By Tania Phillips
Discovering her first child had severe allergies changed Valerie Pearson’s life in ways she could never have imagined, in fact it’s still changing her life decades later.
Now thirty years later she’s returned from the US home to Australia and is living sustainably near Stanthorpe. She has co-founded the company, Green Living Australia, to help people with information and supplies to get back to basics and do it yourself and written three books Home Cheese Making in Australia, Sugar Free Home Preserving, and Gut Health and Fermented Foods.
She also travels around teaching and lecturing on cheese making, sugar free jam making, fermenting, soap making and other self-sufficiency and sustainability subjects. She also has her own blog.
And it all started with her first baby.
“It’s an interesting little story actually,” she said in an accent that gives away her more than two decades living in the US.
“I’m Australian, but I was living in America at the time and my daughter Angela got very very sick when she moved from breast feeding into eating baby food. Being a fairly new mom, you call your own mother and ask what do you do? She said go to the store and get the apple baby food, it’s a really good thing to start them out on at four-five-six months. I did and she had a very bad allergic reaction.
“It turns out she had condition called Multiple Chemical Sensitivity, though back then it was called Hyper Chemical Sensitivity. It means she’s allergic to artificial colour, artificial flavour and preservatives – pretty much anything man-made she can have an allergic reaction to it.
“So, I had to learn everything from scratch. I couldn’t go to the grocery store and buy food – I couldn’t take the chance because it could kill her.
“We decided that we would move to the country and live as clean a life as possible. We bought a property in Pennsylvania – an old log cabin on 52 acres and moved there.
“I commenced to learn to make everything from scratch.”
The family ended up in Pennsylvania, with Valerie, who had a background in law, searching for people to teach her how to be more self-sufficient. Pennsylvania being the number one state in the US for the Amish Community was a natural choice. And it was from her Amish neighbours that Valerie learned to make cheese.
“I started with soft cheese and the very first cheese I ever made was a cheese called Quark. It’s a German soft cheese, the one they use to make their traditional German cheesecakes. You have to hand it to them, Germans make the best cars and the best deserts, because they invented cheesecake,” she laughed.
“I grew my own food, I made my own jams, jellies, fruit butters, curds, pickles, pasta sauces, cheese yoghurt bread, pickles – not just the pickles that you would make at home but old-fashioned fermenting which is the original word for pickling. I made sauerkraut and now of course I’ve moved into other food cultures like Kimchi and miso and all of that kind of stuff.”
The leap from concerned mum to author, business owner and teacher wasn’t really as surprising as it might seem for Valerie – more a natural progression.
“I was in the US for 20 years and when my dad got ill and passed away my mother asked me to come home because she was having trouble managing,” Valerie explained.
“What do you do when you’re mum asks you to come home? You say yes mam and you come home. So, I came home with my daughters.
“I decided I wanted to start back up with my vegie patch, home preserving and cheesemaking. However, I couldn’t get the supplies.
“I couldn’t get what I was looking for and I thought if I’m having this problem maybe there are other people in Australia that want to do this stuff that are having this problem too. My brother was a web designer and he said if you can come up with a product, I can put it on the website. When we first found the products that we wanted for home cheese makers and preservers you had to buy a lot of it.
“If I wanted to get 25 lids for jars for my jam-making I had to buy a box of a thousand. I thought, I’ll buy a box of a thousand then, I’ll take the ones that I want, and we’ll put the others in bags of 10, 25 and 50 and sell them.”
The company Green Living Australia now offers a wide range of kits and products from soapmaking to crafts books as well as offering tips to help with sourdough, cheesemaking and all sorts of other products as well as offering free recipes to help get people started.
“There were books on cheesemaking out there, but they were American, so they were in ounces and gallons,” she said.
“I made kits and wrote instructions but when they bought an American book it all went wrong.
“So, I wrote the book on how to do it. My publisher asked me to do a home preserving book and I was happy to do that but then within six months, two people very close to me were diagnosed with diabetes so I started thinking, maybe we need to rethink how we’re doing theses old-fashioned preserves. An old-fashioned preserve every now and then as a treat is good but if you are a diabetic does that mean you can never have jam again? Actually, it does unless you go sugar free and if you have ever tried sugar free jam from a grocery store it’s just disgusting, mine’s not mines great.”
Valerie wrote the sugar free preserve book, thinking she’d get to more people that way and maybe she wouldn’t be quite so busy with her public speaking, classes and travel. She was wrong, until lockdown and she went to being fully booked for the entire year to nothing.
“I was left sitting in my place talking to my horse because there was no one else to talk to and I thought what am I going to do?”
“So, I wrote another book and that was on fermented foods, it’s got all your medical stuff and your science and then the how-to and then it’s got a bunch of recipes and how to put those things into daily life.”
After such a long time in Pennsylvania, Valerie found herself craving somewhere still close to her mum in Brisbane but where she could experience all four seasons and escape the humidity which is why she moved to Stanthorpe where she lives very sustainably on a food budget of $30 a week, still growing and making her own food.
What about the daughter that started it all? Valerie said Angela is now working and married with two children of her own however she will never outgrow her allergies and still has to be careful.
To find out where you can take part in Valerie’s courses head to livingsimplywithvalerie.com.au/upcoming-events/