Sarah Kolybaba: Cultivating a Connection With Real Food and BJJ

My BJJ student Kolybaba grew up on a farm and only bought groceries three times a year. I asked if she would share her story with us.

When Sarah Kolybaba initially came to my women only beginner jiu jitsu class, I thought there was no way she would come back a second time. <strong”>She seemed so quiet and sweet that she’d never hurt a fly, but these days I’m fighting to get her off my back before she can choke me. She’s also become an insightful trash talker.

Growing Up on a Farm

As I got to know Sarah, it was clear that she had serious skills in the kitchen. She frequently posts recipes and photos of her garden and the delicious food she cooks online. Eventually we learned that Kolybaba (we have three Sarahs in my class) had grown up on a farm and her family only bought groceries three or four times a year. Fifty years ago her story may have been common, but these days I don’t think I know anyone else who had that experience as a child. So, I wanted to know more and asked if she would share her story with us.

Grocery Shopping Only Three Times a Year

Farmers are known for their incredible work ethic, but I don’t think Kolybaba’s family ever slept. When I asked her what sort of foods her family lived off, she explained:

We grew a wide variety of our own vegetables, fruit, berries, and herbs. We raised and processed our own chickens, turkeys, pheasants, and rabbits for meat. Another farming family supplied us with lamb, and we bought unpasteurized milk from a nearby dairy farm – a four-gallon pail for two dollars. We would have to wait for the cream to separate so we could then skim it off the top of the pail and keep it in a mason jar.

My father also hunted deer, hare, and partridge. We caught freshwater trout. A local fisherman provided seafood straight from his boat. Our hens gave us fresh eggs daily. My grandfather kept bees for honey. We also kept goats and when they had milk, my mother would use it to make fresh feta, straining it through an old cloth diaper hanging from the kitchen ceiling. She also cultured homemade yogurt, and baked bread, muffins, and cookies from scratch ingredients.

We tapped maple trees on our property for syrup, we had an apple orchard and pressed our own cider, we froze or canned much of our produce to use over the winter months, we dried herbs, and we made pasta from eggs and flour. We would dry it over a broom handle resting across the backs of two kitchen chairs to store for later as needed. We also foraged for wild berries and mushrooms. Sometimes chanterelles grew under my tree house, how lucky was that?

That covers a lot of bases, but not everything. As I mentioned, they did grocery shop a couple times a year. So what did they Kolybaba’s family buy and how? 

Really anything we couldn’t produce ourselves or get from the neighbors: citrus fruits, fresh and canned peaches, bananas, ginger root, bacon, peppercorns, spices, olive oil, vinegar, peanut butter, coffee and tea, Ovaltine, Canada Dry ginger ale (which we got to drink only after it was flat as a remedy for an upset tummy), canned pineapple juice, lentils, couscous, bulgur and quinoa, rolled and steel-cut oats, corn meal, plain cornflakes and puffed rice or puffed millet cereal, popcorn kernels to be popped in a copper bottomed saucepan on the back of the wood stove. Almonds and cashews were a nice treat, carob chips for cookies, raisins, salted butter, molasses, flour, yeast, and all other necessities for baking.

Bringing up Children on Real Food

These days Kolybaba is on her own and has her own children, but she still tries to carry on some of what she learned from her farm-family upbringing. She is unwilling to feed her kids boxed foods from the supermarket. Here’s how she feeds her family in a way that honors her family tradition and also saves money:

I do my best to cook meals at home for my family using real, unprocessed ingredients, just as my mother and grandmother did for their families, and I’m mindful about getting maximum usage out of everything since my upbringing taught me that food wastage is shamefully unacceptable.

For example, I will roast a whole chicken for dinner tonight, chop up any leftover meat to prepare it for sandwiches for tomorrow, then I’ll boil all the bones to make my own soup stock. The stock can be frozen for later or used in the next couple days to flavor rice or vegetables or to make homemade chicken noodle soup. There are endless possibilities for stock. The dog gets any bits of chicken skin, and the bones are composted and eventually incorporated into my garden soil, adding nutrients for growing happy veggie plants. No waste!

All of us have busy lives, but not all of us have Kolybaba’s skills, so I asked her what she would suggest for families who want to plan ahead for the next day of meals.

The time consuming factor in most home-cooked meals is really the prep work. That being said, in every busy lifestyle, there are pockets of time where prep can be fit in. You just need to recognize it and put it to good use. It will involve some extra forethought about what you wish to make for meals, but it’s worth it in the long run because you’ll be far less likely to reach for the yucky box of questionable gluey pasta-stuff. Once the prep is done, most of my dinners come together nicely within twenty to thirty minutes before meal time.

Where BJJ Fits Into a Busy Life

Kolybaba obviously never sits down with all of the work she does for her family, but she still finds to the time to always be at jiu jitsu. I asked her what inspired her to try it and why she sticks with it in spite of having plenty of other things on her plate.

The what that initially inspired me years ago is actually a who and the short and honest answer is Sean Patrick Flannery. Those who scoff will get a quick demo of the crucifix choke, my new favorite.

Perhaps more seriously, I stumbled upon one of your articles online just at the right point in my life where I’d begun to gather the necessary courage to attempt a few chosen things that were far beyond my normal comfort zone. Training has quickly become an important part of a self-directed effort to try and boost my confidence and develop a stronger, more outgoing personality.

It’s much more about that journey for me than the physical fitness aspect and self-defense skills, although those are certainly welcomed results too. So, I guess you could say it’s exactly what I was looking for and then some.

And BJJ continues to be what Kolybaba (pictured above, center) is looking for. Like many people she finds it to be an ongoing learning process, about both herself and the art:

At this point in my game, BJJ boosts my confidence one minute, and completely shatters it the next, yet I’m not feeling discouraged. I’m fascinated by how simultaneously fun and frustrating it can be. I’ve made such fast friends in the awesome partners I roll with at Titans. I’m just eager to train as often as I can in the hopes that I might one day feel like I’ve successfully wrapped at least a portion of my day-dreamy musical mind and long, uncoordinated body around this amazingly complex puzzle that is truly unlike absolutely anything I’ve ever done before. I recognize that jiu jitsu is life-changing and wish everyone would give it a good honest try to discover what it can do for them.

Kolybaba also suggested a delicious meal plan for the day and provided a ton of great advice on gardening, eating out and the best kitchen tool options. So much so that we’ve included an additional PDF for your reading pleasure

Thank you, Kolybaba, for taking the time to share your story and tips with us! You’re an inspiration!

Download the PDF to Read More on the Farm Life of Kolybaba