moved to New England from California when she was 16 and still identifies with those formative seasons of year-round access to fresh fruits and vegetables. “Even after all this time, I still hear, ‘you’re not from around here, are you?’,” she says. As a teen, Palmer knew she needed and wanted to live close to nature; she had plants inside and a garden outside from as far back as she can remember. “Who we are and what we’re passionate about usually comes to us in small bits,” Palmer says. “That’s how it has been for me. The growing of plants, the ritual of food and sharing of food has always been instrumental in my life. That’s what I want to share now at the Institute.”

The Institute of Sustainable Nutrition, housed at Holcomb Farm in West Granby, Connecticut, is the educational program Palmer was hoping to find when she was going to school. It didn’t exist then. Palmer launched TIOSN after working as a certified high school teacher for many years, obtaining a master’s degree in nutrition, and gaining experience teaching an Art and Science of Eating module to graduate students at The Graduate Institute (TGI) in Bethany, Connecticut, and with interns at her home. “All the experiences I had gave me the confidence to trust my intuition,” she explains. “I knew this school was needed because so many of us wanted it. I met all these TGI colleagues who wanted it too, so what was I waiting for?”

The institute offers a one-year certification program in sustainable health and nutrition. The first TIOSN class is about to graduate after beginning in September 2013 with 15 students. The size of the farm’s kitchen limits the size of classes for now, making the experience a personal and impactful one. “There is a real sense of community and intimacy that would be hard to replicate if the school grows too large,” Palmer muses. The format of the program is highly interactive and involves everything from the science of  the human body and  the soil, to tending a backyard beehive, to preparing meals with classmates and instructors, making kitchen medicine from plants and herbs grown at the farm and tended by students, and foraging. “You don’t teach about nutrition without teaching about plants and soil,” Palmer says. “Where the food comes from is often overlooked, but is critical to understanding what happens next in the body.” 

To cover its diverse curriculum, TIOSN has four expert instructors present for all classes, which take place one weekend a month. This holistic teaching model provides students with a more cohesive and comprehensive experience. In addition to Palmer, instructors include Terry Walters, the author of Clean Food and Clean Start cookbooks, Alison Birks, MS, AHG, CNS, a nutritionist and herbal medicine expert, and Nigel Palmer, a soil, bee-keeping, and outdoor expert.
“We are including classwork along with the hands-on components of fieldwork, time creating in the kitchen, and practices to take home and incorporate into daily life,” Palmer explains. “We are teaching about the science of nutrition, and also about food on a deep and fundamental level.”

It is Palmer’s intention that this program will empower people with the information and tools they need to bring more awareness to their food and life practices.
“Not that everyone needs to be a gardener or forager,” she says, “but there is great freedom and empowerment in understanding our health and the world around us that these practices offer.”


For more information, call 860-764-9070 or visit TIOSN is now accepting applications for the 2014/2015 certification program.


Nicole Miale is the Publisher and Managing Editor of Natural Awakenings Fairfield County and a former student of Joan Palmer’s while a colleague at The Graduate Institute.