America is a rich and diverse collection of states, with unique foods, lifestyles, and pedigrees of culinary tradition. Our mission at Cooking Light is to empower people to cook for good health by embracing their local heritage and celebrate what makes their part of America truly unique and healthy. The United States of Healthy highlights the ways that each state contributes to our country’s health and is helping develop #thenewhealthy. Make sure to follow us on Instagram this month to see the best of healthy America.
"Almost all Alabamians who have a connection to 'the country' have memories of picking wild blackberries as children; those experiences define our summers, and I certainly remember being a harvester, with my hard work resulting in the best blackberry cobblers and blackberry jam that my mother and her mother, Grandmother White, made with love. I specifically remember picking the blackberries along the fence lines of my grandparents' farm in Cullman County, with cousins, aunts, and uncles before a July Fourth reunion. The cobbler was made in a huge wash tub—and my Aunt Rosa Fay and I competed for the last few spoonfuls. In Alabama, you-pick blackberries are a great way for families to spend an early morning. Long sleeves and long pants are good ideas, and the little bit of June and July sweat is worth it when you feast on that blackberry cobbler. Those foraged blackberries are free and the perfect healthy snack, full of vitamins, antioxidants, and fiber." – Chef Frank Stitt, James Beard Award-winning chef and owner of Highlands Bar & Grill, Chez Fonfon, and Bottega in Birmingham
Auburn and Opelika
What is it about college towns that attracts healthy attitudes? The Auburn-Opelika metropolitan region of Alabama is known for its youth-friendly selection of vegetarian-friendly restaurants and plentiful opportunities for athletics, even for non-collegians—like the 26 miles of mountain-bike-friendly multi-use trails in Chewacla State Park, several golf courses, the Kreher Preserve and Nature Center, and Kiesel and Hickory Dickory parks. It's like you can't help but get fit.
The University of Alabama at Birmingham Minority Health & Health Disparities Research Center
It's no secret that minority groups in the U.S. suffer from a disproportionate number of health problems, that they're particularly susceptible to various genetic diseases that the general populace isn't, and that all of the above gets even worse when you throw in lack of means and access to health care. The Minority Health & Health Disparities Center's role is to level the playing field, addressing the disadvantages minorities have to deal with for their wellness issues. In both the cities and rural areas of Alabama, the MHRC has held health screenings to help doctors treat diseases early; instituted and run programs for schoolchildren to remain physically active and be fed well; and founded walking clubs around the state to keep minority Alabamians of all ages on the move—and to keep their weight and blood pressure down. The group is so well-regarded it could even call upon the late Maya Angelou to help spread the word both inside Alabama and throughout the country.
"There are many different facets to the importance of salmon in Alaska: Commercial fishermen make a living, sports fishermen and tourists visit from all over the world looking to catch a King, and all over the state subsistence farming takes places where friends and family gather to celebrate catching fish to eat for the summer and to smoke, jar, and can for the winter. As a chef, Alaska salmon is the start of the state—people visit from all over to taste our wild salmon. But as an Alaska native, a Tlingit, I'm always conscious of how indigenous people all depended on the high-protein source, rich in omega-3 fatty acids and trace minerals, to get them through long winters and the trying climate. These days, of course, we eat it for pleasure. The most exciting movement I've been seeing lately with salmon is people trying to use all of it, making bone broths and using the trim or spoon meat. There's even a company in southeast Alaska using the skin to make wallets!" – Rob Kinneen, chef and co-founder of Fresh49
Alaska already has a leg up on the rest of the country in that it's regarded as the best-exercising state in the nation. (It also ranks dead last in incidence of diabetes and levels of stress.) But its capital, Juneau, takes pride of place in an already healthy state with its ultra-clean water, strong healthcare infrastructure, and abundance of recreational areas and trails. Other factors naturally also play a role, including being relatively smoke-free and having a reliable safety net of high employment, family and community support, as well as high levels of personal safety.
Heather Kelly, river-raft guide, nutrition lecturer, and entrepreneur
This Bird Creek native turned a rafting-guide trip down the Colorado River into the business of a lifetime, when she took the recipes she'd devised for lightweight but nutritious meals for her rafting group and translated them into retail form. Now she's back home in Alaska as a backcountry-food guru, selling dehydrated outdoor-adventure meals that appeal to the gluten-intolerant, people on a Paleo diet, allergy sufferers, and anyone else who wants a nutrient-dense meal that's low on waste (the packaging is compostable and burns cleanly and safely in a campfire). Of course, the meals are made from quality, healthy ingredients like smoked, wild-caught Alaskan salmon.
"Though, because of the climate, anything we grow here is celebrated, the cantaloupe is one thing that the farmers have perfected growing here, and they're tasty as can be. I think the sun has something to do with that. Other places, when you get a cantaloupe, it's kind of hard with zero flavor and a lot of water. In Arizona, they can be a little hard and still be really sweet, and it's awesome. Personally, I'm Italian, so of course I eat my melon with prosciutto, but sometimes I'll just cut an Arizona cantaloupe and put a little olive oil and sea salt on it, and it's great just that way. I truly believe the climate here condenses and concentrates that flavor—our melons are much sweeter, and when they're ripe, they're so good that I can't even explain it to you without drooling. When they're at their peak? They're amazing." – Gio Osso, James Beard-nominated chef and owner of Virtù, in Old Town Scottsdale, and Nico Heirloom Kitchen, in Gilbert
Though the mere mention of its name brings up visions of parched deserts and cacti for most of America, Tucson is one of the United States' unsung food treasures, giving more well-known culinary metropolises a run for their money—it was even recently named the country's first Unesco Capital of Gastronomy. You can credit the city's long history as a cradle of Southwestern agriculture and culinary crossovers from prehistory to the 21st century (O'odham, Spanish, Mexican, Chinese, and Anglo-American!). But you should also be sure to applaud its significant community food initiatives for the hungry and underserved, its status as the base of a seed bank and urban-gardening projects dedicated to preserving and celebrating local flora and farming heritage, and a ubiquitous bent toward sustainable and environmentally respectful growing that's healthy both for the land and for Tucsonans.
Andrew Weil, M.D., holistic-health spokesman
Harvard M.D.-turned-holistic guru Andrew Weil helped make the American public take integrative medicine seriously as a new approach to healthcare that leads to the long-term wellness of the patient as opposed to simply concentrating on the illness or injury of the moment. He also has lent respectability to alternative therapies and emphasized the importance of addressing patients' emotional and spiritual wellbeing as equally important to coming up with strategies for their physical healing. He founded the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine, now in its 32nd year, as well as writing a series of books on the subject, including his latest, 2015's Fast Food, Good Food: More Than 150 Quick and Easy Ways to Put Healthy, Delicious Food on the Table.
"A lot of people hear 'Arkansas' and they think chickens or rice automatically, but edamame puts Arkansas at the cutting edge of sustainable agriculture—our production chain is essentially zero waste. And it's on trend these days because of the good nutrition profile as a protein source with a low glycemic index. But what really makes it taste so good is its neutral nutty flavor—it does taste better here, because the soil's very rich and the water's very clean in Arkansas, and our farmers keep that sweetness and flavor in every bean." – Ray Chung, president and CEO of Greenwave and American Vegetable Soybean and Edamame Inc., America's largest domestic producer of edamame, and supplier of the edamame in every Whole Foods in the country
Considered the healthiest county in the entire state of Arkansas because of its residents' devotion to fitness, good eating, and avoidance of tobacco, Benton County can also boast of the fact that its people enjoy longevity, excellent quality of life, and easy access to medical care. Exercise-loving Bentonites can spend much of their free time in the beautiful outdoors, thanks to some of the most picturesque and easily accessible bike paths and hiking trails in northwest Arkansas. If they're the type to get lonely exercising outside, the outdoor sculptures of the Crystal Bridges Museum of Art are there to keep them company along 120 acres of multi-use outdoor space. The even more ambitious can try tackling the 36-mile Razorback Greenway, which starts in Bentonville.
Andrea Ridgway, chairwoman of the Arkansas Coalition for Obesity Prevention
A registered dietician who educated Arkansans about diabetes and other dangers of unhealthy eating habits, Andrea Ridgway helped the state legislature craft Act 1220, which made reducing childhood obesity a priority in schools, educating kids at the ages when it counts the most. She later took her public-health experience and used it to cofound the Arkansas Coalition for Obesity Prevention. That group's goal is for Arkansans to exercise more, ensure access for themselves to healthy foods, and to encourage changes in the laws and in the environment that make it easier for people to keep themselves healthy—ArCOP has since made its presence known in some 50 cities and towns throughout the state. Though her tenure as the chairwoman of ArCOP recently ended, Ridgway has earned a title as a healthy influencer through her decades of work making Arkansas a healthier place to live.
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"Growing up in California, it was not unusual for our family to sit around the table and enjoy a few big globe artichokes for dinner, maybe with some grilled chicken or fish. I recall as a kid enjoying the sort of primitive nature of being allowed to scrape the meat of the large outer leaves on our teeth; it seemed like a celebration already: 'Wow! We get to eat with our hands?!'
"The warm fava bean and artichoke salad we served each spring at Bizou is a personal favorite of mine, garnished with nasturtiums and a generous shaving of peppered pecorino. We used baby artichokes trimmed of their thorny leaf tips and long stems, parcooked until just tender. I love cooking with artichokes because they are so rich and satisfying, the hearts so meaty. They can easily be a substitute for a fatty animal protein at the table. Now I know that in addition to being delicious, artichokes are low in fat and cholesterol, high in niacin, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, and a great source of fiber, vitamins C and K. They are such a perfect food because they are satisfying on their own, rich and hearty, and the big hearts do like to be stuffed, maybe with mushroom duxelles or crabmeat … classic and wonderful." – Loretta Keller chef and owner of Seaglass, in San Francisco
San Luis Obispo
With its postcard-perfect perch on the Central Coast of California, this old mission town-turned-tourist town already has a lot going for it, but like the prom queen who's also the valedictorian, it earns our kudos as California's healthiest place. It has a plethora of vegetarian and veg-friendly restaurant options, unparalleled access to the freshest, arguably best produce in the country (the SLO Farmers Market even has a bike valet!), and a population that treats healthy living like a religion. Not convinced? Take advantage of the city's opportunities for golfing, fishing, swimming, biking, kayaking, hiking, or surfing, and then get back to us.
Hans Diehl, clinical professor of preventative medicine at Loma Linda University and founder of the CHIP program
When German-born Hans Diehl moved to California in the early 1970s, he probably didn't expect to find a new path for his life there. Within a few years of moving to Loma Linda, Diehl became an advocate of a high-fiber, plant-based diet, a belief that became the core of his CHIP program, whose aim is to alleviate people's lifestyle-based health issues—high cholesterol, hypertension, high blood sugar, obesity—before they start. CHIP (short for Complete Health Improvement Program) helps clients pursue a multi-pronged strategy of commonsense measures like making better eating choices, exercising every day, seeking and providing emotional support, and reducing stress. Diehl's health regimen is now practiced in 350 cities around the world.
"Certainly, the governor being the guy who opened the first brewpub in the state speaks to the large role craft beer plays in Colorado, or the Brewers Association being based in Boulder, or the Great American Beer Festival in Denver every year—that's not an accident. My personal story is that I was a pro cyclist when I moved to Colorado, and went riding to the lookout at Longs Peak and sat down and enjoyed a trailside beer, and then went to town and saw live music at a brewery with cold beers and buddies—and that's when I knew Colorado was going to be my home. Craft beer mixes perfectly with the Colorado lifestyle, where being active is almost equally a big part of our lives as the descendant of home-brewed beer." – Chad Melis, marketing director of Oskar Blues, in Longmont
Residents of Fort Collins have it all: A stunning mountainous backdrop, a thriving craft-beer scene, and enough high-quality restaurants to keep even the most discriminating foodie's dinner schedule full. But the city goes even further and has among the country's healthiest people—with over 80 percent eating and living healthily and exercising regularly (many walk to work), only 15 percent indulging in smoking, and fewer than 19 percent considered obese. The city makes it easy enough, with its wonderful venues for appreciating the outdoor while working up a sweat (kayaking, hiking), its five farmers markets, and a cultural center in Colorado State University that fosters a sense of shared community.
Dan Grunig and Ken Gart, leaders of the Colorado Pedals Project
If you've noticed that drivers in Colorado have been sharing the lanes with more cyclists the last few years, you likely have Bicycle Colorado and executive director Dan Grunig to thank. The statewide bike advocacy group advocated for passage of the 3 Feet to Pass law in 2009, has helped add hundreds of miles of bike-able shoulders to state roads and maintained and improved mountain-biking trails. What's more, they continue to work for laws that make it safer for bicyclists and motorists to share the road, have convinced state lawmakers to ease sometimes nonsensical restrictions that take some of the fun out of cycling, and act as a general advocate for bicyclists at important legislative and planning meetings. That's in addition to arguably the most important accomplishment of all: teaching 80,000 kids (so far) how to safely ride their bikes. Building on these accomplishments, last year Bicycle Colorado joined forces with state bike czar Ken Gart to lead the Colorado Pedals Project, a four-year effort to make Colorado the best state in the nation for riding a bike.
"People around here are always coming up to me interested in oysters and oyster farming, how it's done, and what the process is. People love the taste, and the experience of tasting the sea. I think it's also a way for the people here to connect to the coastal heritage of the Connecticut—thousands of people enjoy recreational boating and shellfishing, and we even help them stock the recreational beds with oysters and clams, so people can go out and harvest their own shellfish from public areas. Oysters have always been a big part of Connecticut ever since the settlement, and there are oyster festivals all along the coast, but oysters are also healthy because they're grown in their natural environment, with no preservatives or chemicals used. They're a food that's natural and good for the natural environment." – Jimmy Bloom, third-generation oysterman at Norm Bloom and Son, of Norwalk
You might reckon that this town in north-central Connecticut got its spot on this list because of the 51-mile Metacomet Trail, or the popular climb up 165-foot Heublein Tower in Talcott Mountain State Park for expansive views of nearby New Hampshire. But what put Simsbury over the top was the International Skating Center of Connecticut, an internationally recognized sports academy that has drawn and trained top-flight talent from Michelle Kwan to Sasha Cohen. The center's reputation and Simsbury's attractiveness to athletes convinced Olympic skating champions such as Oksana Baiul and Ekaterina Gordeeva to move to the town and call it home even after they'd medaled.
The Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity
A non-profit organization that made news recently after deciding to move from Yale University to the University of Connecticut, the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity has taken center stage in conducting the research that experts consider key to combating the growing U.S. scourge of childhood obesity. What they do isn't simply count calories: For one, the group has gathered evidence to support the argument that economic incentives and disincentives, like taxing soda pop and encouraging price decreases for healthy foods, are key to effecting a lasting change. Another field they've earned headlines for is studying how advertising and marketing affect the eating choices children make. Other ideas the center has put forward include nutritional labeling on menus, better-integrated health education in schools, and legislative and policy measures to address obesity and food addiction. At the same time, the center has focused on finding ways to reduce the stigma that the overweight face on a daily basis while finding more effective ways of bringing them back to health.
"It's a superfood—our local superfood. Our lima beans are grown in the best area there is for them to be grown, north of South and south of North—good lima bean country's not too hot and has a growing season that's nice and long. With low calories, high fiber, a low glycemic index, high protein, and lots of vitamins and minerals, it's just very healthy. This may be the year of the pulse, and beans in general are healthy, but lima beans are just as good or even better than the other beans. And it certainly is part of our culture here—you have people that'll pay enormous amounts of money in the summer for pole lima beans, which are prized as a delicacy here, and they're one of those things you can't have enough of. Buttery, nutty, and so flavorful! Succotash is probably the No. 1 lima bean dish here, and then we put them in soups and it makes a nice hummus, but they're so flavorful, they're great by themselves. You can simply boil them, flavor with a little butter and pepper, or without having anything on it, and they're so good!" – Dr. Gordon C. Johnson, fruit and vegetable specialist and assistant professor of the department of plant and soil sciences at the University of Delaware
Tobacco-free beaches, more water activities than you could shake a pool noodle at, a mile-long beach, and a community and local government that emphasizes walkability, water sports, fishing, and making the most of the serendipitous confluence of surf, sun, and sand: Tiny Fenwick Island is one of the state's best-kept secrets. It's happy to let nearby Ocean City, Maryland—just across the border—take the limelight while residents and Delawareans in the know enjoy the benefits of the healthiest town in the First State. In the summer, the town offers lifeguarding lessons for kids, holds a Bike Safety Day where it hands out free bike helmets and lights, and has weekly movie nights on the beach, which it uses to spread its anti-smoking message. Local businesses get in on the action too, sponsoring lessons for water activities from kayaking to surfing. The physically challenged find a small town that's bent over backwards to make its amenities accessible to them, from the basketball courts to the kayak launch to the beach.
The Delaware News-Journal and Christiana Care Health System, for its Take It Off Health Challenge
Resurrecting the tradition of local newspapers working with community organizations for the benefit of the people they both serve, the Delaware News-Journal and Christiana Care Health System asked Delawareans in 2016 to take an active role themselves. The challenge in this case? To shed pounds and help reduce Delaware's obesity crisis—which one out of every three adults in the state is suffering from—and diabetes—which is projected to affect 15 percent of the population by 2030. The Take It Off Challenge asked Delawareans to take 12 weeks to eat more greens, exercise more, and lose weight, and it was backed by weekly prizes and free online registry that tracked entrants' progress. Throughout, the challenge highlighted the benefits of losing weight—for example, losing 10 pounds can reduce the risk and severity of diabetes, and each pound lost reduces the pressure on the knees and other joints by 3 pounds—and helped America's second-smallest state become even smaller.
"Growing up in South Florida you become incredibly good at picking mangoes. (Sometimes even stealing them—please don't tell my neighbors!) Not only are they obviously juicy, sweet and tart, creamy and delicious, they are full of vitamin C, low in calories, loaded with fiber, and good with everything. The first time I ever tried yellowtail snapper, my mom sautéed it with a little butter, lime, and chunks of mango (probably to get me to love it). We puree it, freeze it and pretend it's ice cream; top our yogurt and cottage cheese with it; make smoothies, chutneys for pork, salsas for tacos. There is no limit to the mango, and it's just as good green as it is ripe. We are actually heading into mango season in a few weeks; the trees here are just loaded with fruit about to drop and ripen. It's one of my son Zachary’s and his mom's favorite time of year, time to stain our shirts with all the juices that run down our faces! Welcome to summer in Florida!" - Michelle Bernstein, James Beard-winning chef and owner of Seagrape, SRA. Martinez, and host of "SoFlo Taste"
In the Gallup-Healthways American Well-Being Index, the Naples-Immokalee-Marco Island area took the top honors for the year 2015. The report cited the three-city triangle south of Ft. Myers and north of the Everglades for its low obesity rates, healthy eating, and overall physical well-being, but also the area's sense of community and sense of purpose. That is, Floridians in the area love living there and love what they do, meaning they have relatively little stress, don't suffer from much depression, and are socially, culturally, and intellectually active. The other perquisites of the region don't hurt either, like the proximity to several spots of pristine natural beauty, one of the best beaches in the country, and a popular half-marathon that's regarded as one of the best in the U.S.
Benny McLean, citrus farmer and production manager for Uncle Matt's Organic
Benny McLean has citrus in his blood—his father grew oranges in central Florida, and Benny grew up among the groves as a boy. In the 1990s, though, he decided to turn away from the factory-farming methods that had dominated the industry for much of the 20th century and instead converted to organic agriculture. By shunning pesticides and other chemicals and finding alternatives in tried-and-true natural techniques, he argues, you wind up with healthier trees, healthier soil, and healthier fruits right in the heart of America's citrus capital. In 2015, the Organic Trade Association honored his work in promoting chemical-free citrus and named him the Organic Farmer of the Year.
"I just had my first Georgia peach of the season this week. A flood of nostalgia rushed over me as I tasted the mellow sweetness and tang of the this little crimson-streaked beauty. The early peaches are usually clingstone, with ripe fruit still hanging on for dear life to the almond-shell-shaped pit. As the season progresses, each variety that comes into harvest shows off all the different aspects a Georgia peach can be: juicy, melon-like, citrusy, syrupy sweet, racing acid. The fragrant smell can fill a room when they come to full ripeness.
"Whenever we had overripe peaches growing up, Mom would make us eat them outside in the yard with our shirts off because off the mess they would make dripping down our chins. There was (and still is) an ice-cream shop that stands at the bend of the main road on Tybee Island, Savannah's Beach, that would serve peach milkshakes in the summertime. We would beg Dad to pull over so we could cool off with this delicious treat, a brief escape from the summer heat before the sleepy drive home. They had baskets of peaches, and one of the teen employees' jobs was simply to peel and cut peaches all day during peach season. Today, I am always experimenting with different uses for peaches: pie, jam, boozy cocktails, ice cream, sorbet, salads, chutney, peach butter, peach salsa, pickled peaches, whiskeyed peaches. These iconic stone fruits are extremely versatile and just simply add a distinctive taste of summer wherever you may place them. There is a long standing debate between Southerners on which state produces the best peach, but I haven't met a peach I didn't like in Georgia. I would just like to point out, however, that we have 71 streets with the name Peachtree on them here in Atlanta—and they don't just name streets for no reason." – Steven Satterfield, James Beard-nominated chef and co-owner of Miller Union
This central northern county took top honors in the Robert Wood Johnson 2016 survey of healthy regions of the U.S., thanks to its residents' smoke-free habits, low obesity, and evident love of healthy diets and exercise. No wonder, considering that they have a strong county park system and ready access to Lake Lanier, which is popular year-round for swimmers, boaters, fishermen, and other water sports. During the 1996 Olympics, the lake was the site of the Games' rowing and canoeing competitions.
Ryan Gravel, architect and author of Where We Want to Live
In 1999, Ryan Gravel put forth his master's thesis, a proposal for a shared green space that connected 45 different historic neighborhoods of Atlanta by repurposing a 22-mile rail corridor into a series of parks, multi-use trails, and light rail. But his thesis didn't remain a forgotten academic exercise moldering away on a dusty university shelf. Since 2005, Gravel's idea has begun materializing as a reality, thanks to a groundswell of community support and government funding. The project is estimated to be totally completed in 2031, but the BeltLine has already become the central artery of the city's outdoor activity, reinvigorating Atlanta's sense of civic pride and providing a shared space for Atlantans to walk, talk, and exercise together.
"Coffee is an iconic staple of Hawaii’s agriculture, and has been since well after it arrived here from Brazil in the 1800s. Specialty coffee needs altitude, a mix of sun and shade, distinctive rainy and dry seasons, and mineral-rich, porous soil. All of that exists in Kona, on the west coast of Hawai'i Island, and after traveling the globe to visit world-class coffee farms, we can say with confidence that Kona is one of the most natural settings to grow amazing coffee. When Pete Licata won the 2011 United States Barista Championship, he used 100-percent Hawaiian coffee from Kona as the featured component of his espresso blend. We use coffee more ways then just brewing coffee, though: We make a barbecue rub with 30 percent Kona coffee that adds a spicy, chocolaty extra flavor to grilled meats." – Ed Schultz, president of Honolulu Coffee
The Big Island
All of the Hawaiian islands have more than enough health-inspiring merits to make all 49 of the other states green with envy, but the Big Island, Hawaii, serves as the center of gravity for outdoor adventuring in the states, with its dizzying array of climates, the Kilauea volcano trails, and the islands' best sites for seeing wildlife. Tourists and locals alike love to go snorkeling in Kealakekua Bay, kayaking up the Waip'o Valley, or, yes, surfing Hapuna or any of a number of beaches. When they're winding down from their activities, health seekers have a number of natural-food stores to shop in in Kona—though many prefer just heading to the farmers' markets around the island for produce. And it should go without saying that those who love healthy fare like fresh seafood are rarely disappointed on the Big Island.
Sure, watching his '80s to '90s "Bodies in Motion" videos now—what with their puffy mullets and frizzy ponytails, VHS-level production quality, and color-coordinated aerobic outfits that may have been recycled from a Jazzercise shoot—can be an excuse for a cheap laugh at how quickly fitness programs become dated. But Gilad Jacklowicz, better known the world over simply as Gilad, not only created the series but produced and led the exercises himself, and in so doing helped generations of people around the globe become more fit. Part of the appeal was the various tropical Hawaiian backgrounds that became as much an element of the videos as the exercises themselves—he seems to most like working out with a phalanx of models and assistants right on the beach, challenging himself to bark out rep counts over the crashing of the surf. But he also wanted to make sure that his workouts were accessible to people of all levels of ability. He'd evidently caught on to something, because his show eventually aired in 80 countries and became the longest-running fitness program on TV. Gilad now makes his workouts accessible via his subscription streaming service.
"It’s no secret that Idaho reigns supreme when it comes to spuds. As a matter of fact, more Russet Burbank potatoes (think bakers) are grown in the volcanic dirt of the Gem State’s Snake River Plain than anywhere else in the world. Idaho even proclaims 'Famous Potatoes' on its official license plate. Spuds are serious business in this scenic Northwestern state that’s ringed by pinnacled mountains. Chefs in Idaho, especially in the Boise and Sun Valley areas, are now taking the almighty spud to a healthier place by imagining new recipes that don’t involve mucking up a baker with butter, sour cream, and crumbled bacon. How does potato-buckwheat blini with Idaho sturgeon caviar sound? What about potato-teff grain crepes filled with locally foraged morel mushrooms? Deep-fryer cooked fries served with pinkish, mayonnaise-based fry sauce—another Idaho contribution to the culinary world, for better or worse—are still ubiquitous around these parts. But more and more restaurants have adapted their menus in recent times and now offer oven-roasted fries—dished up with healthier side sauces such as guacamole and fresh salsa." – James Patrick Kelly, professor of communications at Boise State University and former restaurant reviewer for the Idaho Statesman
The 1930s pet project of a Union Pacific railroad chairman who was determined that America should have its own resort town worthy of pilgrimages by winter-sports devotees, Sun Valley has remained a premier destination for those who gear up instead of slowing down when the months get cold. The resort may be built around Bald Mountain and Dollar Mountain with their good snowfall and ample opportunities for skiing and snowboarding (Sun Valley even installed the world's first chairlifts), but they've grown to encompass an entire valley of year-round sports, including networks of running and cycling trails and horseback riding stables, as well as spas and a variety of restaurants to cater to all dietary needs from vegan to simply really hungry with a bottomless credit-card limit. The cherry on top that earns Sun Valley the nod as healthiest spot in Idaho, though, are the many options for sports programs geared specifically toward the disabled, from a horseback riding program for the handicapped to a camp for children with cancer.
The Spud Break
No, it's not an individual or an institution, but the eastern Idaho tradition of the Spud Break is arguably the biggest influence on helping young Idahoans preserve a healthy relationship with the land. For generations, high schools in rural areas have let out for two weeks in the fall so the teens could help local farmers with the harvest of the state's most important crop. It's vital both to the health of the farms and the state—Spud Breakers make up to three-quarters of the work force during the harvest, according to one estimate—and the students develop a stronger bond with their neighborhood growers and their state heritage, instill a diligent work ethic in themselves, and get in an impressive amount of physical activity. Though it's going away in more schools every year, the Spud Break has for generations been the local way of ensuring that future Idahoans remain hale in both spirit and body.
"There's nothing like fresh horseradish to open up your senses and give an unexpected kick. I love it simply on fresh oysters or grilled fished, mixed into mayonnaise for a sandwich kick, added to butter to liven up corn and other vegetables, or mixed with herbs as a summer grilling marinade and condiment. The rest of Illinois loves it too: Collinsville, in southwest Illinois, is the Horseradish Capital of the World—they host a horseradish festival every June! And why not? Horseradish has high mineral and nutrient content, which leads to many health benefits, from weight loss to building strong bones." – Stephanie Izard, James Beard Award winner, Top Chef champion, and owner and chef of Duck Duck Goat, Girl & the Goat, and Little Goat, in Chicago
What could be healthier than a neighborhood named after the prettiest park in Chicago? The park itself serves as the de facto cultural center for the North Side, is home to yearlong kids' fitness programs and the Lincoln Park Zoo, and can brag about everything from its paddleboat lagoon to its prairie-grass and wildlife reserve. It's where Windy City families play mini-golf when it's warm out and go sledding at the first decent snowfall. All the more remarkable is that it came about from the efforts of the community itself, which fought to preserve 1,200 acres of lakefront property in a town where City Hall's notorious for running rampant over the wishes of the people, especially when prime real estate is involved. Over the last seven decades, the neighborhood that sprung up around the park has grown to reflect the natural wellness of the park itself, earning a reputation within Chicago as the place where you can't go a block without seeing people jogging, couples dining in health-food restaurants, or kids engaged in carefully orchestrated after-school fitness activities. And as a hub for Second City cultural institutions, Lincoln Park's renowned for keeping its residents' bodies and minds well fed.
Will Hogan, educator and assistant principal in Elk Grove
When first lady Michelle Obama was in Chicago in 2013, tallying the successes schools were having in helping kids get fit when they participated in physical-activity programs, she singled out physical-education teacher Will Hogan for special praise. Hogan headed up the Fuel Up to Play 60 program for the Ridge Family Center for Learning in Elk Grove. A collaboration with the National Football League and National Dairy Council, the program taught kids about eating right and exercising, but Hogan also got kids to stay an extra hour after school for five weeks for an activities-filled fitness club, and persuaded the school to stop using food as a reward for all students. In addition, teachers throughout the school began each school day with 20 minutes of cardio or kickboxing, and throughout the day declared "brain breaks" where the students got up and moved. Hogan's work earned the school the grand prize in a school fitness challenge, beating out 73,000 other educational institutions around the country. Since then, Hogan's been promoted to assistant principal of Holmes Junior High School, also in Elk Grove, where he's keeping up his rallying cry to eat smart and exercise both in the school halls and via social media.
"I had a duck breast last night for dinner, and it was succulent, pan-seared. You just can't beat that flavor, that texture, the mouthfeel of it as you're chewing, and I didn't use much besides salt and pepper, no fancy sauce or anything. It was just delicious duck breast, tender meat that just melts in your mouth when you bite into it. Indiana's the largest duck producer in the country, and you can roast it, confit the legs, pull them out of the freezer and shred it, and use it in anything from tacos to crepes. Compared to beef or pork or lamb, it's going to be high in protein, but you won't have the fat if you take the skin off, and it's high in vitamins, making it a good alternative to beef or other red meats. The ducks in Indiana are so very tender." – Regina Mehallick, chef and owner of R Bistro and R2GO
Indiana Dunes State Park
The Indiana Dunes are so awe-inspiring that they're one of the reasons the state of Indiana has a parks system in the first place—it was one of the natural sites that inspired Richard Lieber, the founder of the parks system. Bordering Lake Michigan with a view all the way to Chicago on a clear day, it has 2,182 acres of trails, dunes, wilderness, and public swimming for visitors to enjoy for their outdoor activities, including 16 miles of trails through ecologically important prairies and historical sites. Even getting there affords an opportunity to engage in healthy exercise—the Indiana Dunes trails are accessed via the Calumet bike trail and other multi-use trail systems.
Jump IN for Healthy Kids
Led by attorney Ron Gifford and founded along with 16 other local business leaders, this central Indiana coalition has aimed since 2014 to eradicate childhood obesity in the region—no small feat, considering that 45 percent of the children in and around Indianapolis alone are considered to be of an unhealthy weight, among the worst rates in the country. The effort, which has grown to include over 100 local business and civic leaders, is community-led and community-based, and educates children and parents, promotes healthy eating and physical activity at schools and child care settings, and takes a patient approach that values lasting, long-term change backed by hard data over short-term headlines and fleeting successes.
"I grew up on a dairy farm in Iowa, which meant whipped cream was served on every dessert and August was corn-on-the-cob season. I am not talking about corn as a side dish, but the only dish for supper. Beginning in August we would check the sweet-corn patch daily to see if the ears were completely filled out and popped sweet milk when pushed by our fingernail. When the long-awaited day arrived, Mom grabbed the familiar wire-handled aluminum kettle, and we headed out to the field. We pulled the ripe ears from the stock and husked in the field, trying to gently rub the white silk treads off each ear. The kettle was filled with as many ears as it would hold. Back in the house, mom covered with water and began to boil the pot of gold. Soon the kitchen table was set, and a large platter piled high with steaming ears of yellow corn sat in the middle. My dad came in from evening milking, and we sat around the table passing the corn followed by the communal butter plate to roll the ears on till the kernels dripped with melted butter. This simple supper can never be replicated with a recipe. I relish that innocent excitement felt from nothing more than a platter of Iowa sweet corn for supper." – Diane Ott Whealy, co-founder of the Seeds Savers Exchange
Once named the healthiest municipality in the U.S. by Sanjay Gupta and Men's Journal, this college town is blessed with clean air and good weather, green spaces, a steady supply of fresh produce from nearby farms, and a populace that likes to eat healthy and exercise regularly. The people of Iowa City also generally don't have to spend as much time driving to work—meaning less time sitting in their cars—thanks in part to a layout that's amenable to pedestrians. Plus, the University of Iowa draws in a diverse population that in turn attracts a large number of healthy restaurants and food stores to choose from, as well as a rich and lively cultural world of arts and entertainment, ensuring that Iowans keep their minds fresh.
Sharon Thompson, co-founder of Practical Farmers of Iowa
Along with her husband, Dick, and their friend Larry Kallen, Thompson founded a nonprofit group led by and organized for Iowa farmers who believe in the idea of sustainable agriculture but need a good source of information, support and advice, and a reliable network they could use to associate with like-minded shepherds of the earth. Now in its fourth decade, the PFI has amassed a membership of over 2,500 farmers, who manage farms of all sizes but who all share a desire to pursue agriculture that's healthier for both the planet and for the people they feed.
"My husband Colby and I grew up in the Midwest, so we are partial to sourcing high-quality Kansas ingredients for both our restaurants. I do the baking at Rye and Bluestem, and Kansas wheat goes into all our cakes, cookies, pie crusts, breads, and breakfast pastries. I do believe Kansas wheat is exceptional. What's more, Kansas wheat in moderation is definitely a healthy part of our diet. If I’m using white flour, I like to cut it with whole-wheat flour for a healthier nutritional profile.
"For a celebration and festival honoring wheat, go to Wellington, Kansas—they consider their town the wheat capital of the state. I also recommend the National Festival of Breads—a bread-baking contest held every other year in Manhattan, Kansas. This June festival salutes wheat farmers, millers and ingredient companies, and gives home bakers a chance to show off their skills. The festival emphasizes the role bread can play in a healthy diet. Want to know an interesting fact about Kansas wheat? If you took all the wheat grown for one year in Kansas, you could have a train filled with it that stretched from western Kansas to the Atlantic Ocean: over 1,000 miles and so many loaves of bread!" – Megan Garrelts, chef and co-owner of Rye, in Leawood, KS, and Bluestem, in Kansas City, MO
The home of Kansas State, and home of the Walk Kansas initiative, Riley County routinely tops the Robert Wood Johnson survey of healthiest places in the country, thanks to its residents' healthy diets, high life expectancy, regular physical activity, access to sports and fitness opportunities, and good education about what keeps them happy and fit. What's more, the county's chock full of parks, river trails, zoos and other cultural institutions, and farmers' markets with fresh, healthy food options—all great excuses to get out of the house on the weekend and burn up calories.
The Sunflower Foundation
This Topeka-based health foundation funds various programs throughout the state to improve the health and wellbeing of Kansans, from forging a closer bond between primary care and behavioral health to working with lawmakers to create smoke-free environments inside Kansas workplaces. The foundation also has a physical presence in its network of sponsored trails all across the state, many of them created through its "Trail in a Box" program, which allows Kansans to make their own exercise trails where none exist.
"There’s not a whole lot that’s healthy about traditional Southern cookin’, particularly in the birthplace of KFC. However, Kentuckians know, basically from birth, how to concoct delicious and nutritious cocktails. What’s our spirit of choice? Why, bourbon of course! Historically speaking, bourbon was a medication. Prescribed by doctors for any and all ailments—in fact there were 6 million prescriptions written for bourbon during Prohibition in the early mid-1900s, and that was in Kentucky alone! Bourbon, in moderation, has been confirmed to have many health benefits including improved mood and enhanced dancing ability (kidding). Seriously, it has been noted as helping to maintain weight, improve cognitive function, and even reducing risk of heart attack and cancers. Of course, always drink and enjoy responsibly. Cheers!" - Marianne Barnes, Kentucky's first female master distiller
Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area
Originally the site of a Confederate fort to protect against Union gunboats, this 170,000-acre region of Kentucky between Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley was later taken over by the Tennessee Valley Authority to be used as a revolutionary new approach to recreational areas—one experiment included making it home to free-range bison on a 700-acre enclosure with native grasses and a recreation of a mid-19th-century farming homestead. Now administered by the U.S. Forestry Service, the park—the largest inland peninsula in the U.S.—is a mecca of outdoor activities, boasting 500 miles of hiking trails, 220,000 acres of surface water to fish in, 1,500 camping sites, and 15 designated swimming areas.
Wendell Berry, activist and writer
Hailed by no less than Mark Bittman as an American hero, Port Royal's Wendell Berry is the "soul of the real food movement," a political activist, part-time farmer, and writer who has made it his mission to make U.S. agriculture address soil degradation, environmental toxins, and fossil-fuel addiction. His writings have been a rallying cry for people who care about sustainability and finding solutions for the health of rural communities for generations to come. His efforts have won him a National Humanities Medal, a fellowship in the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and, in 2015, the honor of becoming the only living writer ever to be inducted into the Kentucky Writers Hall of Fame.
"Catching and eating shrimp are a huge part of the Louisiana culture, so we've had centuries to figure out how to cook and eat them. My favorites range from shrimp and okra gumbo to New Orleans barbecue shrimp (which has nothing to with a barbecue grill) to boiled shrimp, but I think I love shrimp with stewed okra and tomatoes or shrimp rémoulade the most. But the best way to eat them is to stand round with your friends and peel them and eat them while you talk and drink an icy cold beer. People here equate eating and celebrating with family and friends with the proverbial shrimp boil. Our shrimp are wild-caught and not iodine-y, and we have white shrimp and brown shrimp available all year round. They're low in fat, contain omega-3s and minerals like selenium, as well as B12. Louisiana would be a sad state without shrimp. And the white rubber shrimp boot is actually a fashion statement in LA!" – Susan Spicer, chef and owner of Bayona, in New Orleans
City Park, New Orleans
Though the city of New Orleans is known best around the country for its hard-partying decadent excess in the midst of one of America's least healthy, worst-eating, and most inactive states, City Park serves as an oasis of health and physical and mental wellness for New Orleanian families. On any given weekend, the 1,300-acre park is teeming with runners, cyclists and joggers, hand-holding couples, families with young children, art lovers, nature admirers, sportsmen and sportswomen, horse riders, recreational fishermen, and a seemingly endless supply of wedding parties. It's the gravitational center of healthy New Orleans, home to its soccer stadium, Olympic practice track, golf courses both of the miniature and full-sized variety, and over a dozen playing fields for softball and soccer. To keep the mind active, there's the New Orleans Museum of Art, the New Orleans Botanical Garden, and two amusement parks, and a charming two-mile-long train that takes children and their parents on a tour of the magical sites of the park.
John Folse, chef and cookbook author
Though he's best known as the widely acknowledged expert of all things related to Cajun and Creole cooking, this plantation-born native of St. James Parish still has his telltale Acadian accent while encouraging his followers to buck the Louisiana-cooking orthodoxy by giving up much of the fat, salt, and calories that were once thought indispensable to "real" Cajun and Creole cooking. Instead, he's long offered up alternatives to recipes like chicken and sausage gumbo, jambalaya, ham-wrapped green beans, and shrimp-and-corn soup. Responsibly using his role as the premier authority on Louisiana cooking, Folse has convinced a new generation of chefs that making dishes healthier doesn't make them any less delicious.
"Every May, those of us who live on Maine’s coast brace ourselves for the onslaught of tourists looking to explore our oceans and small towns, eat a lobster roll, or sneak a piece of blueberry pie. What many of them miss is the story behind those foods. Here in Maine, people, not machines, rake our blueberries. Blueberries (and lobsters) both thrive in Maine because of our cold climate and our rocky terrain. A blueberry bush’s bite is about as painful as a snap from a lobster. Before I sold the Maine Pie Line, a pie company focused on sweet and savory pies, I would get huge shipments of exclusively Maine blueberries every week that I would minimally spice with cardamom, a bit of sugar, and some mint—they were perfect in their most natural form. Next time you eat a low-bush blueberry with its deliciously sour skin, think about the salty, hard-working people who harvested it and the beautiful rocky state that produced it." – Briana Warner, economic director of the Island Institute and former owner of Maine Pie Line in Portland
Rolling Meadows Yoga & Meditation Retreat
Built around a New England farmhouse from the 1840s, this 100-acre silent retreat overlooking the Atlantic Coast is a paradise for those seeking to regenerate their souls and bodies with yoga, meditation, or simply a break from the hustle and bustle of the outside world. The remote location among rural communities in Maine's mid-coast includes sprawling flower and vegetable gardens to enjoy for their beauty and to provide organic produce for guests' meals, paths that meander among picture-perfect woods and streams, a spring-fed swimming pond, and even a pasture with a flock of sheep that guests can use to gently reestablish their relationship with the animal world.
Linda Bean, owner of Perfect Maine
Though her family background is thoroughly Maine, it would have been easy to assume Linda Bean would have ended up in the clothing industry—she's an heiress to the L.L. Bean company, after all. But instead she entered the other iconic Maine business at the age of 66, and turned a single-wharf company into an empire that sells millions of pounds of the crustacean a year, includes two general stores and several restaurants throughout the state, and employs 250 Mainers. She earned her title as a healthy influencer by spearheading the successful movement to have the entire Maine lobster industry certified as sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council—ensuring that, for generations to come, there's going to be healthy Maine lobsters for fishermen to catch and consumers to eat.
"Oh my gosh, where to start? We have a lot of wonderful food in Maryland, but crabs are Maryland. And the reason Maryland crabs are different from crabs everywhere else is that we have the largest estuary on the East Coast, and that makes for a wonderful food chain for the animals of the Chesapeake, which makes the Chesapeake crab sweeter and fatter through its season than anywhere else, with a distinct flavor. They're low in fat, high in omega-3s, and low in calories—even most crab cakes are only 300 to 400 calories. Everybody in Maryland has memories around picking steamed crabs. Crabs take a long time—you're working for your food—so you sit down and pick through the shells and lick the spices off your hand, and have the Natty Bo with it, and you're doing it with everyone sitting around, sitting and talking the whole time, picking and eating, picking and eating. Because in Maryland, the best memories are of who you sit down and eat crabs with." – Damye Hahn, manager of Faidley's Seafood, in Baltimore, and fourth-generation member of the Faidley family
The official retreat of U.S. presidents since Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Camp David's where John F. Kennedy went horseback riding, Harry Truman took his long constitutionals, Gerald Ford introduced Indonesian President Suharto to the simple wonders of a snowmobile ride, and Jimmy Carter went fly-fishing when he needed a break from brokering peace between Egypt and Israel. Dwight Eisenhower even hosted a visit by Nikita Khrushchev here—the idea being that peace of mind and body in a serene, healthy environment will eventually lead to world peace. Whether that's actually come true in any way or not is for the pundits to debate, but what is inarguable that this pretty piece of hilly, wooded land 60 miles northwest of the capital is a recreational wonderland for the physical and mental health of the people whose job it is to keep the rest of us healthy, and it shows.
Not so much a single agency as a union of community-based programs working through the Baltimore City Health Department, Baltimarket has tasked itself with helping the people of one of the country's most beleaguered cities overcome one of their most daunting challenges—feeding themselves. Baltimarket teaches how to shop for and cook nutritious food, works with the government and other organizations to eliminate the Charm City's many food deserts, and even helps the corner stores that many poor neighborhoods rely on to find inexpensive sources for fresh produce. Since many of the Baltimarket programs began in 2011, the city has created incentives for grocers to begin serving neighborhoods racked by poverty and unrest. Baltimore has also encouraged farmers’ markets and urban farming, and expanded its Virtual Supermarket Program, which allows residents to use food stamps to buy groceries online.
"Clams are soul food in Massachusetts—a local treasure. Whether we are talking about hard shell clams (quahogs, cherrystones and littlenecks) or soft shell clams (often called steamers when cooked in the shell or belly clams when shucked and fried) or the elite razor clam, these bivalves are beloved. Clams are high in protein, low in fat, with a generous amount of minerals like zinc, iron, magnesium, and niacin. Clams pair well with butter and are delicious fried, but they are even better when simply shucked and eaten raw, where they can be paired with light, clean ingredients. Like raw oysters, raw clams stimulate both the appetite and the imagination. There are countless toppings that complement the salty, briny, ocean taste of clams, but I often eat them plain with just a squeeze of lemon or with lime, a dash of wasabi, and a piece of pickled ginger. If you want to pair them with sauces, just remember to use these in quantities that don’t mask the flavor of the clam." – Jasper White, James Beard-winning chef and owner of Jasper White's Summer Shack and author of four cookbooks on New England cooking
So much more than the picturesque highlands of western Massachusetts, the Berkshires are a way of life for folks from Boston to New York City. They've long been the mountain hideaway of choice for artists, naturists, and seekers of holistic health. The Berkshires boast an almost endless roster of top-notch musical schools and venues, museums, galleries, artist retreats, and arts festivals. There are even both a botanical garden and an arboretum. For peace of body rather than mind, they're the home of the Massachusetts leg of the Appalachian Trail, as well as countless noted sites of natural beauty from Kent Falls to the Bash Bish Falls. The Berkshires are also known as a foodie haven, with a strong array of farm-to-table restaurants, plenty of vegetarian and vegan options, and lots of popular farmers markets.
Worcester Public Schools nutrition program
Any public school system is expected to hit the basics of child nutrition, like offering a healthy lunch during the school year. But the Worcester Public Schools go further, guaranteeing students free breakfast and lunch to all students, as its part of the federal Healthy and Hunger-Free Kids Act. In addition, led by the WPS's child nutrition director, the schools put a foodie-age twist on child nutrition, using food trucks manned by friendly cafeteria lunch ladies to distribute nutritious meals during the summer months and to encourage kids to make healthier food choices. The program consciously scheduled its rounds to make sure Worcester children were eating well when school was out, and then helped them make the transition to lunches at school once classes started up again, all to make sure the children could focus on learning rather than wondering where their next meal was coming from.
"I think about cherries all the time. In Michigan, the whole western coastline is heavy in fruits, and the climate is perfect for growing them. They blossom all along the hillsides in the summer, with the tree branches all weighed down by late July, and you see the beauty of them with the green lake out there behind them. When we started our business 20 years ago, the first thing we decided to make was cherry pie—it was the essence of the region, and it's hard to think about cherry pie and not smile. Cherry pie is our No. 1 seller—each one of those little berries packs a ton of flavor—yet it's only made of Montmorency cherries with a little sugar, an awesome pie crust, and that smell. Apple pie may have the cinnamon and nutmeg and be a safe bet, but the cherry? It jumps out at you. Plus cherries possess antioxidants, melatonin for sleeping, and they're good for your joints!" – Mike Busley, owner of the Grand Traverse Pie Company
Michiganders consider this gorgeous northern Michigan city of some 15,000 permanent residents the vacation destination of the state because of the cultural amenities like the opera house, symphony orchestra, Michael Moore's annual film festival, and the nearby Interlochen Center for the Arts. But it’s also partly because of the large number of outdoor activities year-round with beaches, skiing, cycling, Traverse City State Park, and the nearby Sleepy Bear Dunes. But many of the vacationers who come back year after year do so because of their fond memories of the excellent restaurants with locally sourced ingredients, the craft breweries, Old Mission Peninsula wineries, and, yes, the cherries. As the tart-cherry capital of the country, it's host to the hugely popular National Cherry Festival, which offers tourists an opportunities to sate their sweet tooth with fresh local fruits.
Carolyn Leadley and Jake VanDyke of Rising Pheasant Farms
This young family decided they wanted to get back to the earth and become farmers. That's not unusual these days. What is surprising is where they chose to do it—a down-and-out neighborhood in problem-plagued urban Detroit. But despite the many challenges, Carolyn Leadley and Jake VanDyke have earned plaudits and headlines as they've successfully reinvigorated tracts of Motor City land, turning blocks once known for their abandoned houses, crime, and suspicious fires into productive fields and hoop houses turning out fresh produce for Detroiters. Next time you're in the city, look out for their tasty microgreens, highly sought after by the city's chicest restaurants. The cherry on top? The couple put their money where their mouth is when it comes to maintaining their environmental health and keeping down their use of fossil fuels: They don't own a car—VanDyke makes all his deliveries to the area farmers markets on his specially modified bicycle cart.
"I will be brave and just say it: Quinoa, it's over. (Truth is, I’ve never loved you.) Wild rice has more protein, a lot more flavor, and an important North American backstory—let’s start eating more wild rice. The natural, brown, kind (not the black paddy rice) grows in bodies of fresh water throughout the northern Midwest, its stalks sprouting up like thick stands of hair in the clean spring-fed lakes and creeks—including the one that flows right in front of my house in northern Minnesota. Every fall we harvest the rice the old-fashioned (and only legal way), by pushing a canoe through the stands, bending over the rice, and knocking the loose grain into the canoe. After a few loads, we take our rice to a local parcher, who toasts the grain in a barrel twirling over a raging fire, loosening the chaff from the seed and infusing the rice with wood smoke.
"I like to start with a breakfast bowl, steaming a cup of wild rice until the grains curl into loose fists, dousing it with butter and maple syrup and toasted hazelnuts, and serving it up. Like oatmeal, warm wild rice is a healthy way to start the day, but most importantly, it soothes my raging metabolism. When I have wild rice for breakfast the hungry monster inside me doesn’t grumble or make a peep until well after noon." - Amy Thielen, cookbook author and host of the Food Network's Heartland Table
The Twin Cities' Metro Ski Trails
If there's one thing Minnesotans know how to do well, it's winter. While the rest of us spend the cold months huddled inside or jetting off to warmer climates, in Minneapolis and St. Paul snow and ice mean a chance to make use of the Twin Cities' well developed, carefully groomed cross-country trails. Boasting more miles of skiing than the distance between St. Paul and Los Angeles, the trails connect numerous communities in the state, and easily segue into other experiences, from downhill skiing or dogsledding to antiquing and staying at local bed and breakfasts. Most importantly, they make it easy and fun for Minnesotans to stay active and healthy when it's all too easy to bundle up indoors and gorge on comfort food and binge-watch TV.
Kwasi Nate, personal trainer
Knowing that the people least likely to make it into a fitness commercial—the elderly—are the most in need of a good exercise regimen, Nate has tailored his Fitness for Seniors program to the need of the aging baby-boomer population, with a special focus on the underserved black community. His strategy includes CrossFit-inspired routines, yoga, diet management, walking circuits that circumnavigate the Mall of the Americas, and a 70-block Minneapolis trek that's accessible even to the slowest gait. The goals he sets for his silver-haired clients: achieving and maintaining a healthy weight, and doing something that gets them active every day.
"Number one, it's a clean and healthy fish—you're not going to get any iodine like in these imported fish—they're a great source of protein, low in saturated fat and high in the good fats and omega-3 fatty acids, and they're eating soy and corn and rice. And it's sustainable—you're not out there laying waste to the Gulf of Mexico or the Pacific or Atlantic oceans. The catfish we use comes from Simmon's, a locally owned, family-owned farm.
"Mississippi was once the catfish capital of the world, and the World Catfish Festival in Belzoni still brings in people from all over the state to a little town. One thing we do in Mississippi you don't see a lot of places is skin it then fry the whole fish. At our restaurant, we make deviled eggs with smoked catfish and bread-and-butter pickles, making it a combination of all these traditional Southern dishes. Where we live, we have the reservoir, where you can literally go out with a piece of bread and a bobber and catch catfish. If you're a family that can't afford a lot, you can get a $17 fishing license and feed your family every day of the year—they're always biting. It's just one of those things—everybody around here eats catfish, everyone catches catfish, and everyone's first taste of fish or even meat as a kid was of catfish, no doubt about it." – Matthew Kajdan, chef and owner of Parlor Market, in Jackson
Flowering Lotus Meditation and Retreat Center
This Buddhism-based nonprofit offers the usual plate of meditation, yoga classes, silent retreats, and conscious uncoupling from the spiritual pollution of the outside world. But it truly stands out for its plans for tailoring retreats specifically for those who are in special need, such as veterans with PTSD, domestic-abuse survivors, ex-prisoners and ex-gang members, pregnant teenagers, and even political exiles. Housed in a stately Victorian mansion in the small city of Magnolia (population: 2,420), it's a serene escape from the 21st century, and bans cell-phone use, music players, and computers, encouraging the "noble silence" so that guests, truth-seekers, and practitioners can focus on finding their own ways to spiritual health, instead of the latest viral cat video.
The Rev. Michael O. Minor of the Oak Hill Baptist Church
While Baptist preachers are well known for their habit of declaiming against the sins of the flesh in their sermons, the Rev. Michael O. Minor took aim at another kind of flesh entirely—fried chicken. The veteran community organizer decided he'd do something about the high-fat, high-calorie diet that clogged up many a parishioner's heart, and banned the Mississippi Delta staple from events at his Hernando church, declaring it a "No Fry Zone." Now turkey necks have replaced ham hocks in the boiled greens, bottled water has taken the place of sweet tea, the pies have gone sugar-free, and fresh fruit has become a regular offering at the buffet table. Minor's crusade gained national attention, and the National Baptist Convention adopted his campaign to install a "health ambassador" in every one of its churches. He was named one of Cooking Light’s national food heroes in 2012, and to this day is cited as a pioneer not just in promoting food health, but also in fighting for civil rights by educating Americans about the need for equality in health.
"When I was a pup growing up, there were always beans in the garden. Pole beans were often the centerpiece, with tall trellises or other inventions to hold them up and make harvest easier. When the beans were ready, harvest often required a hot grill full of pork steaks and as many family members that could be rounded up to get to the work of canning. I ate a bunch of canned beans as a little guy and still have a familiar love for the humble jar of beans with just a hint of salt pork and onions in the mix for good measure. A couple years ago, my uncle Denny taught me how to use 12-foot hog panels gently bent in an arc and staked on the ends to make a bean ladder that works perfectly in a small space like the garden behind Farmhaus. Beans are loaded with fiber and vitamins A, C and K. They are chock-full of minerals, too." – Kevin Willman, James Beard-nominated chef and owner of Farmhaus Restaurant, in St. Louis
Katy Trail State Park
When the age of the railroad had passed in the U.S., the Midwest was crisscrossed with countless miles of railways that were no longer of any use to anybody but the weeds that grew among them. In Missouri, the defunct Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad left a steel scar that bisected the Show Me State about chest high. In 1982, the unused MKT Railroad spur starting from Columbia got a second life as the MKT Nature and Fitness Trail, the first leg of the Katy Trail. It has since grown to become the longest rails-to-trails path in the United States, at 240 miles—and it's still growing. Now the arteries of commerce of the 19th century are filled with people running, riding, and hiking every day of the year from sunrise to sunset as one of America's most impressive examples of governments and corporations working together to make their community prettier and its people healthier.
Siphiwe Baleka, truck driver and founder of Fitness Trucking
Truck drivers are notoriously unhealthy for a reason: The thousands of miles in a seated position, long hours with little or no sleep, and nothing but fat- and sugar-laden food options at their usual stops add up to obesity (at 69 percent, truckers have the highest rate of obesity of any U.S. occupation), heart and circulation problems, diabetes, and a host of associated health issues that lead to an early death. One-time Yale swimmer-turned-Missouri trucker Siphiwe Baleka is trying to change that, giving up his seat behind the steering wheel to become his trucking company's in-house fitness coach and form his own 13-week fitness program. Drivers for Prime Inc. long-haul trucking now track their progress with smartphone apps, perform effective daily fitness routines that are flexible enough to work with their irregular schedules, and have shed tens of thousands of pounds under his tutelage. Baleka's even working on a device that would gauge when a driver is fatigued and alerts him that it's time to pull over and get some shuteye.
"There's an abundance of trout throughout the state, in the lakes and rivers, and it's long been a part of the Montana lifestyle. People around here get pretty excited about fishing for trout because even though fly fishing is such fun as it is, when you're able to catch a dinner that tastes great, that's enormous—and trout are definitely the most sought-after fish. Trout is such a delicate, awesome filet, it's got great mouthfeel and texture, and it's rich in the right kinds of fats, the omegas, so from a healthy perspective it's an obvious choice. And it's fairly versatile, with a nice flakiness on the palate, so people tend to expect to see trout in some form or fashion on the menu in Montana. But when fishermen catch it themselves, they might catch 10 or 12 fish, so they like to preserve them by smoking them. Smoked trout shows up quite often at dinner, and friends often bring smoked trout as part of a potluck. I think people here love trout because it's a reminder that there's so much beautiful water out here—'pristine' is the word that comes to mind. People associate trout with the actual scenery of Montana." – Andy Blanton, chef and owner of Cafe Kandahar, in Whitefish
Glacier National Park
Over a million acres of pristine North American wilderness, Glacier National Park is inhabited almost entirely by native flora and fauna (not including the people, of course), and remains on the bucket list of nature lovers and National Parks fans for good reason—it's a prime example of how humanity can preserve and care for the health of the natural world when we put our minds to it. Besides all the ecological gorgeousness, millions of vacationers fall in love with Glacier every year because of its 700 miles of stunning hiking trails (including the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail), unparalleled camping, kayaking and canoeing, and some of the most superb fly fishing in the world.
Harry Ward, founder of Kayle, in Missoula
In the middle of Big Sky Country, it can be hard to get a variety of healthy foods delivered to your door if you're too busy to do the shopping and cooking yourself. Entrepreneur Harry Ward wants to make sure workaholics get their nutritional needs filled too, and has started a delivery service in Missoula that focuses on healthy meals. Customers make their orders via smartphone app and choose from a menu of "balanced power foods" that the chefs change based on the analytics Ward collects from the orders the previous week. Clients enjoy meals like carnitas sandwiches with cabbage slaw, vegan cranberry-kale tabouli wraps, and Green Aloha smoothies with banana, spinach, pineapple, and coconut powder, made from they freshest, most local ingredients they can get.
"Growing up in a large family, my parents made it a weekly thing to take me and my siblings to a little popcorn stand in Lincoln, Nebraska, every Saturday night. Popcorn is often sold at local farmers' markets, carnivals, outdoor movies, football games, baseball games, and college games. Kettle corn is a popular type of popcorn that is almost always present at every Nebraska festival or any large crowd event such as county fairs. Pumpkin patches often sell popcorn and popcorn balls that people can enjoy while attending the event. Popcorn has always been a May Day favorite and is often used in classrooms as a Halloween or Thanksgiving activity among students—it is used to fill latex gloves to look like a turkey or a ghost. Well, we are the Nebraska Corn Huskers! White popcorn is also a very low-calorie snack.” – Annette Bockman, founder and owner of Just Pop'd, in Papillion
Nine Mile Prairie
Just north of Lincoln lies one of the largest tracts of virgin prairie in the state of Nebraska, a rare example of conserved land that has never been plowed and retains the characteristics of the tall grass that dominated this region of the United States before Pilgrims ever set foot on Plymouth Rock. Now a university-maintained wilderness refuge, research area, and entry on the National Registry of Historic Places, this 230-acre plot also still manages to be host to a series of trails that allow Nebraskans to experience first-hand the beauties of their state and a healthy American environment untouched by man.
Aaron McKeever and Sam Vakhidov of Eat Fit Go
Nebraskans often bemoan the lack of eating choices other than fast food and meat palaces even in the bigger cities. In response, Aaron McKeever and Sam Vakhidov answered the prayers of Omaha's aspirants to health by opening up Eat Fit Go, a business that offers healthy pre-made meals that give them an alternative to office lunches from places that begin with "Mc." The meals are never frozen and eschew artificial ingredients and preservatives. They're also affordable, come with data on the amount of calories, protein, carbs, and fats inside, and are designed to be part of a healthy diet, even for customers who rely on them for meals every day of the week. That last bit means that McKeever and Vakhidov's chefs put a premium on variety (think fajita chicken bowls on Monday, citrus tilapia on asparagus on Tuesday, and New Orleans-style dirty rice with turkey on Wednesday).
"Nevada's so isolated, but it's one of the reasons we have a reputation for a high-quality garlic. We grow it at a 4,000-foot elevation where there's not a lot of agriculture or other farms, so there's not a lot of cross-contamination. And with the high elevations we have very cold winters, and the garlic bulbs get much bigger and nicer-quality. What with the expansion of Las Vegas and all the famous chefs moving there, we've become a state where people appreciate good quality. And our garlic's taking off—we're harvesting green garlic, not just the hard winter garlic anymore. We already have a long history of the Spanish Basques in the state, so you find garlic in everything here. We make a special dill pickle on our farm with a clove of garlic in every batch—it's a seasoning you can use for everything you eat, but it's also good for your blood pressure and a variety of other things. It's just a real good staple." – Rick Lattin, fifth-generation Lahontan Valley farmer and owner of Lattin Farms, in Fallon
If Lake Tahoe is the backyard pool of Nevada, then every kid in the West invites himself over to do cannonballs all year long. With its Sierra Nevada mountains backdrop, skiing, hiking, mountain biking, and water sports, the Lake has been the playground of Nevada and California's summer and winter vacationers for generations. As a consequence, the resort towns that rim the 200-square-mile lake have attracted businesses that cater to the health-conscious, including a wide variety of restaurants and grocery stores to supply the needs of pretty much any diet. Locals are more likely to rely on the regular circuit of farmers' markets that ensure that there's light and nutritious eating to be had even in the off-season.
Waitress-turned-food entrepreneur Jolene Mannina is a food person to know on or off the Vegas strip. She has ushered in the food events of Las Vegas's first Life Is Beautiful festival, created a food-competition TV show, orchestrated popular food-truck competitions, and you'd be hard-pressed to find a food event in Sin City that doesn't have her fingerprints on it. But the social-media-savvy entrepreneur isn't shy to credit her success and her health to eating well, advising her fans to "[f]ind the whole foods in life, gain your nutrients and vitamins the natural way, and watch your body glow from within.” Wise words.
"Strawberries are a sure sign of summer here in New Hampshire! When the first blooms start popping in May, the 30-day countdown to pickable fruit begins. Fresh strawberries are a wonderful way to get a little sweetness into a healthy diet. In our house we use them to brighten up leafy green salads or sneak a few slices into a traditional caprese. For breakfast, I'll make strawberry oatmeal by tossing a few mashed fresh strawberries into the milk before adding the oats. Adding them in while the milk is warm helps to draw out more of the natural sweetness. It feels like dessert for breakfast! Speaking of dessert, strawberries are a terrific way to satisfy a sweet tooth while sticking to a healthy diet. Sliced strawberries mixed into yogurt with a handful of crunchy granola makes for a quick and easy summer dessert. For an elegant sweet-and-savory treat, top a scoop of vanilla-bean ice cream with chopped strawberries and finish with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar." – Erin Gardner, pastry chef and founder of ErinBakes.com
The Upper Valley
This enclave in upper New Hampshire and Vermont bounded by Green Mountains on one side, the White Mountains on the other, and the Connecticut River through the middle, regularly features in “top 10” lists of most livable places and in the retirement fantasies of New Englanders and New Yorkers. Thanks to a strong network of community-based medical services that draw strength from the resident Ivy League, Dartmouth University, and due to a full roster of active-life programs for people from infancy to retirement, the Upper Valley is a collection of towns of citizens who eat, exercise, and plan smart. Add in the area's native beauty and activities like skiing and hiking, and you've got one happy valley.
This network of New Hampshire agencies, businesses, and community leaders has been fighting against Granite State obesity and related chronic diseases since 2008. The priority is for those residents who suffer the most, and a lot of Heal NH's work is addressing the fact that much of the population doesn't have the same access to healthy food and physical activity as the average New Hampshirite. Medical professionals, government officials, and entrepreneurs have been combining their efforts at all levels, from those at the street level who make sure underserved communities get their deliveries of fresh produce, to the policy makers who lobby to pass laws that address the inequalities that lead to some New Hampshirites being less healthy than others.
"Most people tend to credit the quality of our tomatoes to the rich soil in New Jersey, and while it is true that better soil lends better crops, there is more to it than that. Sometime in the 1950s, in response to increased demands, large commercial farmers developed hybrid tomatoes that could yield more crops and survive long transport and storage at the expense of flavor and texture. At that time, there were not many large commercial vegetable farms in New Jersey, so in order to compete, smaller farmers worked with Rutgers University to develop better tasting tomatoes. And since New Jersey is close to so many major metropolitan areas, these better-tasting tomatoes were able to be picked ripe and delivered to a large population of consumers. But I also believe that tomatoes are synonymous with summer and are a product we look forward to all year. Tomatoes are high in vitamin C and the antioxidant lycopene as well as many other vitamins and nutrients and only carry about 32 calories per cup raw, and when they are at their peak ripeness, raw is the best way to eat them. In the summer at the Blue Pig Tavern, we feature a build-you-own-tomato-sandwich menu, and it is by far our most popular lunch item!" – Jeremy Einhorn, executive chef at Congress Hall Hotel, Cape May
A secret that New Jerseyans of the Delaware Valley like to keep to themselves, the artists-colony town of Lambertville has more than the eccentric studios, creativity-inspiring galleries, and treasure-filled antique shops that locals have flocked to for generations. Technically a city—one of America's smallest—this 4,000-person settlement on the banks of the Delaware River holds its share of surprises. These include a picturesque canal path for joggers and cyclists, a nearby golf course, boat rentals and fishing, a thriving cultural scene and vibrant sense of community, and a shocking number of healthy and vegetarian or vegan options for a municipality of its size. Plus, that other artists community on the Delaware—New Hope, Pennsylvania—with its own cornucopia of excellent restaurants, playhouse, nearby wildflower preserve, and horse-riding opportunities—is simply a short walk across the bridge.
Ninety Acres Culinary Center
Ensconced among the rolling hills of Somerset County, the Ninety Acres Culinary Center—located in the old restored carriage house of the 491-acre Natirar estate—has been engaging New Jerseyans of all ages to re-think their relationship to the food they eat and the farmers who till the land they live on. Offering "nourishment of mind, body and soul," Ninety Acres has its own farm, including organically and biodynamically grown produce, and has gained notice for its work with families and children in cooking classes, taking advantage of the next generation's television-fueled interest in food to teach them to ask questions about what's healthy, what's local, and where their food comes from.
"New Mexico is the only state with an official question: 'Red or Green?' referring to our official vegetable—chile peppers. This question is always asked if whether one prefers red or green chile when ordering New Mexican cuisine. We put its image on stationary, clothing, pottery, signs, and even get it tattooed on our bodies. All the basic dishes of traditional New Mexican cuisine contain chile: sauces, salsas, stews, enchiladas, tamales, chile cheeseburgers, chile rellanos, burritos, to name a few. The chile is always the most important ingredient. New Mexico chiles taste great and are good for you. They fight inflammation, are a natural pain relief for sore muscles and arthritis; and they have cardiovascular benefits reducing blood cholesterol. The red fruits are high in beta-carotene or pro-vitamin A, and green chile has as much vitamin C as an orange. There are reports that chiles can help slow prostate cancer, prevent stomach ulcers, help you lose weight, and lower the risk of type 2 diabetes. Many places give chicken soup to cure a cold, but in New Mexico it is our green-chile stew that clears congestion." – Paul Bosland, New Mexico State University professor and director of the Chile Pepper Institute
What could be more refreshing than a mountain range named the Watermelon Mountains? The Sandias are the most-visited range in New Mexico for a reason. It’s a pink-hued playground for hearty hikers, rock climbers, hang gliders, skiers, and ambitious picnickers. Those seeking a true challenge can walk the entire length of the range—all 26 miles of it, with a 4,000-foot ascent. Those who want to improve their health in less grueling ways can take the Sandia Peak Tram up and access some of the 150 miles of trails from there. New Mexicans treasure the Sandia Mountains for more than just being a pretty backdrop to Albuquerque, which is why it's carefully regulated by federal eco-managers as part of Sandia Mountain Wilderness.
The Navajo Nation Special Diabetes Project
Diabetes is an alarming problem among Native Americans, and studies have found that among Navajos, the rate of type 2 diabetes is an astounding four times higher than in the U.S. population at large, and doubling every 20 years. That's why the Navajo Nation Special Diabetes Project plays such an important role in keeping native New Mexicans healthy. The project educates Navajo families about the importance of healthy diets, including the effectiveness of native-plant-based diets in preventing diabetes, and puts on events to help people at risk lose weight. Founded by the Navajo Nation in 1999 after a series of public hearings from the community specifically on how they wanted to address the diabetes epidemic, the Project now works out of eight clinics in New Mexico and Arizona, and tracks patients' cases and progress online.
"Many consider the black-dirt region of Orange County the onion capital of the world—it's the second-largest glacial lake deposit in the U.S., making Orange County home to some of the most fertile land in North America, and perfect for growing onions. The soil's high sulfur content produces some of the spiciest onions around, which add increased depth and flavor to any recipe, and the pyruvic acid is a natural compound that helps your body make and use energy. Onions have been a kitchen staple for many years but are often overlooked when it comes to their nutritional value—low in calories but high in vitamin C and a good source of dietary fiber and folic acid. They also contain antioxidants. But New York State celebrates its onions because they're part of its history, culture, and flavor. It's home to several onion festivals, like Pine Island's, which is based on the traditional Polish harvest festival and celebrates the region's strong Polish heritage as well as its prized allium—festivities include an onion-eating contest and crowning of the Onion Princess. Caramelized onions are super easy to prepare and make most dishes tastier. I personally love onion purees, onion soup, crispy onions, and grilled onions. And who can forget the ever-important onion ring?" – Michael Hurwitz, director of the NYC Greenmarket
With its prized spot among the Finger Lakes, fertile soil, and fitness-conscious public school system, Canandaigua's already got a leg up on many American towns when it comes to all-around healthiness. It can even boast that it installed the region's first "baby cafe," where parents could ensure their infants got great nutrition, free of charge, from the get-go. It's the home of the Wegman's organic farm, and sits on the popular Finger Lakes wine trail. But the reason Canandaigua earns the honor of being dubbed New York's healthiest place is that it doesn't see why it can't be America's healthiest. During the town's centennial celebration, a panel of community leaders convened to set themselves a worthy new goal: Becoming the healthiest town in the country, by using its natural assets, giving schoolchildren fitness tests, and encouraging all adults to do at least 30 minutes of exercise every day. By daring to have the ambition not just to become healthier, but to beat everyone else at it, Canandaigua earns our seal of approval.
Sean Barrett, founder of Dock to Dish, in Montauk
Knowing that it takes a village to feed a village, and a healthy ocean to feed everyone, Long Island fisherman Sean Barrett organized the seafarers of the Montauk to form a sustainable, community-based fishery in which fishermen sell directly to a membership-driven group of restaurateurs and local consumers to provide the freshest possible seafood. The basic model is inspired by the way fishmongering worked before fisheries became industrialized, when fishermen sold what they caught on the docks or directly to restaurants, offering what the oceans gave them that day instead of only going after overfished menu-dictated like tuna, cod, or halibut. Instead of chefs or dining fads directing what kinds of fish to harvest, that decision is left to those who know the oceans and the state of its bounty better than anyone—the fishermen. They choose their catches based on what makes sense for the long-term health of the fish stocks, to the benefit of the health of the seas, the health of the fishing community, and the health of seafood lovers. Barrett's model has since been exported to the West Coast and Canada.
"We used to joke that trout, kale, and sweet potatoes were the Holy Trinity, the symbols, of western Carolina. Sweet potatoes are one of those things that people here always look forward to when they're available at the farmers' markets. They're just one of those vegetables that the people are really comfortable with and have grasped onto—everybody thinks about sweet-potato pie for Thanksgiving, but they're also a part of everyday cooking and family life—North Carolina grows more sweet potatoes than anyone else. In my family growing up, the brandied sweet-potato soufflé was the most amazing thing you'd ever try. We have a 16-month-old now, and sweet potatoes were her first favorite food—a little bit sweet, perfect texture, better for you and more flavorful than regular potatoes, a perfect introduction to the world of vegetables. I think my daughter's such a good eater now because of sweet potatoes!" – Katie Button, chef and owner of Cúrate and Nightbell, in Asheville
Winding through the mountains of western North Carolina, and sandwiched in and among several amazing national parks, the Nantahala serves as the lifeblood for outdoor recreation from Asheville to Atlanta and Greenville to Knoxville. The gorgeous gorges and their tributaries teem with arguably the best trout fishing in the country, with extremely healthy stocks of wild rainbow and brown trout. It also has incredible rafting, canoeing, and kayaking. Meanwhile, the land on and near the river draws hikers, cyclists, and backpackers from all over, many of them living off the land by camping during their stay. The whole area is the baby of numerous environmental agencies and groups, who are protective of the ecologically diverse region, and who work hard to maintain the well-being of one of America's great wildernesses.
An outgrowth of AmeriCorps, FoodCorps is a nationwide organization that educates children on nutrition, buttressing their lessons with hands-on cooking and gardening experiences, and opening lines of access between local farms and school cafeterias. In North Carolina's Brunswick County, FoodCorps volunteers worked with four elementary schools to gather locally grown sweet potatoes and use them in a stew with black beans and local collard greens—which the school nutrition director named “Amber Stew” based on FoodCorps member Amber Ellis. To the northwest, in the metropolis of Charlotte, Food Corps helped fifth graders organize a sweet-potato taste test for the entire school. The lessons the kids learned from FoodCorps? Eating healthy isn't just good for the body, it can also be a load of fun.
"In North Dakota, we love our honey-nut sundaes—a dollop of vanilla ice cream and a heaping teaspoon of honey-roasted sunflower seeds topped with a drizzle of Dakota clover honey. For a real treat, North Dakota honey can't be beat! But as the top honey-producing state in the country, our honey is attractive because the flavor notes are light, compatible with a wide range of foods, and excels as a bottle-grade honey for retail sale. It's attractive in New York City bagels and imparts moisture, flavor, texture, and finish for bakers. North Dakotans eat more honey per capita than most other Americans, and thus, to quote Garrison Keillor, our children are good-looking and above average. North Dakota honey's the Cadillac of honeys." – John Miller, fourth-generation beekeeper, owner of Miller Honey Farms, in Gackle, and the subject of the book The Beekeeper's Lament
Though North Dakota's capital city is one of the coldest in the U.S. during the winter, it's also one of the healthiest cities to live in for the U.S., thanks to exceedingly clean air for a metropolis (it has one of the lowest levels of year-round particulates, as well as low levels of ozone). Bismarckians can thank the fact that their city's remoteness means that it's not downwind of pollutants generated by other dirtier cities and their location's cool temperatures help keep those ozone levels down. Not content to rest on those atmospheric laurels, the city has been aggressive in making their hometown more and more smoke-free.
The Great Plains Food Bank
Hunger is a major issue even in America's heartland, and the Great Plains Food Bank has for 32 years been one of the leading lights in ensuring that fewer families face empty plates at dinner every night. It's North Dakota's largest food-relief organization, and works with over 300 programs in over 110 communities all across the state and stretching into parts of Minnesota, using its network to deliver 100 million meals to those in need since the 1980s. The Food Bank has a particular focus on making sure those who are least able to help themselves—young children and the elderly—get their needed daily nutrition, and also harness their network to provide valuable non-food items such as clothes, bedding, and even toys where they're most needed. And for all families who can't provide all their necessary nutrition themselves, the Food Bank has a fresh-produce program, distributing fresh vegetables and fruits donated by local farmers and ranchers to make sure North Dakotans are eating meals that fill their crucial dietary needs.
"Eggs are a power house of nutrients, with 13 essentials, six grams of protein, and 70-ish calories. Think about it: A whole egg contains all the nutrients required to turn a single cell into a baby chicken. But here in Ohio, eggs are about family reunions—everyone has their own recipe that's 'the best ever.' My personal secret weapon is truffle oil. Every spring, my guests start asking for soft scrambled eggs and ramps from the foot of Ohio's hilly forests. Personally, though, my favorite way to have eggs is a fried egg on arepas with enchilada sauce. In July, it's all about the Ohio State Fair, which has an 'eggs-traordinary' culinary competition where local chefs compete—eggs-citing and devilishly good! Ohio lays 8 billion eggs annually, after all, with a big commitment to cage-free programs." – Alana Shock, chef and owner Alana's, Columbus
Fox Hollow Farm
Central Ohio has more farms than you can count, but Fox Hollow stands out. Not just because it's a family-owned, agriculturally sustainable, organic farm that naturally raises its grass-fed pigs, sheep, cattle, and chicken on 180 acres of pasture. Not just because the eggs come from cage-free birds, or there are no pesticides or herbicides used, and that hormones are used sparingly if at all. What sets Fox Hollow ahead of the pack is that the Rickards do their part to pass along their love of the soil and the knowledge they've picked up along their journey from town folk to farmers. They hold permaculture-design classes, play host to farm-to-table dinners right by the fields that were the source of the ingredients, and maintain an open-door attitude that welcomes anyone who wants to learn more about their philosophy or their farm, or who just wants to come meet the farm's horses.
Dean McIlvaine, owner of Twin Parks Organic Farm
Growing up in Wayne County, Dean McIlvaine was no stranger to the agricultural life–his father grew hundreds of acres of grain crops, just like his father before him. But when McIlvaine inherited Twin Parks' 830 acres in 1985, he decided to convert his family's conventional farm to an organic one. In part, this was because he'd seen what the constant proximity to poisonous pesticides and herbicides did to his father and grandfather–both died early of complications from leukemia and lymphoma. But he also couldn't go back once he had his first taste of "real" food. Now McIlvaine grows certified-organic hay, oats, wheat, and clover and an organic no-till corn, and uses eco-friendly techniques such as alternating his crops with spelt to increase soil fertility. His conversion and success have made him a well-known role model in Ohio's sustainability movement.
"Of course you can look at the benefits of watermelon—high in lycopene, heart healthy, reduces blood pressure—but we made it our state vegetable because it breaks the stereotype of what people often think of when they think of Oklahoma: fried foods. I mean, our official state meal is chicken fried steak! We have several watermelon festivals around the state—you can look at the old photos of watermelon trucks lined up along the highway, and these individuals selling locally grown products. Here in Rush Springs, we've been going since the 1940s, and the biggest argument you will have is whether you eat your watermelon with or without salt. My grandparents like to salt their watermelon, and I used to salt my watermelon, but I prefer it without now. We're lucky because we have a sandy loam soil and the benefits of an aquifer with natural springs, combining to make the perfect environment to grow the perfect watermelon. We have 30,000 visitors show up to our hometown of 1,500 people for the festival, and we went through 65,000 pounds of melon last year!" – Former State Rep. Joe Dorman, chairman of the 2016 Rush Springs Watermelon Festival and sponsor of the 2007 bill that made the watermelon the state vegetable
Oklahoma's largest city and capital was also one of the fattest and unhealthiest in the United States when the entire population decided to go on a diet in 2007. The city shed a collective one million pounds, or the equivalent of 100 elephants, earning it national praise and reinvigorating its community spirit. Still excited by its success, the city undertook other, even more consequential missions to become healthier, like installing walking paths, sidewalks, parks, and bike lanes across the city, putting gyms in every school, and building a $100 million rowing and kayaking center. It's not just public spaces that got the makeover, either—the city now has programs that monitor the health of the obese in their homes and offices, and uses the data to figure out where to spend its health resources best.
Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett
Oklahoma City didn't do it all alone. The million-pound diet was the brainchild of Mayor Mick Cornett, who realized that if he could lose 42 pounds on his own, his city become healthier as well. Cornett used his position as a public figure to cheer on his citizens, making appearances on national television to promote the effort and to remind all Americans of the importance of combating obesity. Part of the success of the OKCMillion diet and its subsequent health programs came about because Cornett formed partnerships with local restaurants—even the fast-food chain Taco Bell, which agreed to emphasize the healthy options on its menu. Though he's a Republican, Cornett sat in a place of pride next to First Lady Michelle Obama at the 2010 State of the Union Address, and he was voted Oklahoma's Mayor of the Year in 2013.
"For me, watching the Oregon wine industry over the last 22 years, the quality has been phenomenal—the wines are getting better and better. We've gone from 150 wineries to give or take 700, with 20,000 acres under vine—the sheer size of the industry has exploded, and we're not just emulating California wines like before. We have people coming from all over the world for the International Pinot Noir Celebration the last week of July, and numerous wine festivals and winery open houses. I've noticed that people are buying a couple cases of wine when they go, because they want to show off for visitors from out of town—Oregonians are proud of how really good the wines have gotten over the last 10 years. Oregon wines are more delicate, with lower alcohol and higher acidity—and a glass of wine with dinner is a lot healthier than three pints of beer while you're cooking dinner. In king salmon season, my wife and I will get a bottle of Oregon pinot, chill it in the fridge for 15 minutes, and then have grilled vegetables and grilled salmon and that Oregon pinot—that to me is an iconic food and wine pairing in Oregon. When we go down to the coast, we go to this place where you get Dungeness crabs out the back, and we'll bring along an Oregon riesling and maybe a pinot gris. Oregon foods with Oregon wines: We like to say, 'What grows together, goes together.'" – Randy Goodman, co-owner of Bar Avignon, in Portland
The "Land of Milk and Honey" for pioneers of the 19th century, this lush agricultural mecca and vineyard central that's the heart and soul of Oregon is one of America's breadbaskets. It provides the rest of us much of our supply of hazelnuts, hops, berries, and other produce, thanks to the ultra-rich soil and providential climate. Those looking to feed their muscles as well as their bellies often choose to experience the natural beauty of the valley on the Willamette River bike trail or the Ruth Bascomb Riverbank Trail System, though the 150 miles of the valley also offers too many recreational possibilities to fully list, including kayaking, mountain biking, rock climbing, windsurfing, and fishing.
Katy Kolker, founder of the Portland Fruit Tree Project
The best ideas are always those that seem obvious in hindsight. When Portland resident Katy Kolker noticed that the fruit from the trees around her house were lying on the ground, rotting and unused, she put two and two together and realized that part of the solution to local hunger and bad nutrition lay right in front of her eyes. So she founded the Portland Fruit Tree Project, which puts the fruit trees that would otherwise be nothing more than lawn decorations to use to feed hungry and malnourished families. Now the group's city trees produce much-needed vitamins in the form of fresh fruit for thousands of the needy—nearly 50,000 pounds a year. The 1,400 volunteers, mostly low-income, pick the fruit from the trees of participating homeowners and orchards, take up to half home for their own families, and then give the rest to local food banks.
"We take our mushrooms seriously here! They are the 'meat' of the plant world, and they show up all over our menu, all year long—that first taste of black trumpet around the holidays, the nutty earthiness of a chanterelle in spring and fall, the beachy flavor of a lobster mushroom in August. Whether roasted, smoked, or grilled, like we will be doing on Fourth of July, we have never encountered a mushroom we didn't love. Gone are the days of the sliced white button mushroom on the salad bar and the portobello craze of the '90s—mushrooms have become more accessible, and we here in Pennsylvania are lucky to have access to such amazing freshness and seasonality, since so much of the country's mushrooms are grown just outside Philadelphia in Kennett Square." – Rich Landau, chef of Vedge
Yes, it's where the Amish live, and yes, you're probably going to get stuck behind a slow-moving horse-drawn buggy while you're driving around here, but Lancaster County has a lot more to it than gratuitous references to the 1985 Harrison Ford movie Witness. You've probably already guessed—those Amish again—that the area has a long tradition of sustainable agriculture and family-owned farms, but why Lancaster earns the title of healthiest county in the Keystone State is that the latest generation of Amish farmers, like Sam Zook of Ephrata, are leading the organic-farming movement by introducing new techniques that reduce or eliminate the need for pesticides and fungicides. In addition, the postcard-pretty county's already solid tourism base has allowed it to put an emphasis on its natural beauty and plentiful outdoor activities—hiking, biking, balloon tours, and visits to its covered bridges—encouraging visitors to get in touch with the environment again.
Barbie Marshall, chef and partner of SOOP Catering in Philadelphia
Assuming the nom de guerre "The Farming Chef," Philly native Barbie Marshall's a social-media influencer, sustainable-agriculture advocate, private chef, and lecturer who proselytizes about the benefits of using locally and responsibly sourced ingredients—but you might best remember her from her turn as a finalist on Season 10 of Hell's Kitchen. She uses her Twitter feed @BarbieMarshall to fight hunger in Pennsylvania, keep followers up to date on produce and supermarket recalls, and crack jokes about scrapple. And you'll find that she's quick to opine about the latest food controversies (GMOs, wood-pulp Parmesan, and the miracles of coffee), and remind people to be mindful about what they feed their families.
"Striped bass was overfished in the '90s, and there was a moratorium in place for years, but it came back strongly around 1998, and we're benefitting from that now. It's the state fish, and everyone in Rhode Island is familiar with striped bass and looks forward to the seasons. They look forward to it the way they look forward to sweet-corn season and strawberry season and asparagus season. Striped bass eat a lot of squid, so they have a great sweetness to them. Overall, the fish is a fantastic part of the diet of eating healthy, not super-fatty, and something that's light and healthy with that little bit of fat under the skin and that crispy skin that everyone craves. What's fantastic is that we brought it back from the brink of overfishing—as a cook you don't want something to go away forever. We could go without something on the menu for a couple of years if, 10 years from now, I won't have to worry that we'll never have striped bass again. We don't want to take these fish for granted, and we have to appreciate that we can get something so fresh and so close. It's perfect when it comes out of the water." – Champe Speidel, James Beard-nominated chef and owner of Persimmon, in Providence
Synonymous with posh summers spent at seaside estates with their own centuries-old names, Block Island is actually a haven of healthful food options and active pursuits, thoughtful environmental preservation, and sustainable energy. During the summer, vacationers fill their days with snorkeling, fishing, horseback rides, kayaking and parasailing, fun at the 17 miles of beach, or simply long hikes and bike rides across this pretty speck in the Atlantic. But the island is best known for its spectacular sailing, and plays host to some of the most storied and important boat races in America. The influx of largely well-heeled summer folk may give rise to some in-good-fun, pinkie-raising mockery, but it also means that the chefs here know that there's a market for menus that cater to people who are used to taking care of their bodies and who tailor their meals around a variety of dietary needs.
Most Rhode Islanders know her best as a reporter for WJAR news, but Alison Bologna has another life as the founder, owner, and creative director of Shri Service Corps, a Pawtucket-based nonprofit organization whose mission is to bring the healing power of yoga to those who can't afford expensive classes but need it most. The six-year-old group has taught over 5,000 students, many of whom include the developmentally handicapped, veterans, seniors, school children, people living in shelters, prisoners, and hospital patients. She and her teachers use movement-based exercises to reduce stress, increase physical strength and flexibility, and bring peace of mind. The group's developed a strong relationship with area hospitals, and participates in a medical study on eating disorders with the Hasbro Children's Hospital—the child patients take classes for free and are monitored on the effects of yoga on bone density.
"We actually have a t-shirt that says, 'Cooking Collards Before Collards Were Cool.' It's high in irony—back in slavery, they used collards with leftover meats to provide their nutrition. Now everybody just loves collards. But we had them all my life—I don't remember ever not having them; everyone does unless they're not from around here. When we opened, collards were our star from the beginning—locals wanted to have them just like they used to every Sunday at dinner after church at two o'clock in the afternoon. People who haven't been home in the South for a long time, that's the first thing they order, and they'll tell me two- to 20-minute stories about how important the collards were as part of their family meals. Even to this day, you see people at the side of the road with a bunch of collards and people lining up to buy them. It's just a part of our history, and it's a part no one wants to let go of, because it brings the warm fuzzies back." – Dana Berlin Strange, owner and manager of Jestine's Kitchen, in Charleston
Forget the university, and laud Clemson for the bike paths it's installed along its streets, the town's decision to add a boardwalk, recreational facilities and a lake walk along Lake Hartwell, and its easy access to the South Carolina Botanical Garden and the Blue Ridge Mountains a short drive away. Extra kudos go to the community group called the Friends of the Green Crescent, which is making far-sighted efforts to connect the city's recreational areas and make sure these public spaces don't get left behind as the area rapidly grows.
Glenn Roberts, founder of Anson Mills
Glenn Roberts got his start in the grains business while he was helping out in the kitchen at a charity event in Charleston. He opened up a bag of Carolina Gold to find it swarming with weevils. His disgust led to intellectual curiosity and then to determination: After realizing that the heirloom rice had gone bad because scarcely anyone grew it anymore, and what little was out there sat on shelves for months, Roberts swore that he'd revive the variety, and resurrect other heirloom grains that were being forced into extinction by profit-obsessed Big Agriculture. Since then, Roberts and his company, Anson Mills, have become A-listers on the sustainable-food scene, convincing the industry that it's possible to be respectful to history and good to the earth while becoming a successful force in the market. The company has reintroduced the polycrop method that Native Americans used before Columbus. They also work closely with a seed bank at Clemson University, and distribute hundreds of tons of heritage seeds to farmers across the country to keep increasingly rare varieties alive. Seeds pioneered by Roberts and Anson Mills recently made waves as far away from the Palmetto State as Southern California, where farmers harvested the first wheat grown in the Los Angeles area in 75 years, using drought-resistant strains Roberts had brought back from the brink of oblivion.
"Oats are one of the few grains that have complete protein, like legumes or milk, which makes it extremely healthy for humans and animals. Because oats can tolerate very low temperatures and a light snow, it makes it perfect for our freezing South Dakota winters—in fact, South Dakota is a top producer of oats in the United States. Oats gained popularity for human consumption when we discovered its high content of soluble fiber, which can reduce high cholesterol, but today, it is seen as a key for weight management. Oats’ high-fiber content triggers slower digestion and suppresses appetite. Many of us know and love oats for its ability to warm us up in the morning or to power us through our afternoon. So next time you indulge in a bowl of oatmeal or grab a granola bar on your way out the door, you're not only doing your taste buds justice, but also your body." – Sanaa Abourezk, chef and owner of Sanaa's Gourmet Mediterranean in Sioux Falls
The Prairie Coteau
A great swath of northern tallgrass that stretches over 20,000 square miles from eastern South Dakota to southwest Minnesota, the Prairie Coteau remains one of the last remnants of the Great Prairie that symbolized the promise of America for over a century. Today, it's monitored carefully by the Nature Conservancy and other preservationist and historical groups, and the custodians and owners of the private, public, and tribal lands that make it up work in concert to protect its biodiversity, endangered species of plants and animals, and its status as a historic slice of Americana. Ranchers in the region have adopted environmentally friendly practices, such as grass-fed beef and seed banking, to respect the prairie's importance.
The Wild Idea Buffalo Co., Rapid City
In 1997, this food company turned the conventional meat industry on its head by turning environmental sustainability into a profit-making business. Its mission: to preserve the Great Plains ecosystem by returning the one element that's been missing for so long—the buffalo. The company raises grass-fed buffalo grown on the same landscape they were evolved to dominate, thus creating a symbiosis that's healthier for both the environment and for the livestock. The company's sustainable buffalo and that of their affiliated ranchers now roam over 150,000 acres of grasslands, bringing more of America's Great Prairie back to health every year.
"Well, tomatoes are healthy in themselves—full of all kinds of vitamins and minerals and all of that, but it's really comfort food for people who grew up with it—people around here really crave it. We find they lend themselves to many applications—people here tend to make green-tomato chow-chow. I've even made a green-tomato cake (think of a carrot cake) with cream-cheese icing, whole-wheat flour, and golden raisins soaked in bourbon. But people love our fried-green tomatoes with cornmeal from Belvidere, Tennessee, deep-fried and served with our tomato-serrano-chia jam with feta cheese and a little bit of arugula and fennel slaw and lemon. Crunchy goodness on the outside, moist insides—what's not to like?" – Susan Moses, co-owner and chef of the 212 Market Cafe in Chattanooga, a sisters-run local institution famed for its fried-green tomatoes
The Music City is in the midst of a foodie revolution, with nationally recognized new restaurants popping up seemingly every month. Izakaya! Elote! Seasonal cured meats! But the best news for health-concerned gourmands is that there are now more options than ever before, with plenty of locavore, sustainable, vegetarian, vegan, and other types of healthy restaurants and food markets to ensure that all types of nutrition needs are met. Nashville's millions of annual tourists can finally rest easy knowing that they can get their country-music itch scratched and still find healthy food outside of hot bird, BBQ, and meat and three.
The Wild Cow, East Nashville
Even in December 2009, when it first opened, The Wild Cow was breaking ground as a vegan restaurant in the heart of skeptical carnivore country. But it has since thrived, while putting up a stout but respectful defense of its philosophy of serving healthy meals assembled from fresh-as-can-be fruits and vegetables. (The restaurant doesn't even have a microwave or freezer!) Since their debut, The Wild Cow has proven that there's a market for dedicated vegetarian restaurants in the area, and the owners plan on opening a new plant-based casual-dining eatery nearby.
"We've been eating beef in Texas back to the 1700s, when the Spaniards first brought cattle here. In the 1800s, we had all the cattle drives up to the Midwest, and the cowboys would cook the beef out on the open range, just like the Spaniards did. Our family got into the business in the 1900s when we opened a meat market—there wasn't any refrigeration back then, so whatever would be left over you'd barbecue or make sausages out of. So beef's been a part of our Texas culture for hundreds of years—so much a part of our Texas culture that beef brisket's the go-to food at any event, whether it's celebrating something happy, like a wedding or a graduation party, or whether it's a wake. It's the food that brings us all together.
"When you're in a barbecue place, it's not uncommon to sit down with a farmer, a rancher, a bank president, or a mechanic, rich or poor, young or old. And everybody's a barbecue expert in Texas—there are 25 million Texans, and there are 25 million barbecue experts, and nobody's wrong. Beef brisket's a great cut of meat: It's got a lean end which you can cut off, which is very low in fat. Brisket's high in monosaturated fat, the good fat, the kind in olive oil and canola oil, but like everything, eat it in moderation." – Kent Black, third-generation pitmaster and owner of Black's Barbecue, in Lockhart
Retreat in the Pines
A log-cabin getaway in 30 acres of woods in Mineola, the Retreat in the Pines is a women-only of yoga and meditation that uses nature as a backdrop for restoring physical and emotional health. The eco-friendly East Texas sanctuary prioritizes wide access, making itself affordable to women of all social and economic strata. To help its guests recover full wellness, the Retreat's teachers and staff lead classes in yoga, meditation, and how to eat healthily and gain a restful night's sleep. The philosophy: Be gentle and good to others, and be gentle and good to yourself.
Ed Smith, city commissioner and former mayor of Marshall
When doctors told Ed Smith that he had prostate cancer, he realized it was time to make a major change in his life. So the five-time mayor of the East Texas town of Marshall made the ultimate sacrifice, at least for a Texan—he gave up meat and went full-on vegan. He didn't stop there. Smith founded the nonprofit group Get Healthy Marshall, dedicated to getting the town to switch to a plant-based diet, kick obesity, and reverse the complications that come with an unhealthy diet. Smith and his wife hold monthly potlucks where they serve vegetarian and plant-based food and espouse the benefits of giving up meat, lead tours of supermarkets to educate people on how to make better food choices, and persuaded local restaurants to begin serving vegan dishes. Every January, the group organizes the New Year, New You Health Fest, which attracts hundreds from all around the country to learn why they should consider adopting veganism and a more active lifestyle.
"Apricots have quite a history with Utah. Back in the day they only grew one named the Chinese apricot that they called the Mormon or LDS apricot because church members liked them so much. We've got three on our orchard that we started in the 1860s. In Utah we run colder than in California, so the sugars form better, and you get sweeter apricots—99 percent of the time, you've got higher nutrition. We love apricots. People in Utah buy a bunch and pack them, or make nectar or cobblers or preserves—my wife's favorite is apricot jam. Everyone around here's already asking us for them ahead of the season. But, oh, just eating them tree ripe, when you bust that pit and that apricot is still holding together and when you bite into it and that juice runs out! They're outstanding, and I'm making my mouth water just talking about it. Apricots! It's hard to say anything wrong with them." – Scott Smith, sixth-generation fruit farmer and owner of Smith's Orchards, in Provo, the oldest farm under continuous family ownership in the state
Red Mountain Resort
Nestled among a landscape of broken mountains and paint strokes of primary colors in St. George, the Red Mountain Resort gives guests the affordable opportunity to use the beautifully alien world of southern Utah (especially mostly tourist-free Snow Canyon State Park) as their own personal fitness rooms. But with some two-dozen daily activities, many of the guests opt to stay on the earth-toned resort campus for everything from aerobic pool routines to a drums-based workout to the stress-reducing "Earthing" ceremony, in which the barefoot participants stand in the grass and visualize themselves as trees. Between fitness classes, there are cooking demonstrations and communal meals of tasty, healthy food. After an ache-inducing day of physicality, there are spa treatments and hiker's massages.
Started as a service by the Salt Lake City Resource Conservation and Development Council, CSA Utah serves as a meeting ground and medium for community-supported agriculture in the state, from the farmer to the consumer, encouraging both sides to talk to one another and connect. The "Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food" philosophy motivates everything CSA Utah does, like educating non-farmers about what CSAs are and why it's healthier for their families and better for all Utahns to buy fresh, local produce. They also introduce farmers who want to join CSAs to veteran CSA farmers and networks that can help them get started.
"People have been making maple syrup for 150 years here, first as a sort of sideline for dairy farmers for March, they didn't have a lot of crop work to do and needed some cash to start the crops that year. When you mention you're from Vermont traveling now, people automatically think of maple syrup or skiing. I remember my parents helping the neighbors in their sugar house back when I was little, and making myself a little bed under one of the storage tanks, where it was nice and warm. Maple-syrup season in Vermont is all about helping each other out, and emptying the buckets each day, and loading up the team of horses and the sled with wood for the fire, and then coming back in and enjoying the steam and celebrating with food, donuts, beer, and good jokes. Here in Vermont, we have sugar on snow, which is just maple syrup cooked to a higher degree and then poured on snow so it becomes a kind of candy--that's a tradition. I like to use what we used to call Grade B, the richer syrup, on my winter squash and carrots, I put it on salmon and scallops, bake apples with it, and I actually put it in my spaghetti sauce to make it a little sweeter. Though it's a sugar, it has a lower glycemic index than cane sugar, and has more antioxidants than blueberries. Every week you're hearing something new about the benefits of maple syrup." – Betsy Luce, co-owner of Sugarbush Farms, in Woodstock
Mad River Valley
Vermont's own not-so-hidden valley is noted for being just inaccessible enough to weed out those tourists who don't take their winter vacationing seriously. Two of the most venerable and prized ski areas on the East Coast, Sugarbush and Mad River Glen, call the valley their home, drawing half a million skiers, snowboarders, and other winter-sports enthusiasts annually. And everyone wants to keep a good thing going strong: In an unusually sensitive gesture between developers and environmentalists, the Sugarbush owners once used horse teams instead of trucks to clear timber for construction so they wouldn't have to build new roads in the valley. Besides the snow sports, there's good fishing, a thriving social scene of art galleries and community events, and a good assortment of vegetarian and other healthy restaurants featuring fresh, local ingredients.
Tom Stearns, founder of High Mowing Organic Seeds
Tom Stearns was originally a hobbyist grower when he turned his backyard into a living lab to experiment with organic heirloom seeds—28 varieties at first—a one-man operation to create "health on all levels," from the human body to the environment, by rebuilding a healthy food system. That was 20 years ago. Today, his company, High Mowing Seeds, works with strong community support in its hometown of Hardwick, and with farmers across the country to develop and produce over 600 heirloom and open-pollinated varieties of seeds for vegetables, fruits, herbs, and flowers that are ideally suited for organic conditions. The seeds then go to both commercial farmers and amateur gardeners who are interested in sustainable agriculture, spreading Stearns's decades-old dream of disseminating well-being all over.
"Being raised in this area and on a farm, I have fond memories of these groundnuts from planting to harvesting, but they have long been a big part of the agriculture success of this area of Virginia. Peanuts, or 'groundnuts,' as they were called, were discovered in Brazil, and the Portuguese took them to Africa. Peanuts are thought to have been brought to America by the Portuguese slave traders. Peanuts are high in protein and are a big part of the agriculture success of this area of Virginia. Many say that Thomas Jefferson and George Washington were fond of the peanut soup we've have had on our menu for longer than anyone can remember." – Chef Linwood Blizzard, chef at the King’s Arms Tavern, in Colonial Williamsburg
This D.C. suburb that's really more like its own city is routinely touted by health experts for its smoke-free air, the healthy weights of its residents, and its people's dedication to keeping fit through exercise—probably thanks in large part to the beautiful surroundings that make it so easy and fun to jog, walk, or bicycle outside. Its cultural diversity and cosmopolitan values as a community in the shadow of the nation's capital also ensure a rich and varied selection of healthy foods of innumerable traditions.
Ryan and Travis Croxton, co-owners of Rappahannock Oyster Co.
These Virginia cousins, Ryan and Travis Croxton, not only resurrected the old family business, they also reseeded the Chesapeake Bay with their commercial oyster beds, reviving a centuries-old Virginia tradition that had all but gone extinct because of overfishing. In doing so, they not only saved the family business and an entire state industry, they also reintroduced a vital element to the Chesapeake Bay's ecosystem—the oysters that acted as filters for the water—jumpstarting a cycle that is bringing the Bay back to health after decades of misuse. Now Chesapeake Bay oysters from Rappahannock Oyster Co.'s beds are lauded nationwide, and show up on the menus of celebrated restaurants including Le Bernadin.
"Just like the pairing of sweet and tart is in the raspberry itself, there is a pairing of how important the raspberry is to the state's economy and how important the state's climate and soil is to the high production of raspberries nationally and internationally. With raspberries what I enjoy most is their light texture and the natural balance of sweet and tart. A raspberry is delicious out of hand, but also complements a wide range of ingredients from cream to bittersweet chocolate. I personally gravitate towards lighter desserts and strive to highlight what is naturally the best in the ingredients I use." – Junko Mine, pastry chef at Cafe Juanita's, in Kirkland
San Juan Islands
Though much of the entire state of Washington could be in the running for healthiest places in the U.S., the San Juan Islands stand out as a unique part of Washington life. The archipelago is home to the largest concentration of bald eagles in the continental U.S., and serves as a haven and home base for pods of orcas that feed on the nearby schools of salmon, earning it a reputation as a "living laboratory" of ecological health. Humans, meanwhile, enjoy the clean air, temperate weather, and plentiful recreational activities, including fine sea kayaking—so much so that there are efforts to place thousands more acres under federal protection, proving that it is possible to find the balance between nature's wellness and human enjoyment.
Bill Taylor of Taylor Shellfish Farms
The Taylor family's been farming shellfish in Puget Sound since the 1890s, when Bill Taylor's great-great-grandfather harvested Olympia oyster in Totten Inlet. Bill's father began sounding the alarm over the threat to clean water when he ran the farm. But a few years ago, ocean acidification still nearly wiped out the Taylors' baby oysters. Now Bill Taylor has made ocean acidification and other water-sustainability issues a top priority for Taylor Shellfish Farms, the country's largest producer of farmed shellfish, earning plaudits from around the globe. A spokesman for the company even spoke to the United Nations to warn about the dangers the seas' changing pH levels pose to marina fauna and flora.
"It was a staple crop back in the days that farmers harvested to make sure they had flour to store for the winter. Back in the '30s, almost every farmer grew them. The buckwheat industry's dwindled down quite a bit, but our celebrations of it continue to this day even if it may not be one of our staple crops anymore—we still share the history and are carrying the heritage of what our forefathers did. There are over 100,000 people who come to our festival! Mostly, we made buckwheat cakes out of them—they're kind of like pancakes, but thinner and have a sour taste to them. My grandmother and mother would always cook them in the fall or winter. It was just what we had for breakfast every day, and a lot of people would have it for supper, too. You had to have an iron skillet to cook them on, and get it real hot with bacon grease. Today, people like buckwheat because it's gluten-free and a whole grain. We still don't add anything to our mix—in West Virginia, buckwheat cakes have to be made from freshly ground buckwheat." – Darla Moyers, festival secretary Preston County Buckwheat Festival, in Kingwood
West Virginia's hidden healthy-living gem lies in the rolling hills and rocky outcroppings of the Eastern Panhandle, a quiet bowl of small dairy, fruit and maple-syrup farms, summer resorts, and quaint communities that a mere 8,000 people call home. The crown in the Pendleton County jewel is Spruce Knob, the state's highest mountain, with an alpine summit, 75 miles of hiking trails—including a handicap-accessible nature trail near the top—camping and trout fishing nearby. Much of the county is filled up by Monongahela and George Washington national forests, and there's excellent rock climbing, horseback riding, hunting, and fishing throughout.
When celebrity chef Jamie Oliver swept through Huntington, dubbed America's unhealthiest city, for his 2010-2011 show Food Revolution, he showed schoolchildren common fruits and vegetables and asked them if they could name them. They couldn't. (One boy insisted that tomatoes were potatoes.) When he left, what Oliver had used as "Jamie's Kitchen" became Huntington's Kitchen, and is now managed by Cabell Huntington Hospital and partnered with and home to Marshall University's department of dietetics. The Kitchen continues Oliver's mission of teaching West Virginians how to buy healthy, cook healthy and eat healthy, via events to bring more attention to Huntington's obesity epidemic. There are food and cooking classes for all ages, like a three-day culinary camp for the youngest. Adults get to learn how to indulge in the healthier cuisines and cooking techniques of other cultures, like Japanese sushi and gyoza, or how to make better food choices on a limited budget.
"We live and breathe cheese day in and out—I mean, look at us, we're the Cheeseheads. People grow up with cheese in Wisconsin—when I was Scoutmaster, we wouldn't sell cookies, we'd sell pounds of cheese door to door. It's the pride we take in the products we make here. The farmers are the best stewards of the land, taking care of the soil and crops that they know the cows will eat, and that carries through in the quality of the milk, which carries through in the quality of the cheese. And milk is one of the most nutritious things around! Our job as cheesemaker is to take this wonderful liquid gold and turn it into a solid that is stable and healthy for consumers—it's a win-win. Cheese is a great way to get protein back in your system, and it's not full of extra sugars or that other crap that weighs you down—though moderation is the key to everything.
"Down here in the south of the state, you've got the Swiss, who all have relatives somewhere who made cheese, and the most popular way to eat it is fondue. We use gruyere and fontina and a little emmenthal in there and dip good hard-crusted bread in there and sit and chat with a glass of wine. If you go north or central, you've got the German heritage, and it's mac and cheese to die for. Just do me a favor and make sure you eat your cheeses at room temperature—it brings out the true flavor profile." – Bruce Workman, record-breaking eleven-time Wisconsin Master Cheesemaker and owner and cheesemaker at Edelweiss Creamery, in Monroe
With its eight farmers' markets, young and physically active population, and tons of grocery and restaurant options for vegetarians, the college city of Madison takes the nutritionally balanced cake as the healthiest place in the Badger State. Not convinced? Take a run or two on the 20 miles of year-round trails, go for a dip at the public beach at Lake Wingra (a rare picturesque urban lake), spend a day at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Arboretum, or break out the wheels and go for a spin on the seemingly endless bike paths, which the city keeps plowed for cyclists all winter.
Castle Rock Farms, Osseo
This fifth-generation organic milk and cheese farm has made a splash among health-conscious foodies in this Midwestern state. Its cows lead "relaxing lives" on the farm's green pastures (it totals about 900 acres), and the farmers believe that a happy cow makes for tastier dairy products. Off the farm, Castle Rock Farms has been bringing back old-school traditions including raising all the grain they feed their cows; slow-churned, small-batch ice cream without fillers; white cheese made fresh from cow's milk without additives; and non-homogenized milk that leaves a cream line in the old-fashioned glass bottles. Oh, and Castle Rock even offers home delivery—and you can't get more old-fashioned than waiting for the milkman to make his rounds.
"Nowadays you don't see the bison out here like you used to. I remember riding horses among them as a kid, which we did often on my family's bison ranch—oh, it was the best place to run around! But bison have always been here, and they're still a big part of who we are in Wyoming—it's on the state flag, and there are a number of ranches that have been bringing back the population. As far as from a health standpoint, they're a heart-healthy red meat, which is a lot to do with the omega-3, omega-6 fatty-acid ratio, which is a lot closer to what our natural diet is supposed to be. We try to raise bison the most natural way that's healthy to them, healthy to the ecosystem, and that produces a healthy food for the consumer." – Dylan Handrich, owner of Prairie Monarch Bison
Now that it doesn't involve gunfights with cattle rustlers, living the cowboy life is the dream active lifestyle for Old West romantics and outdoorsy men and women. HorseWorks Wyoming, which owns 66,000 acres in northern Wyoming, lets people who don't want to spend their vacations lazing on the beach instead spend their holidays riding horses, corralling dogs on a cattle drive, and trying out their riding skills on barrel races. Guests are put to work performing actual chores on the working horse and cattle ranch, and hear stories and learn lessons from the owner, a legendary cowboy who's said to have broken more horses than anyone in Wyoming history.
Feeding the world's population is a critical problem, especially as there's increasingly less land that can be dedicated to farming, and because it's notoriously difficult for smaller growers to squeeze out enough profits to make it worthwhile. Laramie-based company Bright Agrotech saw the problem as one of efficiency in space. Their solution? Creating systems that allow farmers to utilize the wealth of unused or underused space at their disposal and to look in a new direction: up. Bright Agrotech's vertical farming equipment works with all sizes of farms, allowing them to reduce costs and make greenhouse and indoor growing make more sense anywhere in the world. The result, the company hopes, is that people in cities and other traditionally non-agricultural areas will have greater access to fresh, local produce.