Real Food

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Food is Free

I recently interviewed John VanDeusen Edwards from the Food is Free Project. After reading a gardening book, which gave readers some inspiring wisdom stating essentially that, “As gardeners, we have an unspoken obligation to teach others how to grow their own food and to teach them what we know based on our experiences with success and failures within our own gardens.”

He was forever changed by reading this book and started looking into building raised beds. He found a design for a small, handmade aquifer inside of a raised bed. He loved the idea of a self-watering, drought-tolerant garden bed. He built one in his front yard from reclaimed pallets and old political signs. The political signs have become a metaphor for bringing the Democratic Party and the Republican Party together to form the “Garden Party.” He lined the raised bed with a tarp, recycled tumbled glass, which he sourced for free at the landfill, built the aquifer using scrap pieces of PVC pipe, added soil and planted his first "wicking bed garden." He built it in his front yard as a way to inspire others to grow their own food. He put a sign in front of the garden that said “Food is Free”. Within a couple of days, he got so much positive feedback from his neighbors that he decided to create a flyer which read that the first 10 people to respond to this flyer will receive a free raised garden bed in their front yard with one condition: you place a sign in front that says food is free so that neighbors can share the bounty and really form friendships through gardening.

In the four years he lived at his residence, he didn’t know any of his neighbors, a common trend facing neighborhoods today. The response he received from the flyer was so overwhelming that he needed to recruit volunteers to help build the raised beds. Over fifty individuals showed up for most of the work days. The Food is Free Project was born. It has grown into a non-profit organization. John and his crew of dedicated volunteers continue to install free gardens throughout neighborhoods as well as at Habitat for Humanity homes throughout the Austin, Texas, area.

Creating an Urban Farm

food is free 2

John and his girlfriend Stacey have transformed their backyard into a fully functioning urban farm. They host a slough of sustainable workshops, they teach children about gardening, and they are a compost drop-off site for their neighbors. Currently 19 out of 30 houses on their street, Joe Sayers Avenue in Austin, Texas, have “Food is Free Project” raised beds in their front yards.

John’s project is an excellent example of the power food has to unite us. We all rely on food for our survival, so why not create our own beautiful and self-sufficient foodshed in our own neighborhoods?

John has begun a food revolution in his town and is truly a visionary who is working toward a better future each day.

What a 'Food Is Free' Project Wicking Bed Garden Looks Like

The wicking bed garden, made from pallets, is typically 4 feet by 4 feet. It is essentially a handmade aquifer inside of a raised bed.

Materials (90 percent donated or sourced locally for free):

2 pallets (heat treated) -acquired for free outside of local businesses who would otherwise pay to have them picked up
Recycled Political signs -Local Campaign Offices can be contacted; They typically have a surplus that are more than willing 
Scrap wood (ask your neighbors or scour construction sites)
A tarp or plastic liner ($2)
Recycled crushed tumbled glass- acquired from local landfills or recycling centers (Resource recovery facilities often give tumbled glass for free)Use pea gravel or river rock as alternative, often acquired for free at construction sites
10-12” of Soil (acquired for free at most city parks)
Plants or seeds!

raised bed

Visit to learn more and for video tutorials on how to make your own Wicking Bed Garden

Post photographs of your own inspired “food is free” endeavors to The Food is Free Project Facebook page.

Help them reach one million likes.

Submit photos of your food is free garden at #foodisfree

Follow them on social media

Read the full story and interview in the next edition of Permaculture Magazine.


mushrromsI first became aware of the Cook It Raw food competition several years ago when it was featured on the eighth season of Anthony Bourdain’s show, "No Reservations." Seeing the creation of such innovative dishes, made from ingredients that the chefs harvested themselves, was so inspiring that Cook it Raw has been one of the driving factors behind my wanting to be a food journalist. The annual event not only showcases some of the best chefs and international cuisine, but also highlights regional food culture and environmental awareness.

Cook it Raw was first conceived by Alessandro Porcelli, while he was a marketing representative for Noma, the world’s top restaurant. Porcelli partnered with the Danish government to create a cooking competition that, in addition to showcasing talent, would also use minimal energy in food production as a nod to the 2009 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen. In a 2011 Wall Street Journal article, Porcelli recalls “I had this idea of organizing a food event linked to environmental issues — a sort of mixture of a workshop and a conference.”

It is no small wonder that this competition has its roots in Copenhagen, the birthplace of Scandinavia’s burgeoning food movement. Referred to as the new Nordic cuisine movement, this Scandinavian culinary renaissance started with chefs like Rene Redzepi (head chef at Noma) who, discouraged by the emphasis placed on foreign cooking styles, turned to their homeland for inspiration. The use of local, seasonal and often foraged ingredients is the heart and soul of the new Nordic cuisine. From this school of thought came the Cook it Raw competition, a way for chefs to explore regional cuisines, collaborate with like-minded individuals and highlight the guiding principles of food’s connectivity with nature.

The competition is an exercise in culinary exploration, and boasts some major gastronomic juggernauts. For several days, chefs like as Albert Adria and Momofuku’s David Chang are required to search for ingredients by foraging, harvesting or hunting, in addition to speaking with local experts on the regional culture and cooking techniques. After the exploration phase has ended, the chefs come together to offer their take on the flavors of the location, and collaborate on some truly unique plates. One attendee of 2011’s Cook it Raw, held in Ishikawa Prefecture, Japan commented on how Chef Magnus Nilson served him “the forest floor” after being presented with a plate of raw, foraged greens and mushrooms.

2014’s Cook it Raw has been aptly named “Off the Grid and On the Road,” and will consist of a series of week-long excursions in the Mayan region of Central America from April through November. Named after the Jack Kerouac novel, the theory behind the seventh annual competition is to inspire chefs with moving landscape and give them the chance to experience a spectrum of culture that a static location just wouldn’t allow. In an April press release Porcelli stated, “Like Sal Paradise in On The Road, I am motivated by a relentless questioning, a desire to find meaning in a most fundamental way. For me, it is to ask the question — how are we to live?”

Photo by Fotolia/FomaA


mushroom soupThere are certain recipes that just need to be shared.  This is one of them.  Follow this simple recipe that is a “go to” suitable for any time there are bowls present. It is also recommended served with a hearty loaf of bread.

Hungarian Mushroom Soup Recipe


1 large soup pot
1 three- or four-quart pot
spatula or wooden spoon
cutting board


2 to 3 tbsp butter
2 large onions, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
24 ounces white button mushrooms, diced*
4 tbsp paprika
Salt and pepper to taste (recommended: 1 tsp of each)
6 tbsp butter
4 tbsp flour
2 cups milk
4 cups chicken, beef, or vegetable broth
1 cup sour cream**


* In a pinch, canned mushrooms can be substituted (a batch this size requires 2 large cans)

** Yogurt can certainly be substituted for a healthier option.


Preheat the pot on medium heat.  Melt 2 to 3 tbsp. of butter in the pot, add the onions. Sauté onions until they are translucent, about 5 minutes, then mix in 2 cloves of minced garlic. Sauté for 1 minute.

Add the mushrooms to the pot. Cook until all they are soft and juicy. Stir in the paprika and simmer for about 10 minutes.

In a separate pot melt 6 tablespoons of butter on medium heat. Slowly stir in 4 tablespoons of flour until the two are completely combined. Add the milk and broth to the mixture and stir for 3-4 minutes, until it is a smooth and creamy.

milk / flour

Combine the mixture with the mushrooms and onions in the other pot. Simmer for 15-20 minutes, then add sour cream and stir for 2 minutes.  Be sure not to let the soup boil, especially if yogurt is substituted for sour cream. Enjoy!



cherry bars

I was a sugar fiend and junk-food junkie by the time I was preschool. My first steps were solicited with ice cream, and as a one-and-a-half-year-old flower girl in my uncle’s wedding, I was coaxed down the aisle with a Snickers Bar. These early encounters with over-processed, sugar-laden “foods” set in motion an addiction to sweets I struggle with to this day.

So when my daughter was old enough to start eating solids, it was very important to me to avoid feeding her not only foods with artificial ingredients, but also those with added sugars. As long as I was the custodian of her diet, I was going to take that role seriously.


Now that she’s old enough to ask for what she wants (and old enough to have been exposed to more than just what I keep in the pantry), some of her favorite requests remain fruits and nuts.

These incredibly easy, no-bake snack bars combine some of her favorite treats into a portable, anytime treat we can pack for the pool, road-trips, or shopping excursions—and they make a great post-workout (or anytime) treat for me as well. Sweet-tooth satisfied.

No-Bake Cherry-Vanilla Snack Bars

1 cup raw, unsalted cashews
1 cup dried, pitted dates (unsulfured and unsweetened)
1 cup dried Montmorency cherries (unsulfured and unsweetened or low sugar if available)
½ cup raw, unsalted almonds
½ tsp pure vanilla extract
Pinch salt

Place all ingredients in a food processor fitted with a steel blade and process until the mixture forms a large, sticky mass, pausing every minute or so as needed to scrape down the sides and edges and allow the machine to cool briefly. If the mixture starts to steam or gets very warm from all the friction, you may wish to pause for a couple of minutes. If you have small children, consider letting them dump the ingredients into the processor and push the buttons to start and stop the machine (under your expert supervision, of course); my daughter loves “helping” like this.


Place the mixture between two sheets of parchment paper, or one large sheet folded in half. Use a rolling pin to roll the mixture into a half-inch-tall rectangle, approximately 5” x 6”.

Use a pizza cutter to cut into bars, approximately 1” x 3” each.

Wrap each bar in parchment paper, securing with a stick-on label. Note: the labels will stick better to themselves than the parchment, so aim for labels that are long enough to wrap all the way around the width of the bar. Store bars in a zip-top bag, cookie jar, or your preferred seal-able container at room temperature for up to three weeks.

Makes 10 yummy snack bars.

cherry bars2



It does not seems to matter where I go, if I ask, "Do you like sourdough?"  I always end up with a big yes and a story to go with it.  Sourdough seems to have a link to every person that I talk to.  A bit of history or a favorite story.  I hear, "When I was little my grandmother made the best bread from sourdough...." People love to hear about sourdough.  Better yet, people love to eat sourdough!

There is a reason that sourdough was such a great staple in our history.  I love that it is made with such few ingredients but can make so many great things.  I thought when I started at Sourdoughs International that sourdough was just for bread.  Boy oh boy was I mistaken.  Sourdough is used in so many different recipes.  I have made crackers, cinnamon rolls, pizza crusts, bread sticks, waffles, pancakes, brownies, and the list goes on and on.  Some of these recipes call for a very minimal amount of ingredients but provide a big taste. 

Because I am new to baking, the cost of experimenting is one of the things that puts me on hold in the kitchen.  So sourdough allows me to experiment to my hearts content.  I am learning that I can throw all kinds of things into my bread.  It may not look pretty when it comes out of the oven but it sure tastes good and that is what matters to those of us starting out. 

Here is a very basic recipe that I like to add things to and see what turns out and what doesn't.

San Francisco Sourdough

This bread is the best known sourdough of all breads and all cultures. It is produced today in many forms that rarely duplicate the original version. It is easy to produce the familiar crumb with its large and irregular holes and spaces but the fabulous flavor and baking aroma are rare indeed. This recipe utilizes the Original San Francisco culture, from Sourdoughs International, made with a slow fermenting natural leaven that requires an overnight slow fermentation and no commercial yeast.  It seems incredible that the ingredients in this well-known bread are so few: a wild culture, flour, water and salt. Yield one 1 1/2 pound loaf.

1 cup fully active San Francisco culture
1 cup water
3 ½ cups (approximately) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 ½ teaspoons salt

Dough Proof

Pour the culture into a mixing bowl.  Dissolve the salt in the water and stir it into the culture.  Add the flour a cup at a time and stir until it is too stiff to mix with a spoon.  Turn out onto a floured board and knead in the remaining flour until the dough is smooth and satiny.

Proof the dough overnight (8 to 12 hours) at room temperature, about 70 degrees Fahrenheit, in a large bowl covered with plastic wrap.  During this time, the dough should double in size in the covered bowl, or rise to the top of the machine pan.  After the proof, use a spatula to gently ease the dough out onto a floured board.  Allow the dough to rest for 30 minutes.  If marked flattening occurs during this time, knead in additional flour before shaping.

Loaf Proof

After the 30 minute rest, shape the dough.  Flatten it slightly, then lift a portion from the periphery and pull it toward the center.  Continue this around the dough mass to form a rough ball, then shape as a French loaf by gently patting the dough into a rough rectangle, then folding over and pressing the edges together to make a seam.

Place the shaped loaf, seam side down, on a baking sheet and proof for 2 to 4 hours until it doubles in bulk.  For a good combination of sourness and leavening, proof the loaf for the first hour at room temperature and then at 85 degrees to 90 degrees in a proofing box.


Place the baking sheet with its shaped loaf in a cool oven, then turn the temperature to 375° and bake for 70 minutes.  For a firm, chewy crust, place a pan of boiling water below the loaf or spritz the oven with water every 4 minutes for 15 minutes while the oven is at baking temperature.  When the loaf is baked, remove it from the pan and let cool on a wire rack for at least 15 to 20 minutes before slicing.

Now that my very small garden is going strong, I want to add some fresh herbs to this bread and see what turns out.

Happy baking and try something new today!


Like-minded. There is much joy in meeting new people and finding out through conversation that you are like-minded in things you love or love to do. Through conversation, experiences are shared and future mistakes may even be avoided by what you learn from your new friends. Unproductive paths might now be avoided because of what you have learned. But then again, that path may still look inviting now that you are aware of its destination. I especially enjoy hearing the stories of those "younger than me" who are putting in a garden for the first time or are so excited about putting in this year’s garden. My daughters and I had the pleasure of having lunch with one of their friends the other day. He was enthusiastic and so willing to share his abundant knowledge of gardening. It made me hopeful for the future and I now have a new, like-minded friend.  

maple breadMichigan Maple Syrup

Another like-minded friend has family that produces maple syrup at Mari-Way Farm in Nashville, MI which is attached to MOO-Ville Dairy Creamery. Nashville is located on the southwest side of the mitten.  This friend is my maple syrup supplier and I am her supplier of honey, which makes a very sweet friendship. Both of us have placed our orders from this year’s crop. If you have never had "real" maple syrup, you have missed out. First of all, vanilla ice cream with a drizzle of maple syrup is indescribably delicious. Coffee drinkers that take a little sugar in their coffee would be highly encouraged to substitute a teaspoon of this delicacy in place of their regular sweetener.   It is an experiment worth trying.  But my favorite way to use this gift from the Maple tree is baked in Michigan Maple Bread. The original recipe is from King Arthur Flour and they named it Vermont Maple Bread. But since I am a proud Michigander and have my own maple syrup supplier, I have changed the name of my bread to Michigan Maple Bread. It makes a delicious sandwich bread and when it is baking or toasting, the house smells like cinnamon and maple syrup. Eating what is in season is such a wise thing to do, so this last month rhubarb and strawberries have been popular at our house. One of the sweet things about maple syrup, is that it is a year-long food to enjoy because it’s always in-season.

The recipe is quite simple. The original recipe calls for maple sugar. King Arthur sells maple sugar, but as of yet, I have not splurged and bought any. It is on my “if not now, when?” list of things to do. I mix ¼ cup of organic sugar and ¼ cup of maple syrup to make my maple flavored sugar.    

“Michigan” Maple Bread

1 cup rolled oats
½ cup maple flavored sugar
1 tbsp honey
¼ cup butter
1 tbsp kosher salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon (or a little more if you like)
2 cups boiling water
1 tbsp yeast
1 ½ cups white whole wheat flour
4 cups all-purpose bread flour

yeast brewingIn a large mixing bowl combine the oats, maple sugar, honey, butter, salt, and cinnamon. Slowly add the boiling water so it doesn’t splatter back at you. Mix well. Let cool to lukewarm, about 10 to 15 minutes. Add the yeast and stir. I let it sit for a minute so I can watch the yeast do its magic. Then add the flours a little at a time and stir to form a rough dough. Knead about 10 minutes until the dough is smooth and satiny. Transfer the dough to a lightly greased bowl and cover the bowl with lightly greased plastic wrap and allow the dough to rise for 1 hour. Since the dough is warm to begin with (from the boiling water), it should become quite puffy. Divide the dough in half, and shape each half into a loaf. Place the loaves in two greased bread pans. Cover the pans with the lightly greased plastic wrap and allow the loaves to rise until they have crowned about 1 inch over the rim of the pan, about 60 to 90 minutes.

Bake the loaves in a preheated 350 degree Fahrenheit oven for 35 to 40 minutes. The original recipe says to tent them lightly with aluminum foil after 25 minutes, to prevent over browning. I have never done this, but I will the next time I bake this bread. Somehow I missed that step and now I am really wondering what a difference it makes in the texture and crust. After I try a recipe and I think it is a keeper, I usually don’t reread the whole recipe. That is a habit that I might want to break. Remove the loaves from the oven when they are golden brown. Turn the loaves out onto a rack to cool. Store at room temperature, well-wrapped, for several days, freeze for longer storage.

A Labor of Love

Baking bread is truly a labor of love – love of bread and love of nurturing. Maybe there is a like-minded, or a not-so-like-minded friend who has blessed your life with some much needed wisdom or great idea.   Why not bake some of this bread and share one of the loaves with them?   You might find that you can always agree on one thing. Sharing bread, is definitely a true labor of love.

The Loaf

With growing season in full swing, and fruit harvests sometimes overwhelming (anyone else get canker sores from too many strawberries?), gardeners are always looking for ways to put their booty to use. The following recipe is a versatile one.  It’s a simple sweet bread that utilizes the fruit of the season and uses agave nectar instead of sugar.  I came up with this by tweaking a couple other recipes in an attempt to avoid the “take this healthy thing and add a stick of butter and a cup and a half of granulated sugar…” trap. At this point in the summer, in my neck of the woods it makes sense to use strawberries and blueberries. The fruit can change, and as long as the measurement stays the same (2 cups) you will have a consistent, go to method of creating a sweet summer treat without processed sugar.

Harvest Sweet Bread Recipe



1 large mixing bowl
1 medium mixing bowl
A whisk
1 standard 9x5 loaf pan


2 cups of white, unbleached flour
1 tablespoon of baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 stick of melted butter plus extra to grease the pan
1/3 cup of milk
1 cup agave nectar
2 large eggs
1 cup diced strawberries*
1 cup blueberries*
*Any fruit will do, as long as there are 2 cups of it.


Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease the pan with butter. Combine all the dry ingredients (not including fruit) in the small bowl and the wet ingredients and the large one. Beat the wet mixture well, making sure everything is fully combined. An electric mixer is good to use on low if you're into that sort of thing.Slowly stir the wet mixture and add the dry mixture a little at a time (about a third at a time). Mix the fruit in once the basic ingredients are fully combined.

After the mixing is complete (no dry spots, even fruit distribution, no lumps), pour everything into the greased pan and put it in the oven.  

Bake for approximately 60 minutes. The bread is done when a toothpick or knife can be inserted into the center and comes out dry.** Remove the loaf from the oven and allow it to cool for ten minutes in the pan. Remove from pan, slice, serve, enjoy.

** An 8x8 baking dish can also work here.  Adjust baking time to approximately 45 minutes.


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