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A Kitchen For The Community, And Wisdom Found In The Garden

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KAYTE YOUNG: From WFIU in Bloomington Indiana, I'm Kayte Young, and this is Earth Eats. 

SUE ELLSWORTH: As a lot of people have been home, they've had time to work on making different products at home. And now they've decided, "I want to go into food, I want to make this food product." 
KAYTE YOUNG: This week on the show Josephine McRobbie takes us inside the Piedmont Food Processing Center, supporting startup food businesses in North Carolina. And we revisit conversations with medicine mija, gangster gardener, and some innovative home cooks making delicious food even when the power's out. All that and more just ahead, so stay with us. 

This is Earth Eats, I'm Kayte Young. Renee Reed is here with food and farming reports. Hello, Renee. 

RENEE REED: Hello, Kayte. Tyson and Perdue Farms have agreed to pay millions of dollars to chicken farmers to settle a class action lawsuit. Harvest Public Media's Seth Bodine reports the lawsuit alleged that the chicken processors conspired to keep down farmer wages. 

SETH BODINE: Tyson and Perdue Farms agreed to pay a total of $36 million dollars as part of an ongoing antitrust lawsuit against chicken companies such as Pilgrim’s Pride, Sanderson Farms and Cook Foods. Gary Smith Jr. represents the broiler chicken farmers. He says the lawsuit alleges companies agreed not to hire away one another's growers 

GARY SMITH JR: And although in a competitive market, you would go out and you would try to attract the best labor you could have, our allegations is that's not what they've done. They've effectively allocated the markets amongst one another. 

SETH BODINE: Smith says in settling Tyson and Perdue farms have also agreed to cooperate against other alleged conspirators. The settlement is part of many lawsuits against big meatpacking plants alleging they break federal antitrust laws. Seth Bodine, Harvest Public Media. 

RENEE REED: Renewable energy in the Midwest is getting a big financial boost from the US Department of Agriculture. The Department announced today that it's investing more than $400 million in solar, wind, and other renewable energy projects across rural America, nearly half of that will go to projects in the Midwest. US Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack says this investment will help rural economies grow.

TOM VILSACK: I think there's a recognition and appreciation that climate smart infrastructure can lower energy costs for rural small businesses and farming operations. It can also spur economic development. 

RENEE REED: Two of the largest loans will go to a solar farm in Illinois, and an electric line enhancement project in Oklahoma. 

The US Department of Agriculture is handing out $700 million to help farm and meatpacking workers cover covid related expenses like PPE or testing fees. Harvest Public Media's Elizabeth Rembert reports that individual employees are eligible for up to $600 through the federal program. 

ELIZABETH REMBERT: Payments will reach workers through state agencies, tribal entities and nonprofits which can apply for the money starting in early fall. Nebraska State Senator Tony Vargas proposed requiring meat processors to provide masks and implement other safety measures for their employees. He says he's glad to see workers getting help.

TOM VILSACK: It makes me happy that the government is seeing a role in being able to provide support to our neediest individuals. If it wasn't for them, I can't imagine what would happen to our food supply chain. 

ELIZABETH REMBERT: The USDA will also soon announce a separate $700 million grant program for producers, processors, distributors and farmers markets to offset covid related costs. Elizabeth Rembert, Harvest Public Media. 

RENEE REED: Thanks to Harvest Public Media's Seth Bodine, Dana Cronin, and Elizabeth Rembert for those reports. For Earth Eats, I'm Renee Reed. 

(Food and Farming reports theme) 

KAYTE YOUNG: Have you been making your own jam at home throughout the pandemic and aren't sure if it's time to start your own business? If so, you might consider looking up a commercial kitchen. Josephine McRobbie tours through one such business in central North Carolina.

JOSEPHINE MCROBBIE: It's a whirlwind of activity when I visit the Piedmont Food Processing Center, also known as PFAP in Hillsboro, North Carolina. 

(Sound of bustling in a large kitchen)

The commissary and incubator facility is made up of four commercial kitchens. This morning one of the rooms is occupied by chef Tova Boehm and her team at Short Winter Soups.

TOVA BOEHM: It's a good space for us. It's big, there's a lot of storage. There's a lot of perks and add ons that make it easy for a small business like us to operate.

JOSEPHINE MCROBBIE: Each week they make about 50 gallons of soup from local ingredients. 

TOVA BOEHM: Today we are making a watermelon gazpacho, a coconut red lentil soup with rainbow chard, a chilled golden beet soup, winter squash. That's it. 

JOSEPHINE MCROBBIE: Executive Director Eric Hallman says PFAP was developed in 2011 by the four surrounding county systems as a way to support the local food economy. It now operates as a nonprofit. The space primarily serves new food businesses, producers that have outgrown the home kitchen but aren't at the level of having their own factory or production space. 

ERIC HALLMAN: People come to the facility, they rent kitchen space by the hour. They rent storage, whether it's dry storage, or refrigerated, or frozen storage, and start their food business. And without this the barriers to starting a food business would be significant. 

JOSEPHINE MCROBBIE: Each kitchen is outfitted with ranges, ovens, freezers, and coolers but also specialty equipment. 

ERIC HALLMAN: We're reluctant to buy new piece of equipment but just because somebody needs it. Like with a bottler, a bottle filler, we've now got so many people leaving bottle filling that that's a priority and we have a bottle filter. We have a very expensive chocolate tempering and cooking device. We have a liquid nitrogen blast freezer that freeze things down rapidly to really low temperatures. So all kinds of things like that. 

JOSEPHINE MCROBBIE: About 60 local food producers currently work out of PFAP. They're caterers, food truck chefs and people making packaged goods like mushroom jerky, lactation cookies, and barbecue sauce. In order to accommodate this many people sharing a facility, it's open 24 hours a day, every day of the year. Eric lives nearby, he has his fair share of stories about showing up at 3am because someone locked themselves out. But generally things work well, even during the graveyard shifts.

ERIC HALLMAN: Everyone here knows that the facility works because everybody makes sure things work well. So there's a lot of people helping each other out. So it's not like we have to be around all the time. If there's other companies in the building, they're helping each other. It kind of runs itself, but it's also like having 60 roommates; somebody is always leaving the dirty cup in the sink, and we're having to come and go "Whose is this mess?" 

JOSEPHINE MCROBBIE: He's joking, but a dirty cup at a commercial food kitchen can be a sign of a bigger problem. 

ERIC HALLMAN: That is our one fear is that there'll be one bad actor that will cause the whole facility to have to be shut down, if they were doing something that was unsafe. So our cleaning and sanitation is the thing that we pay the most attention to. And most of our clients, we walk them through an orientation, we make sure that they have some basic food safety training. But we are always very vigilant about making sure everybody follows through, but 10 years and we never had an incident. 

JOSEPHINE MCROBBIE: In the hallway, we bump into food safety consultant, Currey Nobles. He's taking photos for an upcoming webinar on safe kitchen practices for the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association. He says he's here because PFAP is an example of how to do things the right way. 

CURREY NOBLES: I've been in a lot of food facilities that have really, really terrible floors. And that's that can be a big issue for cross contamination and causing foodborne illness outbreaks. And so here, the coving along the floors and the walls is very, very smooth and rounded, which is which is good from a food safety perspective. So I've been kind of down on my knees taking pictures of the floor. 

JOSEPHINE MCROBBIE: We duck into another of the four kitchens to meet Kalpna Ramjii. Her business Sofi foods produces a low carb flour mix. 

KALPNA RAMJII: So this was designed by me. My background is in nutrition and I'm helping women to eat healthy. So this is a product that I've created and tested and am getting it inspected now. 

JOSEPHINE MCROBBIE: Today is her first food safety inspection with the North Carolina Department of Agriculture. She and the Department of Ag representative are bent over a giant industrial mixer having trouble with its settings. They wave over Sue Ellsworth, the facilities manager for PFAP. With a little work, they get the mixer going again and the group cheers. 

(Indistinct kitchen chatter)


JOSEPHINE MCROBBIE: To be honest, I'm a little surprised that a food safety inspection feels so relaxed. But for Sue, it's important to help her clients through these checks that can come from the Health Department, the Department of Agriculture, or even the FDA. She started here as a producer herself with the popsicle company Luna Pops. She remembers those stressors well.  

SUE ELLSWORTH: I actually did go through a two-and-a-half-day FDA audit as a client here. And I can tell you, I was absolutely terrified. So I put a lot of emphasis on making sure that people understand the regulatory agencies are here to help you. 

JOSEPHINE MCROBBIE: A big part of Sue's job is providing training and support in everything from operational planning to product marketing. And she's finding that there are more and more homegrown businesses in need of these services. 

SUE ELLSWORTH: As a lot of people have been home, they've had time to work on making different products at home. And now they've decided, "I want to go into food, I want to make this food product." So it's interesting to work with them and find out what their motivation is and what their products are, and help them work through it. Because a lot of these folks have no food experience. They were just locked up at home, making strawberry jam, or making barbecue sauce, or whatever it is. And I think we've all had time to really reflect on life during covid. And some people are making some big changes.

JOSEPHINE MCROBBIE: Her favorite topic is also one of the trickiest for new food producers - regulatory guidance.

SUE ELLSWORTH: Understanding why you have to put certain things, certain information on labels, understanding allergens when they don't have any food experience. 

JOSEPHINE MCROBBIE: She tells me about another experience she had when she was running her own business. 

SUE ELLSWORTH: One of our popsicles was a hibiscus pop. And we had that out for a couple of years before we realized that hibiscus is typically intercropped with peanuts when you purchase it from Egypt. So we had to go back and really look at the product and make sure that we had the appropriate allergen information on it. Luckily, we had always put on our boxes that the product was manufactured in a shared commercial kitchen, and it could contain allergens, but we were a little surprised to find out that that was the case. 

JOSEPHINE MCROBBIE: In addition to providing trainings, PFAP operates a scholarship for free kitchen time, a statewide network of incubator kitchens, and a grant program for purchasing local produce. Sue also runs We Power Food, an organization that supports women owners of food businesses. 

SUE ELLSWORTH: Women try to do everything themselves, and when you're an entrepreneur, you're often working in a silo, you don't have the support that you need. And We Power is really about providing educational resources, tools, networking, and I think most importantly a safe place for women to be able to share what they're dealing with and ask for help when they need.

JOSEPHINE MCROBBIE: Also in the building today is Ashlyn Smith of Spicy Green Gourmet, a catering company that provides over 600 meals a week for food banks Meals on Wheels and other clients in the community. 

ASHLYN SMITH: We were doing healthcare and school meals before COVID, but they're really ramped up because of COVID because we're all individually portioned meals, and we just...

JOSEPHINE MCROBBIE: Spicy Green Gourmet is a well-established business, They're not a startup anymore. And so chef Smith is able to serve as a mentor for others at the facility. Recently, she was a featured speaker for We Power Food. 

ASHLYN SMITH: And they had a lot of questions that I had back when I started about 10 years ago. So I was able to see that there is a light in the tunnel. You keep working at it, you're okay, there's gonna be a trial, there's going to be this, there's going to be that, but if you keep going forward, and if you can have a good product and a good result. And think always feel free to contact me, call me, you could catch me in the hallway.

JOSEPHINE MCROBBIE: Leaving the Piedmont Food Processing Center, Eric shows me a display case of their clients packaged goods. Some now have national distribution. But for him, every business that's still running, especially through a pandemic is a success. 

ERIC HALLMAN: We've had four national brands come out of here. We're just as proud of these smaller regional brands. We help people define what is success, and success may be "I've got a local business that people love." So we're proud of our caterers and we're proud of our food trucks. 

As an incubator we look back over the last three and a half years, of the 130 companies that have come through here - 75% of those companies are still in business. They're still alive, through covid. And for any incubator, but much less coming through COVID, to have 75% of your clients - 75% of your entrepreneurs still in business, we're very proud of that. 

JOSEPHINE MCROBBIE: For WFIU's Earth Eats, I'm Josephine McRobbie. 

KAYTE YOUNG: Find photos and more from this story at Earth I'm Kayte Young, we'll be back in a moment. 


Kayte Young here, this is Earth Eats. This interview was recorded in 2020. 

SHANNA HUGHEY: So this is the main garden area. This year we just did enough veggies for ourselves and lots of medicinal flowers and herbs throughout the summer. And we have a hoop house over here. And then we're going to double the space back that way, because we have about an acre. That's the plan for next year, now that Luna's a little older and I can actually devote some time to it. 

KAYTE YOUNG: We're in the garden of Shanna Hughey west of downtown in Bloomington, Indiana. It's late summer, still plenty hot and humid, but the garden is beginning to wind down. Shanna is showing me around her garden area behind the house. 

SHANNA HUGHEY: Right now we really just have like, basil, tomatoes, some herbs, okra over here. There's a bunch of stuff over there, like herbs and oregano and onions and squash. This was all cucumbers, but I took it out so I can put radishes and then over here I have some medicinals - nettles and tansy and then I have echinacea over there and back by that tree, I have a lot of lemon balm and dill. 

KAYTE YOUNG [VOCIE OVER]: And there's a chicken coop.

SHANNA HUGHEY: Yeah, we're here. 

KAYTE YOUNG [VOCIE OVER]: After the garden tour, I sat down with Shanna in her shady front yard to talk about her work. 

SHANNA HUGHEY: My name is Shanna Hughey and I am the owner of Wild Mint Apothecary. 

KAYTE YOUNG: Shanna is known on Instagram as Medicine Mija. She shares beautiful images of plants, both wild and cultivated and herbal tinctures, teas, salves and tonics, which she handcrafts for Wild Mint Apothecary. She also shares information and instruction. She works from her home these days with her baby daughter Luna by her side. I asked Shanna to tell me about her journey as an herbalist. She said it started for her back in 2014. 

SHANNA HUGHEY: I was really into essential oils and skincare. Having more melanated skin I was always really conscious of the lotions I was using and what I was putting on my body. And I started making my own skincare and then that led to more of the herbs and how to use them for my wellbeing and my healing. I think if you have more melanin in your skin, you're more likely to be dry and maybe exhibit some skin issues that people who are white don't. And the cosmetic industry and beauty industry is promoting it for fair skin and for predominantly white women. So I would put like certain lotions on and it would be like, this is not doing anything for my skin, I need something thicker in winter. 

And then I have nephews who are black. I have like darker shades of brown and my family. So just seeing like skincare growing up, it just was a huge thing. And realizing that some of the things that are being sold are really drying to my type of skin and realizing that I needed to figure out how to make it. 

Once I first started developing a relationship with herbalism, I went to like a conference and I did workshops, and I really started my own personal studies with it. And around the same time, I also became really interested in gardening and food justice and sustainability. So kind of all happened around the same time. And I wasn't really able to make it a lifestyle until we bought land, really. My first garden, I just had a little urban porch garden, and I did all containers, and I grew beans and okra and things that you wouldn't think could grow in little containers, but I did. 

At first it was more, "Oh, this is interesting. It's fun to learn. It's also practical because then I have produce for myself and I don't have to go to the grocery store, and I have beautiful cutting flowers to decorate. I don't have to go purchase a bouquet." But then it became more about my personal healing journey and my connection to my ancestors and spiritual practice.

A way to fight against a really oppressive system that the discriminates a lot of against black and brown people and has stripped us of our ancestral practices, our culture, our roots. And so along the way, that's been more of my passion behind it. So yeah, that's kind of the space I'm in now is it's more about social justice and food justice and healing. And it's awesome also to be able to give back to the community and help.

When I first started in herbalism every single teacher that I knew, every person that I knew that it was at the top of herbalism and farming was white. I didn't understand why I never felt a hundred percent comfortable, or why the space wasn't as safe for me. Because herbalism, isn't just like taking herbs, it's a lifestyle. It's spiritual, it's healing, it's all this stuff. So when it clicked for me that, wow, I don't see any Brown or black leaders. I think like the overall goal for me is to make it more accessible for people like me. I'm not saying just black or Brown people, but I think it's close to heart in my heart because I just want that community for myself.

KAYTE YOUNG: She started wild mint apothecary with her herbal creations using natural and forged ingredients. I asked her about her instructional Instagram videos. 

SHANNA HUGHEY: I really want my Instagram to be more accessible and have more info. But with having a baby, it's been really hard to. Because when I first started, I was like, "Here's the recipe, like here are the ingredients, here's how to do it. It's really not that hard." 

I was doing a lot of foraging videos where I was like, "This is what a plantain looks like, or this is what Creeping Charlie looks like and hey, you can eat it." But I haven't had (time for it) like last year, I had way more time for it. And this year it's a little harder.

KAYTE YOUNG: One of the videos she did make walked through the steps of making fire cider.

SHANNA HUGHEY: I'm a folk herbalist or a community herbalist. So I like to use like what's growing around here. And so with firecider the reason why I love it is because it's stuff that's growing. It's like onions and garlic and peppers, and like whatever's growing outside or oregano, parsley, put it in there with apple cider vinegar. So it's really very accessible. It's easy to make. You don't have to really go identify anything. You don't really need to know how to grow it if you can find locally. 

KAYTE YOUNG: Firecider or is fiery hot and intense. It's taken as a tonic with the hope of boosting the immune system. Shanna notes that folk herbalism focuses on the local environment.

SHANNA HUGHEY: If you're living in a community you know what's growing and if the foods are already around you or they're native to you, then you have a connection with them. 

KAYTE YOUNG: And the practice of a folk herbalist is different from the practice of a clinical herbalist. 

SHANNA HUGHEY: For me, it's about like preventative care and wellness, overall wellness. And I know how to treat allergies or gastro stuff or headaches. 

KAYTE YOUNG: But she's not taking on the treatment of say diabetes or an auto-immune disease.

We talked about food justice and food access and how it relates to her work. 

SHANNA HUGHEY: I think for me, with herbalism and growing food, it goes back to just being a minority and seeing so many black and brown people being so disproportionately affected by health issues in our world. And even they're more likely to get COVID and die from it.

And so if you look at that way, that our system is set up, the people who are oppressed are the ones who are least likely to get that good quality food. So to me, one of the biggest systemic issue is food, honestly. Because if you have quality food, you had access to medicine that wasn't super expensive, and big pharma wasn't like ruling everything then people would be healthier and not be dying and not be sick.

One of the important things that I feel is maybe undervalued when it comes to farming and herbalism sometimes is the importance for it for people of color, isn't just a practicality or a sustainability or a food justice thing, but I really do think it's healing. It's really a way to like take back our power. There was a lot, there is a lot of trauma and pain from getting your practices ripped away from you through colonization. So, I think one thing for me that's super important is for people to understand, is that for me, and for a lot of other POC who are doing this, it's like so much deeper. It's about connecting back to our roots and our ancestry, our ways of life. 

My bisabuela was a native and also my great Grandpa on my mom's side was as well. And I have natives on my dad's side and as well as European and ancestry and some African ancestry as well. But all of that, those cultural practices that were really rooted in land stewardship and growing and healing was stripped away through colonization in South and Central America.

And there's a lot of immigrants and black folks who have experienced that. And to get back to land stewardship and growing and connecting to plants is so incredibly powerful to healing our generational traumas, our ancestral traumas, our colonization traumas. And so for me, that is like the root of all of it for me. It's incredibly healing and it brings me joy and I really want other people who are POC to be able to experience that connection to all of our past. Our culture keeps getting stripped away and then we're boxed out of farming and boxed out of these spaces that are just predominantly white and exclusive.

I'm really into ancestral movement. So, and that's like the theory of exercise is like separate and then there's movement that's rooted in what we would do as our ancestors, which is like baby wearing while we're working in the yard, weeding, growing foods, walking and community. Like all of that stuff is so tied in with the growing food. And so when you make it the center of your world, it heals so many parts of it within your life. It's nourishing literally and it's also spiritually very nourishing. 

KAYTE YOUNG: That was Shanna Hughey, gardener and herbalist with Wild Mint Apothecary. On Instagram, she's Medicine Mija. That's medicine M-I-J-A and you can find her at Wild Mint Apothecary on Facebook. We have those links on our website

Earlier this year in February, Texas faced an uncharacteristic cold weather event followed by extensive power outages. It was a deadly and devastating crisis that carried on for far too long. This week, the Gulf Coast was hit by a much more familiar extreme weather event - Hurricane Nicolas, followed by excessive rain. 

Since some areas in Texas are experiencing power losses again, I thought this might be a good time to revisit my conversation with Brooke Barclay and Timo Klisch in Houston. During the snowstorm and cold snap back in February, they turned to their outdoor grill and came up with some innovative meal plans to keep their spirits up during a trying time. Maybe their ideas can serve as inspiration for those without power in the Gulf region, or even for those of us at the tail end of summer who don't want to heat up our kitchens while it's still hot. 

TIMO KLISCH: We are sitting in the parking lot of Walgreens, because we have no water.

BROOKE BARCLAY: Electricity, internet, cell phone coverage

TIMO KLISCH: Or cell phone coverage at home. 

BROOKE BARCLAY: And even if we did have water, we are under a boil water notice right now. So it wouldn't do us any good to have water because we have no electricity...

TIMO KLISCH: To boil it. 

KAYTE YOUNG: When I spoke with them on Wednesday, they had been without power for a few days, and it's been cold in Houston, below freezing, which they aren't really used to. 

BROOKE BARCLAY: It's cold, but we're doing okay. And with our blankets and snuggling up and just it's okay. We can bundle up and stay warm for the most part. 

KAYTE YOUNG: Brooke and Timo, both work in the medical center in Houston. They have a 14-year-old daughter plus a German shepherd mix and at least seven cats. Brooke admitted that there is some part of her that appreciates the chance to slow down, reset and focus on what matters most. 

BROOKE BARCLAY: It's coming from a place of privilege that our walls are well-insulated, we have plenty of blankets. We're resourceful. We're okay.

KAYTE YOUNG: I know Brooke and Timo both liked to cook. So I wanted to hear about what they were eating and how they had managed to prepare food in these limited conditions. 

BROOKE BARCLAY: We were ill prepared for this. And so we didn't go and get any fresh fruits and vegetables or bread or anything like that.

KAYTE YOUNG: But Timo did attempt to make a small Kroger run on the weekend and the place was mobbed with people. 

BROOKE BARCLAY: I sent him a list, a pretty modest list, like some mushrooms, tomatoes, plums, if they had any, just to see what they have like fresh fruits and vegetables and stuff. And he gathered up a small cart of things, turned around to look at some sparkling water and turned back around and his cart was gone. So, I guess I'll have what he's having. 

TIMO KLISCH: And I also took the second to the last mushrooms. So then I went back and took then the last mushroom. Yeah. 

KAYTE YOUNG: Some people are just eating cold foods. Some are using camp stoves. Brooke and Timo have turned to their grill and cast-iron pans. 

BROOKE BARCLAY: Last night, we had some bratwurst and he put those on the grill, along with the mushrooms and like a Worcestershire sauce with sweet onions, and we grilled those of course only by the light of the grill itself, because we also don't have any flashlights. They were a little charred, but they were nice. And I only know that they were charred when I would bite into it because we had dinner and by candlelight also. But I can't say that it was enough that I could actually see what we were eating. It tasted really good though. 

TIMO KLISCH: Yeah. And we had, as a dessert, we made baked apples with cinnamon, and a little bit of butter. 

BROOKE BARCLAY: Butter, salt, cinnamon, brown sugar. Yeah, those are nice. I've been craving roasted or baked apples and we have a lot of cast iron, so we've been able to put that to use on the grill. We have a small little cast iron, like a little sauce pot.

We were able to heat at the sauerkraut in that and had some whole grain mustard and bread, and the bratwurst. It was actually really delicious and nice that something so simple. And yeah, you're German. I mean, it's how you eat bratwurst anyway. 

TIMO KLISCH: Bratwurst is sauerkraut then.

BROOKE BARCLAY: And onions and mushrooms, it was delicious. And then I wanted to get a little bit more creative. We also have some cod and I know that I have coconut milk. We were able to buy a bell pepper, and then in the garden I have a lot of parsley and cilantro, albeit it is frozen, I think I can still go ahead and use it. And so we're going to try to make a cast iron moqueca, which is like a Brazilian fish stew.  And I think it should be fine. We'll probably kind of make the coconut milk with tomatoes, onions, garlic, cilantro, the bell pepper. Heat that up. 

TIMO KLISCH: Smash it a little bit. 

BROOKE BARCLAY: In one of the cast iron skillets on the grill covered. And then maybe once it gets pretty warm, we'll put in the pieces of cod. We'll see, Kayte. I will let you know, on the other side of this, how this all this works out.

So that's the plan maybe for tonight. And then we have some bread that we'll heat up. We'll roll it in tinfoil and heat that up to dip in this stew. 

KAYTE YOUNG: Brooke also said she was hoping to make a shakshuka on the grill. I asked her to explain. 

BROOKE BARCLAY: So basically crushed tomatoes, onions, garlic...

TIMO KLISCH: Garlic, lots of garlic. 

BROOKE BARCLAY: And I would use the cilantro. You can make a verde shakshuka or a red tomato based one...

TIMO KLISCH: And then we heat that up.

BROOKE BARCLAY: And put that in a cast iron skillet, get that really nice and hot, and then create little divots in the sauce and put a few eggs in it. Drop that right into the hot tomato sauce and let this cook hopefully. 

BROOKE BARCLAY: Yeah, the trick is like not to overcook it, but they are cooked, thoroughly. So maybe just a few minutes and then eat. 

TIMO KLISCH: Yeah luckily we have some lids for our cast iron, that way we can really get the egg whites cooked all the way without cooking the yolks. So you get it in there again. We have some bread that we can heat up for dipping that and lots and lots of salsa and chips.

So we've also done kind of like almost like a TexMex shakshuka where you used for tortilla chips in that as well. So it's like a cross between a chili chilaquiles and a shakshuka. Okay. Works for me.

KAYTE YOUNG: That was Brooke Barclay and Timo Klisch in Houston Texas making the best of a bad situation, cooking on their backyard grill during the great Texas winter power outage of 2021. We've got pictures on our website, Earth 

And that story first aired in February of 2021. Still ahead, we hear from Ron Finley about the power of urban gardening in South Central LA. Stay with us. 


This is Earth Eats, I'm Kayte Young. And now we turn to Ron Finley. You may have heard of him; he's known as the gangster gardener. He gave a TED talk back in 2013. 

RON FINELY: We got to make this sexy. So I want us all to become an ecolutionary, renegade, gangster, gangster gardener. We got to change. We got to flip the script on what a gangster is. If you ain't a gardener, you ain't gangster! Get gangster with your shovel. Okay? And let that be your weapon of choice. 

KAYTE YOUNG: Ron Finley lives in South Central Los Angeles, where he grows food and flowers in his yard. He started growing food on the strip of public land between the sidewalk and the street outside his house. He was sharing the food with neighbors or anyone walking by, kind of a spontaneous community garden space or what some might call guerilla gardening. 

Finley was fined for using that space. And he fought it. He fought for the right to beautify and to grow food in those spaces throughout the city, in those strips of forgotten land like islands, and medians, and parkways. He fought, and he won. Because of Ron Finley, it's now legal to grow food in those places all over the city. 

Ron Finley visited the Honors College at Indiana University in 2018, as part of their Many Worlds, One Globe lecture series, he had a conversation on stage with Andrea Ciccarelli, the Dean of the Hutton Honors College. Here are some recorded excerpts from that talk. 

ANDREA CICCARELLI: You are an artist, a collector a designer, and a gardner?

RON FINELY: And a father. 

ANDREA CICCARELLI: How does the urge of planting and promoting community gardens reconcile your other aspects? 

RON FINELY: It all goes, everything is symbiotic, everything goes together. The act of gardening is everything. You have all these elements that you're dealing with, the land the soil, taking care of things. It's not just a single thing. It's like it's real simple. If we grow together, we grow together. 

ANDREA CICCARELLI: Why do you see the need for promoting community gardening utilizing basically empty spots like the parkways and use grasses both? 

RON FINELY: Well because it was it was a thing where throughout the city not just in South LA, it was just this vacant piece of land, and a lot of cities there's no place for you to grow food collectively. You might have your front yard, you might have your backyard, but the parkway - which is the strip of grass right before you get to the street, that strip of grass, I'm like, "Why have grass there? We're not cows, we can't eat no damn grass."

So I figured you have this place, and you and there's no healthy food anywhere, so why not just put the healthy food right here in front of your house, where you can share it with other people. And that's what I did, and I got a warrant for my arrest. But it was it was crazy because they would have dressers, and toilets, and condoms, and trash and I never got a warrant. But soon as I beautified it, as soon as there was hummingbirds, and butterflies, and lizards, that's when I got a warrant. 

And that spoke volumes to me, that if somebody comes and try to put beauty in a place where there is none, they get a citation. But if they leave it ugly, and with trash sprawling all over the place, it's okay. 

ANDREA CICCARELLI: I'm sure that there are many people, if I were going to ask my friends in Italy, they will never imagine that of all places, California, is a place where entire section of the population have no access to fresh produce. It's something unimaginable, especially if you think about the ideas that we get about California. Or if you go there as a tourist and you see all this. Would you tell us a little bit more how you see your movement grow and change your own community, South Central LA, and how it can affect the rest of the country and the world? 

RON FINELY: Well, first of all, we have to understand that poverty is by design, just like communities are by design. It's like they call them underserved areas. Okay, so why don't you put something on over there, where it's not underserved? And I actually posed that question to a bunch of mayors once at a mayor's conference. And why are underserved areas underserved? And they like, "Oh, well, it starts..." 

I said, "No, I don't need your song and dance. They're underserved because you don't, because you don't serve them. It's that that simple. In areas where you want something, you put it there. Easy."

So it's the same thing, when these communities of color, all of a sudden the complexion of that community changes, all of a sudden there's infrastructures. So what does that tell me? That you just didn't give a shit about this community. That's all. And that's throughout America, because I've been to a lot of states, and if there's black, brown, or red communities there, it's the same thing. People don't care until other people are there. 

So your question was, how have what I've done change? It's changed people, in a sense that they know they have the opportunity to change what's going on around them, not just deal with it and think, "That this is how it is, and this is how it's gonna be, because it's always been like this. Nobody thought about putting food on these parkways because they were designed to have grass there. " So we're all designers, we're all artists, everybody in this room is an artist. So if it don't fit, you change it. If so, that's, that's what I've done. 

I was just in San Paolo, these guys put a gigantic garden in, and they just literally took the space over in front of their apartment building. And they put a garden and said, "This is because of you." 

There was a kid that sent me pictures from San Antonio where he had his parents make these boxes in front of their house on the parkway, and he calls it his community grocery store. And everybody from the community can come and partake in the food. 

Because it's almost like people have woken up and said, "You're right. I'm the person that's supposed to do this, why am I waiting for somebody else to give me what I need?" 

Because think about if we all got together and start not growing all your food, growing some of your food, and then you share it with your neighbors because they're growing something different. Just imagine what the system that you have taken yourself out of. And it's not just one system, it's a bunch of systems, all the way from the health system, to your community, to conversation that you will have, to people looking after their communities instead of being like we are now everybody's closed off from each other. And this is mine and this whole greed mentality. Where we could share and what I'm doing has opened up a lot of people's minds across the country to saying collectively, "We can make this better."

ANDREA CICCARELLI: You said that the funny thing about sustainability is that one has to sustain. What is the relationship between food as sustenance and food as part of a sustainable culture? 

RON FINELY: We need not just food, we need healthy nutritious food and a lot of these a lot of times we're not getting that. In a lot of situations, a lot of people don't know what healthy foods looks like. 

I had some young girls that I invited to my garden on Sunday. And their parents they were living under a freeway, and a girl that I had just met, she's taking care of them, I said, "You should come by, and I'll show them the garden." 

And they had never seen a ladybug, they had never eaten up fresh orange off the tree, and they did this. And I had them eating oxalis and, and nasturtiums and it's different kinds of spinach right out the ground, and they had never experienced this. And you could see from the pictures, how they looked when they got there to how they looked when they left holding a sunflower plant to plant in the ground. 

So the thing with gardens to me, is it's not just food. To me, it equals freedom. Freedom from in some senses oppression, because we're depending on somebody to give us everything that we do, instead of dependent on ourselves to do it. You got to think that some kids in some situations, they've never had any healthy food, they don't know what it tastes like, they don't know the difference between this food-ish shit to real food. Most people have not seen where their food is grown in the greatness of Mother Nature and earth. And how you take this little teeny seed, and all of a sudden, you have a tree that bears fruit. I mean, you can't call this shit anything but magic. I mean, look, when you think about it, here, you have something that destroys itself in the ground to give you food. And I think that's a process that that we need to see. Because most people do not know a plant in its natural form. They only know what came from that plant.

Like I had some kids from Harvard University come by, and I'm like, "Okay, what's that?" "Uh... spinach! Parsley!"

And I'm like, “No, you clown it's a carrot.” 

But they didn't know a Carrot Top from it's... and we should know this. We should know what we're eating, we should know where it comes from, we should know what it looks like in the ground, we should know how has grown instead of just going to the store and it's there. 

And with a child, when you show them that magic of putting a seed in the ground and pulling out this carrot and it's like, "I made this!"  So it's an attachment there that they have, that they don't get from anything else. It's different from you just sitting a plate in front of them, and it's there, rather than them taking it out the ground and washing it, and then they put it on their own plate. So it I think it affects your whole system. 

And it's like just eating the food, who in here grows food? Grows some of their own food? That's a lot. You other people need to get with and stop playing. And so you guys know how when you grow something, it just feels like it even tastes better. It might be your psyche, but it just tastes better than something you got from the store. If you present this to a child at an early age, I think that affects who they are. They're gonna think about it totally different if you reinforce it. And it's not just that one time, this stuff it has to be reinforced. 

The way we're going to change this and bring gardens into certain communities and certain people, we have to make a sexy. How do you make something sexy is you show people how they can make money, no, this is how you can make a living. This is how you can change your life. This is how you can change your community. This is how you can change people's health. And I've been I've literally seen that happen, what they call them permaculture stacking functions. When you think of like worm bins, you put your scraps from your rotten food into this worm bin and all of a sudden the worms turn it into worm castings. It's a fancy word for worm poop. And then also the liquid from this process, you catch it at the bottom of your worm bin. So now in all of this is nutrient rich products for your soil. So now you have three things that you could sell from basically from your trash. You could sell the worms because they multiply like crazy, and they can't fit into the bin. So you can sell your worms, you can sell the worm castings, and you can certainly sell the warranty that you've collected. So all of this has a value and it's all that's free. And so these are the lessons that I'm that I tried to instill in especially kids to keep them interested in it and to show them the magic in the science. I mean, we have to make it sexy like that we have to make it interesting. 

And I think with that it's gonna happen. We can create an ecolution around the planet, because it's already started. 

KAYTE YOUNG: That was artist, activist, gardener Ron Finley of the Ron Finley project. Find more about his work on our website, This interview originally aired in May of 2019. 

That's it for our show this week. Thanks for tuning in. We'll see you next time. 

RENEE REED: The Earth Eats team includes Eobon Binder, Mark Chilla, Abraham Hill, Payton Knobeloch, Josephine McRobbie, Daniella Richardson, Harvest Public Media and me, Renee Reed. 
KAYTE YOUNG: Special thanks this week to Shanna Huegy AKA Medicine Mija, Brooke Barclay, Timo Klisch, Ron Finely and Andrea Ciccarelli. 

RENEE REED: Our theme music is composed by Erin Tobey and performed by Erin and Matt Tobey. Additional music on the show comes to us from the artist at Universal Productions Music. Earth Eats is produced and edited by Kayte Young and our executive producer is John Bailey.


A person with a face mask and apron on, filling a clear plastic container with yellow soup, rows of soup in containers are visible in the foreground

Short Winter Soups is one of the businesses renting kitchen space at Piedmont Food Processing Center (Courtesy of Piedmont Food Processing Center)

"As  a lot of people have been home, they've had time to work on making different products at home and now they've decided,'I want to go into food. I want to make this food product'"

Have you been making your own jam at home throughout the pandemic and are sure it’s time to start your own business? If so, you might consider looking up a commercial kitchen. Josephine McRobbie tours us through one such business in Central North Carolina. Get the full story in this week's episode or check out the story below. 

Also on the show this week, it's Ron Finely of the Ron Finely Project, in a 2019 conversation about the magic of growing your own food--even if it's just a small strip of land by the side of the road in a neglected part of town.

Ron Finley spoke with Andrea Ciccarelli, Dean of the Hutton Honors College at Indiana University. The conversation was part of their Many Worlds One Globe lecture series.

And, we revisit a conversation with Shanna Gabriela--aka Medicine Mija, of Wild Mint Apothecary.

Plus, we give a second listen to a chat with two innovative home cooks in Houston, Texas making delicious food--even when the power is out. 

Stories On This Episode

A Tour Of A Commercial Kitchen And Community Hub

Various foods laid out baking sheets and in pots, on stainless steel tables in a commercial kitchen

An incubator kitchen helps food start-ups bring ideas to market.

Tyson, Perdue Farms Shell Out $36 Million To Settle Antitrust Claims

Chickens in a cage

Tyson and Perdue Farms to pay a total of $35.75 million to broiler chicken farmers to settle a class action lawsuit.

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