“Mother Earth”: Holistic healer talks produce
You may catch Cathy Machuga idling in kitchen doorways waiting for her chefs on daily produce runs around the Delaware restaurant scene or adjusting the bungee cords on her ’93 Mitsubishi Mirage, (which has 140,000 miles on it and smells like the caulk that holds it together); or in my case, talking about how holistic healing changed her life while she digs in her worn jean pockets for quarters at the Newark Laundromat.
Machuga is a modern-day witch doctor who can’t sit still, talks in riddles and always wears a grin, as if she knows something about you that you yourself can’t even begin to understand.
“So, you’re an Aquarius,” Machuga says. “I could tell. You said you liked to do the dishes and the laundry. You’re a water-mover.”
Machuga, 60, moves around quickly for 5 foot nothing. She shuffles through her things to find a small container of water and begins to drizzle some on the lid of each washer before wiping them all down methodically, never pausing or slowing in conversation.
Going one by one down the line, she talks about astrology during what may be her only down time this week (and I was interrupting it).
Machuga and her husband, who she refers to as “Stevie,” own a small produce distributing company. As a master procurer, Machuga’s job is to get quality produce from the best growers in the country, and sometimes international markets, into Newark’s best restaurants. She works long days for little payoff and rarely has a minute to herself.
“I haven’t had a day off since 1994!” she says.
Machuga’s customers include Del Pez, Krazy Kats, Back Burner and Herman’s Meat Market. She feels a connection to all of her clients, and pushed back an interview scheduled for earlier in the week because one of her chefs just had his first baby.
“Seven pounds, 19 inches long—just perfect,” she says. “A little miracle. His wife was past 40 and had just gotten over cancer! They didn’t even know if she could have kids! Truly a miracle.”
What was she talking about again? Right—produce.
Anyway, she really knows how to handle that kind of thing. After all, she says, the name “Machuga” roughly translates to “Mother Earth.” This is fitting, because in addition to her unparalleled knowledge of the care of fruits and vegetables, Machuga has always brought an aspect of psychological growth and healing into her work. She is as gentle with the product she sells as she is with the people who buy from her.
“The longer you can make a fruit or vegetable believe it’s alive, the more love you give it, the better it’s going to taste,” she says. “These big distributors don’t get that. They see the box. They see the can. That’s not what it’s about.”
Machuga knows what it’s about. She’s on a whole different level. If “Mother Earth” didn’t happen to perfectly translate to her name, “Fairy Godmother” or “Grandmother Willow” would have sufficed. Her presence is calming while her observations and advice are eye opening. She’s a little magical.
“You wouldn’t believe the work I’m doing on the world,” she says. “I’m so conjuring.”
Where did all of this energy come from? As a proud grandmother of four and a small business owner always on the move, Machuga, who is pushing 60, is a glowing ball of light. Her stifled cough every few minutes brings her slightly back down to an earthly level, and oddly, it gives insight into how Machuga got this way.
Growing up on a farm, Machuga always ate organic foods. Her parents were self-sufficient—learning from their parents to grow what they needed and eat foods clear of any chemical preservatives. This lifestyle may have been a recipe for perfect health, if both were not heavy smokers.
“They didn’t know. It was the ’60s,” Machuga says.
Second-hand smoke caused Machuga to suffer from bronchitis and pneumonia as a child. Doctors put her on allergy medication as an attempt to stop what they deduced was a vicious cycle starting with seasonal mucus in the lungs. She was always sick and recalls not being able to carry the melons she helped grow on the co-op she worked on in her teen years.
At the age of 22, Machuga had a wakeup call when she nearly drowned in a pool after blowing a hole in her fragile, smoked-out lungs because of an asthma attack. She needed help, but she didn’t want to go the traditional route. She did some research and sought the help of Dr. Thomas Marsteler, the last licensed natural path herbalist in the area.
“I drove to see him three times a week, and after highly controversial treatments with antimony and arsenic for a year and a half, I was healed,” she said. “It was amazing. No one was doing anything like it at the time. I wanted to soak up everything I could from him, so I continued to see him when I could,” she says.
When her husband was diagnosed with severe allergies, Machuga knew that they couldn’t go back to conventional medicine. Instead of seeking treatments that are harsh on the body and often ineffective, the couple decided to juice their food.
Juicing is a common healing practice used around the world today, and while it is not encouraged by doctors to replace modern treatments, many claim it is more effective than chemotherapy.
With “Stevie” feeling better than ever after juicing for years and Machuga’s severe lung problems reduced to a slight cough here and there, she says she knows there’s more than just a pharmaceutical way to heal. Machuga also knows that organic food and natural remedies are trendy right now, but says sometimes it takes a traumatic life experience like a family health scare to get people’s attention.
“It takes a long time for people to change,” she said. “I credit my health at 60 to my wake up call at 22 because I found what I needed to do, and I did it. “
Working in produce distribution on such a small, local level allows Machuga to make significant connections with her clientele. This allows her to spread the idea of eating good foods and having naturally healing herbs in commercial dishes. She says she sometimes feels like a therapist. This can be rewarding, but it also comes with setbacks.
“Sometimes it’s hard to live like this—you’ve seen what I drive—but I know that it’s about the food and it’s about much more,” she says.
“Are you doing morning yoga yet?” she says, seemingly out of nowhere. “Hang on…stay right there…I’m going to go get some more quarters.”