Four years ago, Faye Lande, a successful artist and college-level art teacher, underwent surgery for breast cancer. Afterward, though grateful to be alive, she found herself strangely at odds with her body: She felt disconnected, uneasy about the future. She worried about her health.
One of the things her doctor suggested was a diet of organically grown vegetables -- those produced without pesticides or artificial, chemical enhancement. From that simple act began a serendipitous journey that led to her organizing and running the Delicious Green Co-Operative, an organic foods co-op. Located in the kitchen of the Ruscombe Mansion -- a privately run, alternative community health center rooted heavily in holistic concepts -- the co-op is open to members and the public each Tuesday from noon to 7 p.m. (4801 Yellowood Ave., off Greenspring Avenue;  358-3851).
It was there, among a freshly delivered batch of broccoli and oranges and tomatoes, that Ms. Lande spoke in detail about her simultaneous accomplishments: her emotional recovery from cancer and her understanding and promotion of organic foods as a way of life. She also spoke of being ready to turn over the reins of the flourishing co-op to an eager crop of proteges so she can scout out suitable new projects in the world of art and teaching.
Soft-spoken and delicate, she couldn't resist offering me a piece of organically grown star fruit. "I'm that classic Jewish mother," she laughed. "Sometimes I feel the only way I can relate to people is by giving them food."
Q: This star fruit reminds me of something I ate when I was about 4 years old.
A: That's such a common thing for people to say. Until I started eating this I didn't realize how fantastic vegetables are. Now, when I eat non-organic produce it tastes like cardboard. Organic food gets its strength and its energy and vital life force from the soil. The fact that this food is so cared for and so nurtured shows. You see a kind of radiance.
Q: How did you get interested in organic foods?
A: After I had the surgery, I was really looking for some sense of assuring myself that I would be healthy. When my doctor said you really should be using organic food, I took it seriously.
Q: How seriously?
A: My friend Julie Madill and I went to an organic distributor in Beltsville every week. That fall, the Jewish holy days fell on Friday and Saturday. Those were the only days they sold retail at Beltsville. I didn't want to violate the holy days. It turned out we could buy wholesale any day of the week. It just meant buying a whole lot more. We had to buy full cases. Julie and I came back with 14 heads of broccoli.
Q: That's definitely too much broccoli.
A: We started calling neighbors. The first week we got five families who came over and bought some. The second week we had 10 families. The third week we had 15. A friend told me that Zoe Hieronymous, who runs the Ruscombe Mansion, was looking for someone to run a food co-op here. So Julie and I just moved it here.
Q: How does a co-op work?
A: We have a pre-order system where you can call Sunday or Monday and commit to buying. That gives us a fair idea of what we can count on to sell. We can then buy more produce. We sell leftovers the next day to health food stores and restaurants. We donate to places like Bea Gaddy's food kitchen.
Q: It looks like this takes a lot of organizing.
A: It's almost a full-time job. But it has turned out to be wonderful therapy. I felt a tremendous need for just the feeling of earth and of validity. I'd been told never to lift, and you do have to be careful, but slowly I worked up to lifting and I found I could lift these heavy cases of produce and it gave me great pleasure. Being in contact with this fresh produce was very healing for me. It also helped with the tremendous fear that came with cancer.
Q: What insights could you pass on to others who have had this kind of surgery?
A: I think it is important just to be reconnected with your own body in a positive way, to reclaim it. My own experience with surgery was that it was kind of a disconnection.
Q: In what way?
A: The experience of losing a breast or, in my case, two breasts, is a deeply traumatic experience. I think it makes you disconnected because it is so unbearable. A breast is something so connected to being a woman and so connected to feelings and to relationships. Thank God I had an opportunity to nurse two children. To lose that connection -- well, I felt as though this body wasn't mine anymore. I couldn't feel comfortable in it.
Q: You were feeling unanchored.
A: Worse. I felt as though I had fallen down an elevator shaft, a feeling of just uncontrollable terror. But you do come through it. I want people to know you can come through it.
Q: So, linking yourself to organic food, to the earth, re-established a groundedness?
A: Yes. Do you know what it's like to walk barefoot in the summer and feel the softness of the earth under your feet? You feel a kind of centering.
Q: It sounds as if you've found a new lifestyle out of all of this.
A: I'd say what I've learned from my illness and the co-op is about connectedness -- between ourselves and the earth. Often we believe the greatest benefit is looking out for ourselves, taking from the earth what we need from it. But it's really in giving to the earth and from connectedness that we gain the most.