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Wheat Grass Rising

For this "superfood," it's suddenly easy being green

By David Templeton

DUST RISES from my tires while fog floats across the windshield, as I make my cautious way up the unpaved road that will take me to Green Horse Wheat Grass Farms in Occidental. On the seat beside me are stacks of books, pamphlets, leaflets, and testimonials, all proclaiming the miraculous nutritional powers of the currently raging health-food phenomenon known as wheat grass.

I have read them all. My head is fairly swimming with science-room facts about enzymes and chlorophyll and alkaline contents, magnesium and potassium, and the processes of digestion.

As the road twists hypnotically before me, I daydream that I am watching one of those Bell Laboratories science films I used to sleep through in seventh-grade biology, this one featuring a twisting, cartoonish blade of happy green grass, dressed in overalls and wearing a tie. He shakes hands with the professor and waves down at me, his sales pitch sounding a little like this:

    "Hi, boys and girls! I'm Mr. Wheat Grass! Say, did you know that a single ounce of my juice contains more nutrients and vitamins than you'd get from eating two whole pounds of vegetables? Well, many nutritionists say so, and thousands of health-oriented consumers agree.

    "Why, some people pay up to $1.50 for an ounce of old Mr. Wheat Grass' potent green squeezings. And others grow me in their backyards or front porches, dropping me into hand-cranked juicers or chewing me like gum for energy, much like some folks use double lattes. Neat, isn't it?

    "Later on, I'll lead you all on the 'Magical, Mysterious Wheat Grass Tour,' where you'll see me grow from a tiny little wheat berry soaking in a tub to a big green blade of grass just oozing with nutrients, and finally, right into the mouths of health-conscious consumers just like yourselves!"

I DRINK FOUR OUNCES a day," nods Michael Blum, wheat-grass purveyor and proprietor of Green Horse Farms. "I sip it slowly over an hour or so, so my body can absorb it all. I feel great."

Blum is leading me out to the makeshift greenhouse from which his emerald empire emanates. An avowed health-food enthusiast for over 25 years, Blum began raising the gramineous growth about a year ago, shortly after learning of wheat grass from his employer, who kept a flat of the stuff in his car to graze on throughout the day. As Blum describes it, the benefits were instantaneous.

"I suddenly had lots of energy," Blum exclaims. "I felt healthier. I could work longer and harder." And work he did. Blum immediately decided to try growing wheat grass himself, and then to make a business of it. "It kind of seemed right up my alley," he grins, pleased that his decision has led to his present position as the largest wheat-grass grower north of Marin County.

According to Blum's estimates, he now produces at least 95 percent of the green stuff consumed in all of Sonoma County, supplying such grocery stores such as Food for Thought and Oliver's, along with numerous juice bars, including Squeezers, Surf City, and The Juice Shack in Santa Rosa, Howard's Juice Bar in Occidental, and Copperfield's Cafés in Petaluma, Santa Rosa, and Sebastopol.

Wheat grass," he asserts, "is becoming the espresso of the '90s."

Though suddenly enjoying an all-time high profile around California and a few other spots around the globe, wheat grass is hardly new.

In 1955, a Boston nutritionist named Ann Wigmore began singing the praises of the unassuming little veggie, recalling a time in Europe during World War I when she and her family existed almost entirely on grasses from the field. She developed a regimen of "wheat-grass therapy" that she later credited with healing a variety of her own life-threatening ailments. Since then there have been so many claims of wheat grass miracles, with stories of cancer cured, tumors dissolved, and arthritic limbs restored to youthful vigor,

"Wheat grass is very useful," confirms Ed Bauman, Ph.D., of Cotati. "It's a valuable, naturally enriched substance. It's a good complement to a good diet and it's a kind of an insurance against a bad diet." As director of Partners in Health and the Nutrition Program of the Institute for Educational Therapy, Bauman regularly prescribes supplements of chlorophyll-rich foods, including wheat grass, but he steers clear of swallowing all the stories told about it.

"You can't make too many health claims, because of the difficulty of demonstrating proof across any kind of controlled setting," he says. "What is very clear is that wheat grass is a very useful food. It's really nourishing, it's concentrated, it's easy to digest. It's got natural sugars, and it's got a lot of potassium and magnesium, which is really relaxing, and it's got a lot of B vitamins. But it works best in combination with a variety of nutritional things. It's not a stand-alone thing."

True. Though some have difficulty getting past the thought of drinking something so green and so . . . grasslike, the initial front-lawn flavor of the stuff is followed by a mellow, distinctly sweet aftertaste.

"People are a little nervous about it the first time," laughs Jeff Sacher of the Copperfield's Café chain, which sells freshly squeezed wheat grass juice in one- and two-ounce shots. "But it's better than you might think. I have people who were afraid to try it who are now regular customers, coming in first thing for their morning shot."

Old Mr. Wheat Grass, I'm sure, would be pleased as punch.

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From the July 11-17, 1996 issue of the Sonoma Independent

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