Food & Garden
Living in Harmony with Mother Nature – An Earth Day Interview With Shayna Terese Taylor
For Earth Day we are bringing you a beautiful interview with holistic chef and farmer Shayna Terese Taylor. In 2021, Shayna left LA in hope for discovering a better life in Europe and found herself in Italy surrounded by vast and stunning countryside. The rest is history as Shayna built a sustainable life for herself, discovering what it means to be a biodynamic farmer, a holistic chef and friend to all human, animal and plant life. Now, day-to-day she runs her farm alongside Shayna’s kitchen, her holistic food blog and online shop, as well as owning her own organic CBD brand, Bottle and Stone. We hope this interview inspires you as it did us to follow your biggest dreams and contribute towards a sustainable future for all!
“Naturally, when you care more about the Earth and where our food comes from, you start to think about all the ways you can do your part to help it thrive and minimize the damage that humans have caused over the years. I started looking at what I was buying and how I could encourage sustainability, and I continued to educate my family, friends, and community on how they could also give back.”
– Shayna Terese Taylor
First of all Shayna, can you introduce yourself and tell us a bit about your first sparks of interest in sustainable living?
Hi, my name is Shayna Terese Taylor. I am a chef, wellness entrepreneur, influencer, and now a farmer. I have always had a passion for taking care of things. Even as a kid, I would nurture my stuffed animals with great care. As I got older, my friends even started calling me “Momma Shay,” a nickname that has stuck with me for as long as I can remember. I love nourishing people not only with love but also with inspiration, food, and education about natural ways to feel our best. This inherent part of my soul began to flourish when I decided to go to culinary school for college. It was during this time that I started to express my love and care through food, and I became extremely passionate about the quality of ingredients and how important it is for not only a chef to create incredible dishes, but also for how the meal makes you feel after consuming it.
I had always been a foodie, but during that time, I also started to struggle with my gut health, which led to skin issues and a weakened immune system, resulting in frequent illness. That’s when I started applying all the things I was learning in culinary school to create healthier dishes that would help me recover from my own health battles while still enjoying delicious food. I became more knowledgeable about ingredient substitutions that were detrimental to my gut, as well as understanding the quality of produce and the relationship we have with food in terms of feeling our best. Naturally, when you care more about the Earth and where our food comes from, you start to think about all the ways you can do your part to help it thrive and minimize the damage that humans have caused over the years. I started looking at what I was buying and how I could encourage sustainability, and I continued to educate my family, friends, and community on how they could also give back.
That’s when I discovered not just organic farming, but regenerative and biodynamic farming. I realized that the quality of the soil where the vegetables are grown is the most important factor in obtaining the highest quality, best tasting, and most importantly, nutrient-dense food. Even when it comes to sourcing meat, factors such as the grass and hay the animals are eating, whether they have a life of roaming free and grazing as they are naturally supposed to do, are key to their nourishment. This ensures that when they become food for us, it’s beneficial instead of detrimental to our bodies, avoiding issues such as antibiotics, non-organic feed, and a stressed, malnourished life.
How did you begin to see the connection between personal health and the health of the natural world around you?
Most of what I understand and know today is self-taught out of pure passion to give my body the best possible nourishment it needs to flourish and feel its best. Going through a lot of stress as a child coming from a divorced family, I realized that my emotional state played a big part in my healing journey. Just like I treat my body as a temple that I am blessed to have, I also realize that this body is fortunate enough to live on this beautiful Earth. Seeing how humans have destroyed the environment and caused so much damage to our planet has made me just as passionate about caring for nature as I am about caring for my own body, because in the end, both need to be nourished and in a good place to feel our best.
And what was the impetus for your big life shift in moving to a farm in Italy?
When I was 19, I took my first trip to Europe. I remember so vividly that the food just tasted so much better than the food I had at home in the US. This became more and more relevant the more in tune I became with my body. I would go to Italy and eat all the bread, pasta, and cheese, and come back to LA skinnier and less inflamed than before I left, when I was on a strict diet, eating no gluten, no dairy, no sugar, and being afraid of everything. This is when I started to deep dive into why, even when sourcing the best quality ingredients in LA, my body was so inflamed, while in Italy it wasn’t. Second to that, living in the US my whole life, between the two biggest cities, LA and New York, I was really over the busyness and loudness of the lifestyle, and loved the simplicity and nature of the countryside in Italy. I also always dreamed about having a farm and growing all my own ingredients and products that I could sell one day through my brand. So, I decided at the end of 2021 to sell my home in LA, put all my stuff in storage, and go to Europe to see where it would take me.
How has living in a more rural location and so much in nature impacted your mental health?
I have always been a pretty calm person, but living in nature every day, being around animals, and getting my hands and feet in the dirt has made me feel more grounded and connected with myself than ever before. So many people are afraid to spend time alone, especially in silence, but it is the best way to go deep inside your soul and understand all the parts of yourself that you may have lost along the way in life. I have also noticed that when I lived in busy cities, my nervous system was on overdrive almost always due to all the overstimulating energy around me, and I always felt like I had to be doing something, and that resting wasn’t acceptable, which led me to being chronically tired and not knowing why. Being in the countryside in Italy, I always feel peace around me, and when I go outside, I can drop into the healing and calming power of nature.
We saw a post of yours that said that something that drew you to Italy was how much the culture celebrates simple sorts of living…can you speak a bit to this?
One of the things that drew me to Italy, specifically Umbria, is how much the culture celebrates simple living. In Umbria, there is a deep appreciation for the beauty of the natural world, a connection to the land, and a focus on living in harmony with nature. The concept of “la dolce vita” emphasizes taking pleasure in the simple joys of life.
The Italian culture places a high value on community and connection. Family and friends are cherished, and spending quality time with loved ones is one of their top priorities. There is a slower pace of life, where people take the time to connect with each other, share stories, and cultivate meaningful relationships. This sense of community and connection fosters a sense of well-being and fulfillment, and it aligns with the holistic approach to living that I am so passionate about. There is a strong emphasis on food and enjoying meals in a leisurely manner, savoring the flavors and the company of loved ones. This approach to food and dining promotes mindful eating and a deep connection to the land and its offerings.
Living here has taught me to slow down, be present, and find fulfillment in the little moments. It has also reinforced my belief in the importance of living in harmony with nature, valuing community, and embracing a holistic approach to life.
Your farm there looks just incredible – can you tell us some of the first things that impacted you deeply when you began to grow your own vegetables, become immersed in the lifestyle of farming, etc.?
I have always been very connected with the land, even with my smaller garden in Los Angeles. When I moved to Italy though, this connection felt heightened and heartfelt. I think because this land is so untouched, it has brought an especially profound sense of awe and appreciation for the cycles of life and the interconnectedness of all living beings. What has struck me the most though is the sense of community and shared experiences with farming here with other Italian farmers. The local farming community embraced me with open arms, generously sharing their knowledge, wisdom, and camaraderie. Working alongside fellow farmers, exchanging ideas and stories, and celebrating their bounties of the harvest season together created a strong sense of belonging and interconnectedness. It reinforced my belief in the power of community and the importance of fostering meaningful relationships in the pursuit of a holistic and sustainable way of life.
“One of the things that drew me to Italy, specifically Umbria, is how much the culture celebrates simple living. In Umbria, there is a deep appreciation for the beauty of the natural world, a connection to the land, and a focus on living in harmony with nature. The concept of “la dolce vita” emphasizes taking pleasure in the simple joys of life.”
– Shayna Terese Taylor
And your farm is biodynamic – can you tell us a bit about what that means and why it is important to you to operate this way?
When I first stumbled upon the concept of biodynamic farming a decade ago, it really resonated with me. It wasn’t just about growing vegetables, but about adopting a holistic and regenerative approach to agriculture that honored the wisdom of nature. This method of farming recognizes that the soil, plants, animals, the moon, and humans are all interconnected and part of a larger ecosystem that should be nurtured and respected. It’s about working in harmony with nature, rather than against it, and utilizing organic and sustainable practices that promote the health and vitality of the entire farm ecosystem. It’s important to me to embrace the inherent intelligence and wisdom of nature and recognize that we are mere stewards of the land, entrusted with the responsibility to care for it. It’s about fostering a deep connection with the natural world and understanding that our actions as farmers have a ripple effect on the health and well-being of the entire ecosystem.
You have the most adorable assortment of animals – how do they come into the biodynamic farm?
Yes, I currently have my two dogs that I had in LA (Oliver and Panda). I’ve also adopted a stray cat named Muse, and I got five ducks, three bunnies, and two sheep dog puppies. Next week, I am getting 20 chickens and two roosters. The ducks are incredible because they eat all the bugs and insects that can harm the garden, and their droppings fertilize the soil. Moreover, they eat all the vegetable scraps I have until I have my compost up and running.
The bunnies don’t really tie into biodynamics, but I wanted to save them from the market and now I just love having them. They will also be great for the classes I want to do with kids here on the property in the future.
I got the sheep dogs from a neighboring sheep farm. They had a large litter of puppies and were trying to find homes for them, so I decided to take them. They are important to protect all the animals on the farm and eventually help herd and protect the sheep we will get for the farm.
And how does your connection to them show an alternative form of love for you?
In biodynamics, I believe it’s important to recognize that these relationships with the animals goes beyond a transactional relationship. They’re my first animals that will assist me (beyond just unconditional love from my two dogs!), but it’s still important to me to build a bond based on mutual respect, understanding, and appreciation. It’s about recognizing that animals are unique beings with their own individual personalities, energy, emotions, and contributions to my home and farm. They play a vital role in the natural cycles of the farm, providing manure for fertilization, helping with pest control, and contributing to the overall balance and harmony of the farm ecosystem. While their roles are so important, I believe they’re here to live happy and healthy lives and I will ensure they will do that here in Umbria.
Can you tell us a bit about Shayna’s kitchen and your goal with the sort of food you want to put out into the world?
Shayna’s Kitchen started as a blog and a place for people to get healthy gluten-free, refined sugar-free, and corn-free recipes. It was also a place where I would vet brands and product companies and share who I believed was doing things right. In 2019, SK then launched our first-ever product, Matcha green tea, which has grown so much over the years. Now, with the purchase of the farm here in Italy, we will sell biodynamic olive oil, wine, medicinal herbs and supplements, and teas that are all grown on my own land. I started SK because as a consumer myself, I had a hard time finding companies that sold the best quality products that also care about the planet. I thought to myself, “I wish there was one place I could go that had all the essentials.” And that’s what I want SK to be, a place you can trust that has all you need to start your own health journey while also doing good for the planet.
How important do you think what we eat is for both personal and planetary health?
As a holistic chef, I hold a deep conviction that our food choices profoundly impact our personal and planetary health. Food is not just fuel for our bodies, but a vital source of nourishment that connects us to the earth and each other. I believe in the wisdom of nature and the importance of honoring it through our food choices. Choosing whole, locally sourced, organic, and sustainably produced foods is not only about what’s on our plate, but also about how it’s grown, harvested, and distributed. It’s about supporting regenerative farming practices, reducing our ecological footprint, and promoting equitable and ethical food systems that benefit all beings involved. By being conscious of what we eat, we can cultivate holistic well-being for ourselves and contribute to a healthier and more sustainable planet.
What does it mean to you to be a “holistic chef”?
Being a holistic chef is about more than just taste and presentation. It’s about using whole, natural, and minimally processed ingredients that nourish our bodies and support our well-being. It’s about being mindful of the impact of food on the environment and supporting sustainable farming practices. It’s about honoring our heritage, fostering community, and using food as a tool for promoting health, sustainability, and connection – to ourselves, to others, and to the planet. Ultimately, being a holistic chef is about creating meals with intention and mindfulness for the interconnectedness of all aspects of food – from farm to fork, and beyond.
And what inspired you to start your organic CBD brand, Bottle and Stone?
My journey as an influencer really began with people asking me about clean products I used and loved. As CBD gained popularity, I dove into research to find a brand I could genuinely recommend to my community. However, I couldn’t find one that met my standards of responsible growing, harvesting, and production practices. This inspired me to create Bottle & Stone, a line that aligned with my values of holistic health and well-being. With Bottle & Stone, I am dedicated to providing my community with a reliable and high-quality option that they can trust. I believe in the importance of educating my community about the potential benefits of CBD and how it can be integrated into a holistic approach to wellness. Transparency and trust are extremely important to me, and I am committed to offering products that are safe, effective, and promote overall well-being. As my company grows, my passion for educating and empowering my community about the benefits of CBD continues to drive me forward.
How do you think CBD can help with things like eco or climate anxiety?
CBD is an amazing (and natural) anti-anxiety tool. It is derived from hemp plants, which make for good renewable energy sources that do not pollute the environment. We currently live in a time where industries are now looking at using hemp in their production for a more sustainable approach. Hemp is also extremely easy to grow and requires very little upkeep. It replenishes the soil nutrients as it grows, while also being sturdy and disease-resistant.
When thinking about how a product like CBD can help reduce things like eco or climate anxiety, I would think of it as you are doing your part by using a natural product that causes no harm to the planet. It actually does so much good! Even though small changes like using CBD might not feel significant in the grand scheme of things, by purchasing CBD products, you are supporting an industry that has the ability to make a large impact on climate change and take steps forward.
Finally, to wrap up this Earth Day, what does sustainable living mean to you?
Sustainable living means honoring the interconnectedness of all living beings and the environment. It’s about using regenerative and organic practices that promote the health of the soil, plants, animals, and humans alike. It’s also about fostering biodiversity, protecting natural resources, and reducing our ecological footprint. Sustainable living is a holistic approach that encompasses how we grow and produce our food, how we consume and waste, and how we interact with our environment. It’s about making conscious choices that align with the principles of sustainability for a healthier, happier, and more harmonious relationship with Mother Earth.
As a holistic chef and biodynamic farmer, sustainable living is at the core of my philosophy. It’s about nurturing the land and animals with care, using regenerative practices that promote soil health and biodiversity, and supporting local communities. It’s also about educating and inspiring others to make conscious choices that align with the principles of sustainable living. I believe that by working in harmony with nature and making mindful choices, we can create a better future for ourselves, our communities, and our planet.
Words by @shaynateresetaylor