Dancing under the Midnight Sun with Jenifer
By Anne Hunter | Photography by Jack Gardner
We must be willing to get rid of the life we’ve planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.—Joseph Campbell
Now a local pioneer on the last frontier of food, Georgia girl Jenifer Lee Kuntz, owner of Raw and Juicy Organic Juice Bar and Café and reinventor of the Seaside Farmers Market, followed a winding road to Seaside, Florida.
I first met Jen in 2008 when I ordered a Green Goddess juice from her Airstream trailer in Seaside, but it wasn’t until we met up for a walk in Central Park in January 2010 that I really got to know her. It was the winter after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, and my life and art galleries had disintegrated into the sludge of crude spewing from the Gulf of Mexico. I had rented an apartment on Manhattan’s Upper East Side for four months to recover from my losses, wipe my tears, and work on my books. Jen was in the city to dance with a studio in SoHo while evaluating her life after the oil spill, spending time to heal and figure out her next step—she did not anticipate returning to the Gulf Coast. She was staying at a friend’s apartment on the Upper West Side, so we met in the middle: Central Park.
I bundled up. It was one week after a blizzard had buried New York City. The snow was piled high and now melting into slush. It was cold, and my teeth chattered as we commiserated on the state of affairs back home. Our Gulf Coast beaches and quaint New Urbanist villages had suffered from the spill—and so had our psyches. I watched many of my friends close their shops, bandage their hearts, pack up, and leave town. Those who could hang on did so tightly. We had survived Hurricanes Ivan and Katrina, but that was nature against man. Now we were fighting our way through a human oversight of cataclysmic proportions. Mother Earth was mad, and, indirectly, we were all responsible. Americans each consume petroleum products at a rate of three and a half gallons of oil and more than two hundred fifty cubic feet of natural gas per day. If you have ever driven a car, written with ink, thrown a football, caught a wave on a surfboard, watched a movie, or worn pantyhose, a motorcycle helmet, lipstick, or sunglasses, you are responsible.
As we walked, Jen talked about Raw and Juicy and the Seaside Farmers Market as if they were her children. Would she, the Green Goddess of Mother Earth, and her offspring survive the latest blow? As things turned out, she did, and so did her seedlings. It was a victory not only for our community, but also for our country—especially now, as the next wave of farmer backlash against corporations has erupted, claiming that a patent to genetically modify crops is putting farms out of business. With growing populations and suburban sprawl, the demand for food sources continues to climb, opening the door for the food industry to harvest more from each unit of land, water, and energy. Where does that leave us?
When I was nineteen, I worked at a juice bar inside a natural health food store called Alfalfa’s in Fort Collins...that is where I started learning about macrobiotics and dove full on into the science of healthy eating.
It’s the kind of conundrum that rivals the oil spill, and once again, Jen is working away, ever resourceful, staying ahead of the curve. Thanks to a handful of regional farmers, the towns along Scenic Highway 30-A are poised to step out of the mass-produced food game and stay local, with Jen as the pioneer leading them down the path. “I want to help farmers get their food out of the fields and onto our tables,” she says. “In the end, it comes down to what the market demands. Raw and Juicy and the Seaside Farmers Market are here because our community demands good, wholesome food.”
The sky was cloudy that day in Central Park, and just as Jen and I were saying good-bye, we discovered another common ground: Alaska. We kept walking.
Alaska’s economy is dominated by the oil, natural gas, and fishing industries. These resources abound across millions of acres of untouched land, which is why Alaska is called the Last Frontier. I was a sophomore at Texas A&M University when I became infatuated with the Land of the Midnight Sun and dropped out of school to drive the Al-Can (Alaska-Canadian) Highway to work, live, and play in the wild. I stayed there for five years to fly with the eagles, swim with the whales, run from the bears, and finish my degree. Jenifer had moved to Alaska as a toddler and left as a teenager. As I rolled in, a cheechako (a newcomer, ignorant of Alaska’s rough terrain and wildlife), she was heading out, a seasoned sourdough (someone who has survived more than one harsh Alaskan winter). She didn’t run with the wolves, but she did have a pet coyote—named Coyote.
“We moved to Fort Richardson near Anchorage, Alaska, when I was four years old,” Jen says. “Mom was divorced, and she and I moved to Eagle River when I was ten. Resourcefulness was born of my home life. The child of a single parent, I spent many hours alone, and so many of those were in nature. I would walk for hours through the breakup of ice, looking for a place to sled. With my five dogs, I would eventually find a place in the valley. Down I would go towards the river with the dogs chasing full bore behind me. We would carry on like this for hours until the sun began to set.”
It was from her mother that Jen inherited her affinity for food preparation. “She was a good Jersey girl with a rich background in Polish food who had spent ten years in the South, where she cultivated serious skills with Southern cuisine. When we moved to Alaska, we literally lived off the land, fishing and hunting for everything we ate.” Being from an artistic family (her maternal grandfather made jewelry and practiced architecture, while her father’s father was a metalworker and used to make toys for the grandkids), Jenifer had always been good at working with her hands. “My family must have passed on their ingenuity to me, because it was no problem for me to walk into the kitchen and whip up a snack or a meal.
“At night, I snuck out of my room to watch either the aurora borealis or David Letterman. I sat as close to the television as possible so that no one would wake, or I would stand in my pajamas, barefoot, staring at the sky for hours. It was so sneaky; I had left the house. I was silent, enthralled, mystified.” Which is what I began to feel as I listened to her story. How did she end up in Seaside, keeping all of us so healthy?
In 1989, at age fourteen, Jenifer moved from Alaska to Washington State, where she graduated from Olympic High School and went on to attend Northwest College of Art and Design in Poulsbo, Washington, before working a stint at Yellowstone National Park. In 1998, she graduated from Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colorado, with a bachelor of arts in performing arts. “Health and wellness has always been my interest,” Jen confesses. “When I was nineteen, I worked at a juice bar inside a natural health food store called Alfalfa’s in Fort Collins. I had been preparing foods with my mother since childhood, but that is where I started learning about macrobiotics and dove full on into the science of healthy eating.”
For Jen, healthy eating also meant a healthy lifestyle. “One month after college graduation, I was introduced to yoga teacher Sri Louise, whom I credit with my love and understanding of yoga and responsibility to my community.” Another month later, Jen followed her then-boyfriend to San Diego as he pursued his postdoctoral work at Scripps. “I should have gone straight to New York City—that’s where I wanted to live—but I was too scared.” She stayed in California and danced with Eveoke Dance Theatre, became a buyer for a vintage store called Flashbacks, and worked as a stage and house manager for a theatre called 6th At Penn before returning to Colorado to dance. “Five other women and I started MA Dance, a Boulder dance company that did evening-length performances and more. We created MADfest, a dance festival along the Front Range mountains, and taught company classes at studios in residence; it was also in Boulder that I started teaching yoga. Dance was very important to me during this time in my life. It channeled an intense amount of energy and challenged me in ways that could never be perfected. I had a drive and a passion to move—it was the primary vehicle to my self-realization. From the physical to the intellectual and the spiritual sides, an individual can be dissected through movement, which, for me, equaled introspection.”
But when introspection and challenge turned to performance, Jen lost interest. “I never much cared for performing, but I loved the collaboration. When MA Dance took an extended break for the holidays, I went to work in the music industry to do capoeira (a Brazilian martial art that combines elements of dance, acrobatics, and music) and continued to try to fill the dance shoes that, to this day, remain half full. I realize that everything in life is half full—except that which completely fills your glass. To find what truly fulfills you is a blessing.”
In August 2002, Jen took time off to join her mother on a trip to Europe, but when her aunt fell ill, she flew to New Jersey to care for her. “I stayed on the East Coast until September 2003, when I returned to Boulder to coproduce the Exotica Erotica Ball for the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art. The project ended around my thirtieth birthday, and I was on my way to New York City when I stopped in Fort Walton Beach to visit my mom—and stayed.”
Jen landed a job at Restaurant 331 and enrolled in the Dragonfly Yoga Studies program in Fort Walton Beach under instructor Laura Tyree. But she was still itching for New York City. “I made a third attempt to move to the city, and then Hurricane Ivan hit, and here we go again … something kept pulling me back to this region, and I began to wonder if I was here to stay. It took me five years to say yes to this area. I thought I knew what I wanted, where I wanted to be, where I could best serve myself. I had been brainwashed to believe that New York City was the be-all and end-all. It had the glam, the fame, the desolation, the dirt, the art. Whatever you wanted, you could find it there.” But instead, she found it in Northwest Florida: “I bought an Airstream trailer and opened Raw and Juicy.”
The Raw and Juicy Airstream in Seaside is where you’ll find Jen most days, that is, when she isn’t in her Point Washington kitchen chopping vegetables, preparing kale, and pressing juices with her team of juice aficionados. The kitchen is command central for Raw and Juicy and was a crucial step in sustaining and building the business. “The kitchen gave us the opportunity to diversify our offerings, expand our menu, and open another location, and it allowed us to begin distributing our products to so many who vacation here who want a little raw and juicy of their own at home,” Jen says.
You might also spot Jen whizzing through Eden State Park, riding her bike to the home office to put in a few hours on cleansing and healthy lifestyle education programs, or at community-building events, sneaking healthy snacks and dinners into the locals’ diets.
And don’t forget the Seaside Farmers Market, where Jen mills around every Saturday morning helping attendees stock up on a variety of regional offerings to take home, such as organic eggs and chicken, local pork, North Florida free-range beef, and local milk and honey. “It’s not our goal to be the biggest market in our area—just to be the best,” Jen says. “We offer the highest-quality products, which encompass everything from organic and/or sustainable practices among our farmers and organic ingredients from our prepared food vendors to environmentally friendly packaging. I want to help people build healthy eating habits into their daily routine. It is entirely possible to live an energetic lifestyle that is sustainable and friendly to the environment.”
We finally said good-bye in Central Park. The next time I saw Jen was on the corner of Highway 30-A in Seaside where she glanced up, smiled, and waved from her Airstream as I drove by. I wondered if anyone envisioned her as I did, running free through the Alaskan wilderness with her snow boots on and Coyote by her side, dancing beneath the midnight sun.
— V —
Christin Gruber on Healthy Eating
Organic food eaters and fresh vegetable juice drinkers extol the power of juice, claiming that nature’s elixirs provide supple skin, clear complexions, weight loss, increased energy, and unlimited access to a secret fountain of youth.
“Healthy eating is so simple,” says Christin Gruber of Raw and Juicy Organic Juice Bar and Café in Seaside, Florida. “I love to see the look on our customers’ faces when they realize that eating healthy can taste good, too. Our number one drink, the Pink Panther, is made with freshly pressed organic apple juice, strawberries, and bananas—and it changes people’s lives.”
Juice bars are popping up across the country, and the organic lifestyle market is growing quickly as people become more health conscious, seeking to add organic foods and juices to their daily routines. In response, Raw and Juicy is expanding its apothecary of natural remedies east on 30-A, to a kiosk in Seacrest Beach. “We are putting a different face on healthy eating,” says Christin, who opened Raw and Juicy in 2008 with Jenifer Lee Kuntz. “I’ve been here since the beginning. My role is to keep things running so that Jen can better the business in other ways. I feel proud and overwhelmed; it’s an honor to watch it grow. People know who we are and know we have good food.”
To see a menu of all the tasty healthy eating options at Raw and Juicy and for more tips on healthy living, visit www.rawandjuicylife.com.