Food Is Free Project

Reader Contribution by Crystal Stevens

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

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!

    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.