Did you know that Coca-Cola is a necessary strand of the social safety net? Without access to Coca-Cola, how is anyone expected to pursue life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness?
A bill was introduced, but not yet passed in last year’s legislative session in Texas. Texas House Bill 751 would prohibit the purchase of tater chips, candy, and sweetened beverages with the federally funded Supplemental Nutritional Aid Program, otherwise known as food stamps.
As I understand it, the bill would introduce a waiver of federal SNAP funds for the products defined in the bill. This is not the first motion by a state to request that the old union stop paying for their citizen’s junk food.
Opponents of the bill, such as those in the junk food industry and common citizens who want free candy and coke for their family, claim that “passing the bill would be all hard and complicated and stuff,” “you can’t prove anything,” and “it would be really scary for everybody.” Proponents of the bill, such as health nuts and budding anarchists with an insatiable appetite for reason, claim “why don’t you just use federal funds for cigarettes for down and out smokers, and you can pay for it from revenue gained from kidnapping potheads? Fuck, why is our government such a bunch of pussies when it comes to doing things that make sense?” and various other hyperbolic non-sequiturs.
The next meeting of bureaucrats who determine non-market flows of wealth rolls around about one year from now.
If you want to keep your free candy allowance, or if you fear that your company’s financial interests would feel withdrawals from those extra sweet tax dollars, then it is due time to write your representative and tell him not to pass such stupid legislation and that they are poopyheads and you will hate them if they pass it.
And likewise for all of you LSD licking radicals, if you want to make your fantastic rants about “tax dollars paying big business for both the causes and the effects of disease, from foreign policy to healthcare” be heard; then type your concerns on a nice, clean note or digital text field, and send the letter to your representative.
-So declare saintly bureaucrats of Austin.
Well, some food, in some places.
The Texas Cottage Law, in effect as of September of 2013 has opened things up a bit for law abiding bakers of Texas. The law prohibits a city from outlawing cottage food operations on the basis of zoning, and permits the sale of cottage goods outside the home at fairs, festivals, farmers’ markets, farm stands, and various other culturally appropriate place for such activity.
“The law expands the list of allowable food to include candy, coated and uncoated nuts, unroasted nut butters, fruit butters, dehydrated fruits and vegetables, popcorn, cereal, granola, dry mix, vinegar, pickles, mustard, and roasted coffee or dry tea.” – http://www.texascottagefoodlaw.com.
On behalf of all the cooks at my local farmers’ market I sincerely thank Texas resident and home baker, Kelley Masters, for her four years worth of effort in getting her representative to get this law through Texas legislature. After the bill’s first failure in 2009, Masters rallied support through social media outlets and grassroots campaigns to give the bill the voice it needed.
As of January 1st of 2014, all who sell these cottage goods are legally required to have a food handler’s permit and are subject to inspection or penalty by the local health department.
The red tape and kevlar separating choice and consequence just got a whole lot thinner at the farmers’ market. So what are you waiting for? It’s time to show off your skills.
It’s a cold, dank winter day and this revolutionary is strapped for cash. Most of us are. It’s Tuesday, though, and we’re feeding many at our weekly Tune-in-Tuesday Potluck.
I go to the market with $10.
I walk home with a can of crabmeat, a can of clams in clam juice, 2 yellow onions, 1 bunch of celery, 3 ears of corn, and I could even afford some more chili powder for the rack. Spices are scant at the headquarters right now.
I’ve got olive oil, flour, okra, serrano peppers, and carrots already in the kitchen.
I put a gallon of water in the pot. I realize it will be too much. I scoop a big glass of water out and chug it. Gotta stay hydrated. I bring it to a boil.
I cut both onions, the entire bunch of celery, two serrano peppers, and two carrots into thin slices and toss them in the boiling water. This is going to be casual gumbo, no need to rush on a winter day like today. I go ahead and shake some cajun seasoning into the boil.
I cut the corn off the cobs and slice the okra thin, and dice it again.
I feed the cat. I check the email. Some friends arrive and we say some brilliant things, and some silly things.
I heat up the skillet with oil of olive and toss in the corn and okra. I mix this around, tossing in chili powder and hoping for a grilly flavor from the frying. I shake nutmeg in the boiling broth along with some more seasoning salt. When the corn and okra look cooked I toss them in the broth. I open the crab and the clams and drop them into the pot, juice included. The concoction is filling the air with its spice, the soup is coming alive. Roux is the final step.
I keep the skillet hot but turn the heat below medium, I add some liberal splashes of olive oil. I shake in some flour and stir continuously with a wooden spoon. The color is a dijon yellow, mostly from the olive oil. It looks too loose, I add a few more clumps of flour and mush and stir them in. The consistency looks perfect, like mixing clay paints. The edges of the roux bubble. I keep stirring, the yellow turns to an earth tone desert brown. This is a crucial time. The roux is beautiful. How long will I let it wait? How dark do I want the roux today? There it is.
I dump the roux in the stew and I do not know it is Gumbo until the third bite, when I remembered my father’s gumbo and the quintessential taste of a soup arrangement that plays the proud theme, “Gumbo.”
“This soup is amazing, I love spicy-ness,” said Roxanne.
Lana hadn’t tried it yet, “Mmm, like Mexican spicy or like Asian spicy?”
Virginia paused her eating, “Cajun spicy.”
“You gotta know where your food is gonna go before you even start. Some folks wanna plant vegetable gardens just to look pretty. No, we’re growin’ food here!” We laughed, I knew we’d get along. Eating is the best part of vegetable gardening, and often the most forgotten piece of the puzzle. A vegetable garden is not a success until it lands on the plate. I saw how this basic passion for homegrown food drove the effective yet light hearted individual I had the pleasure of spending a day with.
One day at Wabash (organic feed and seed store in downtown Houston), a smiling man walked up to the counter with a handful of thirty plus different seed packets. I see all kinds of customers at Wabash and when somebody purchases more than a backyard garden’s worth of seeds I begin to wonder: “Are they planting a small farm? Where in Houston has the space for all these seeds? Are they preparing for the apocalypse?” I inquired “I’ve seen you in here before, I gotta know, where are all these seeds going? You must have a hell of a farm.”
The man laughed, “Nope, I got gardens. all over Houston!” I made a puzzled face. “Yeah man, schools, parks, where ever I can.”
“Oh are you with a non-profit group or something?”
“No I just fit in where ever they let me, here’s my card.”
A few weeks later I rode my bike to meet with Kelvin and his associate, Todd, for a garden tour. The first stop was Booker T. Washington High School. The ladies at the front desk remembered Kelvin’s last visit, “Mmhm, I’m still thinking about those greens you cooked up, and that Swiss chard.” As we made our way to the site, the school staff all greeted their favorite gardener in the hallways. Kelvin whispered to me “You gotta feed ‘em. See how she was talkin’ about that cook-out like it was yesterday? That was three weeks ago. Gotta feed ‘em. We just did a class at a preschool nearby and you KNOW we started with a cooking demo. I think every gardening class should start with a cooking demo.”
The Booker T. garden was in an otherwise featureless atrium at the center of campus. The racquetball-court-sized rectangle surrounded by brick walls was now filled with rows of beets, lettuce, carrots, a banana tree, and dormant okra bushes. It was sufficient crop for a few classrooms worth of salads. “We put this one in a year ago, a couple clubs take care of it and snack on it. They’re also doing a little experiment to see how the regular dirt compares to fertilized dirt.”
“This is the fertilized side, huh?” I pointed to the obvious choice.
“Actually, we forgot to fertilize any of it. This side just knew it was gonna get fertilized so it grew better.” He laughed and clarified, “look at where the sun is at, it was fun watching the kids figure that one out,” I noticed the shadow cast up the shorter side of the garden, “The garden’s full of learning opportunities. Gotta keep your eyes open for resources, too.” One of the teachers had brought in hay from her horse barn to lay out as weed prevention. He pointed out where they were installing an apparatus to catch the condensation from the AC units for some extra drip for the garden.
We went on to the next stop driving through Independence Heights. “Did you know this was the first black community incorporated as a city in the State of Texas? Lots of history here. I’ma show you this one we did recently with practically nothing.”
“How long have you been doing this anyways?”
“I started about 15 years ago, Joe from Organic Outpost got me into it, and I been in it ever since.”
We pulled up to a small empty corner lot in a dilapidated neighborhood where there grew a thriving garden of greens. I pulled some of the spinach and continued snacking. I snacked all day during my tour with Kelvin.
“You see this is a food desert, ain’t hardly a vegetable for miles at the stores nearby, so we put this in here. The lady gave us the lot, we tilled up some dirt and set seeds. Look at the ground, full of rocks and trash and stuff, but it’s growin’ aint it?” It is. “And look at this compost,” he walked me over to the huge heap. “You smell anything? You see any pests running around?”
“See man, that’s all you gotta do, do it how nature does it and it’ll work – that’s how George Washington Carver came up with all those ideas. And all these good scraps come from that produce factory down the street, they don’t even sell in this neighborhood, but at least they give us compost. Nothin’ goes to waste.” He picked out some orange seeds from the pile and looked at Todd, “we’re gonna have to plant these at that preschool.”
Kelvin, and many of the best gardeners I’ve met, are pathologically resourceful. During the day’s tour we stopped three times to fill Kelvin’s trailer with discarded yard waste from curb sides. A home owner waved out her front door, “thank you sweetie.” “No problem ma’am.”
We rode by a nursing home with an open acre adjacent, host only to a couple of trees. Todd, who had thus far remained humbly quiet became excited and fired up. “Man, look at that lot, right next to the old folks home. That’s a farm right there! Lots of potential.” Kelvin concurred. I began to understand what a day in the life of Kelvin and Todd was like. Work, improvise, teach, eat, share, and embrace your community. I joked with Todd, “so you’re like a freelance sometimes professional mostly volunteer community gardener.” Todd laughed, “Yeah that’s about right, freelance volunteer gardener.”
I continued to see the community how Kelvin saw it, we visited his composting sites and other gardens, some thrived, and some were in need of help, all were a learning experience. “Ain’t no right way to do it. There are so many ways to make a good garden you just gotta figure out the way for you.”
The first time I had spoke with Kelvin I inquired about who his partners and colleagues were. His mode of operations was apparent. “We gotta share everything, this knowledge is for everybody, this ain’t about competition and all that, we try to work with everyone.” I appreciated the sentiment, it’s what keeps me happy at Wabash. Our employees give out information for free, their number 1 goal being a happier more knowledgeable customer, regardless of what they walk out of the store with.
One thing Kelvin continuously mentioned was “I need to get me a tractor!” He’d say this every time we stared at a giant heap of compost, seeing hours of shovel labor. In such a connected community I imagined how many people would benefit from Kelvin on a tractor. What if each backyard garden had surplus of their specialty crop? Neighborhood markets could thrive, the results would be tasty. We really could be a city that provided healthy food for our population right from the ground beneath our feet.
A healthy, sustainable future is quite the feat. With all of the infrastructure and economy that supports empty calories and lazy food, there is so much work and so many pieces to the puzzle to be in place for an organic homegrown community at any level. I get stressed thinking about it. Kelvin reminded me, “Don’t worry about the end result. Just do your part, and it will all work out.” The sentiment brought me peace, it’s something I have to remind myself every day.
When Kelvin dropped off my bike and I that afternoon, he asked “So what did you get out of all this?” I thought for a moment and struck his excitement with my answer. “Keep it simple.” “HaHa! You hit the nail on the head, got it right in with one shot!”
Kelvin is a freelance gardener who works with churches, school, recovery centers, and anywhere that will help the neighborhood. For information about Kelvin’s projects, or to let him borrow your tractor, please contact:
and to learn more of Wabash, Houston’s organic gardening headquarters, please visit wabashfeed.com
I suppose the tips below are quite obvious, but that does not mean that they are not valuable. Stir-fries, Salads, and Soups are responsible for 3/4 of the local goodness that I’ve enjoyed the past several years. These are not tips from a chef, they are tips from a local-ingredient loving bachelor with a big appetite. These tips are not meant to blow your culinary mind, they are solutions for anyone who utters the phrase “But I don’t/can’t cook.”
Definition of Terms:
Salad: Pretty pile of mostly raw ingredients
Stir-Fry: Pile of ingredients cooked on skillet or pan
Soup: Pile of ingredients boiled in water
In picture, beans, kale, eggs, pepper on top posing for picture.
Never again let good veggies go bad because you don’t know what to do with them. Fearlessly acquire good food from the markets and gardens and give them a home on your plate. If you have the energy or skill for something fancy, great, if not, make a pile and let the local-food-energy power your human machine in the way that it knows best while you continue to go about your job of saving the world.
What’s in your kitchen? So long as you have the following items you should be ready to invite any new vegetable to your eating experience:
-Oil: Olive, Coconut, or other. (Or butter)
-Seasonings and Spices. (Can be everything! Or just salt and pepper and hot sauce)
It’s cold, your girlfriend is coming over, you have extra ingredients, make a soup.
I have made countless soups that people have raved about, always requesting a recipe. I’ve never had a soup recipe. I am a nomad who cooks in other people’s kitchens and the ingredients have never, ever been the same.
A broth can be made from any tough vegetable. Collards, cabbage, carrots, potatoes, peas, any of these can be boiled in water for a period of time to make a good base. How much water and how much time? I don’t know, just wing it. How much soup do you want? How many veggies do you have? Do you want the veggies to be crisp, or mushy? Use your eyes to watch the water change color, use your tongue to taste the progress.
What else goes in your soup? Anything you want except for lettuces or spinaches. So throw any weird vegetable, legume, or spice in there and let their flavors be liberated as you stir, simmer, and observe.
Sometimes we have cayenne, sometimes we have curry, sometimes we have dried herbs, sometimes we have only salt and pepper. Every time we have a nose – and this is what you will use to spice your soup.
You can be generous or modest with almost every spice or herb with little concern. Salt, or salt based seasonings, however, you must be more careful with. Add them lightly throughout the cooking process and be aware this is practically the only seasoning you can have too much of.
If you use meat in your soup, either put it in at the beginning so it add to your broth and fully boil, or cook it elsewhere and throw it in mid-way.
Your soup will be ready when it tastes good and you have no more room in the soup pot.
You want to eat the power of the sun! Or you just need a good, solid bowel movement.
If you have a bunch of spinach, kale, mustards, arugula, or any kind of lettuce, then you have the foundation for a salad. Dice any vegetable or fruit you have, and mix it around with your fresh greens. Add any sort of dressing, or even just olive oil and spices, and magically the fibrous or bitter natures of the veggies on their own will get together for a harmonious salad experience.
Salad is simple. Let yourself go, and make a pile of freshness. A good guiding light for a food salad is their aesthetic quality. If you take your harvest and dice them and mix them in a way that looks appealing and you add some oils to help them along, then there is a good chance you’ve made a tasty salad.
If you have a food processor, you don’t even really need lettuce or spinach. You can just throw any random veggie in there, add some oil or some nuts, and you have created a chopped pile of goodness.
Stir Fry Philosophy
You only have 10 minutes and you want something hot and awesome.
Heat a pan, lay down butter and oil, and cook the tough veggies first, and the soft veggies last. Add soy sauce, hot sauce, spices and garlic to taste, and you will have made yourself a satisfying stir-fry. The magic of stir fry is in your hands, all latent vegetables await your improvisation.
A cousin to the stir fry is the omelette, wherein you cook any veggies you have, and once they are cooked to your liking, you add a bunch of eggs on top and boom, you’ve made a omelette.
The application of various piles in my food life has allowed me to consume many calories and not have to resort to pastries, microwaved meals, fast food, and other seemingly satisfying treats. Make a pile and stuff your face… with goodness.
I stumbled across this resource in researching wild edible plants. This is some valuable, free information about plants, both poisonous and nutritious, growing wild on Texas soil from the Rio Grande to the Red.
So what are you waiting for? I know what you’re waiting for, it’s got to fit into your life, right? Who has time to forage and garden all the time? Well, we don’t have to do it all at once. Loading your mind with knowledge and possibilities, like you are right now, is a good step. Eventually we have to get out there and try it. If you’re anything like me, after one day foraging or gardening and you will feel like a super survivalist natural human, and then promptly go back to “normal” in line at the supermarket.
This is no surprise, however, there is a lot of infrastructure, indoctrination, and habituation that supports our modern perspective of providence as trickling down from the great pyramid of wealth. We do specialized work for our managers, gain wealth tokens, and then trade them in for the things we need to survive. This is today’s common mode of operation, but it does not change the truth of the matter that all of our real wealth still derives from dirt, water, and sunlight. Every yard you walk by, every park, every open plot is a potential farm. Whether you are a fully autonomous gardening madman harvesting a surplus for your community, or a first time community garden picker, the paradigm shift that one feels when they realize that it is the earth that takes care of us, and not our market masters is a powerful and wonderful feeling.
Guerrilla gardening is a badass way to create a subversive network of providence by yourself or with your friends. You’d be able to say “I picked up these greens, oranges, taters and tomaters on the way over” when you go to a potluck. Your friends will eat the fruits of their own land, it’s a beautiful thing.
Another fun activity (that may turn into vital skill) is foraging. Before we go off planting guerrilla gardens everywhere let’s take a look at what is already there for us to eat. Luckily for us Texans, Merriweather has put together a very comprehensive guide to help us supplement our diets with that which is FREE. Check out his blog and make a hike out of it.
I have made a few foraged meals and though I haven’t quite attained Thanksgiving level status, each occasion has been incredibly rewarding. It could be the placebo effect, but I certainly feel something primal and mystic about eating the native weeds of an area, especially if I can make them tasty in a stir fry over the fire or in a salad.
When it comes to guerrilla gardening start with some of the easier, hardier plants. Make an investment into the next seasons and set yourself for, at best, a hiking salad, and at worst, a fun experiment and experience that gets you closer to your earth.
At minute marker 17:12 in the video below see what are some good “weed” plants to toss out into the world for your first guerrilla gardening ventures.
And you may not even need to plant guerrilla gardens to feel the benefit of home grown veggies. Google community gardens in your area and go put in a few hours helping out and take home some food. This is some of the best culinary inspiration you can find in the world and it’s FREE.
Foraging, Guerrilla Gardening, and Community Gardens are just the tip of the iceberg for our dormant populace to free themselves from reliance on distant powers and return ourselves to an intimate, fulfilling relationship with our land.
And one of the best investments you can make is seed saving. It has return on investment so exponentially abundant that the possibilities dwarf any money making machination of the average man. After a few months of saving seeds from your groceries, gardening, and foraging, you can have an orchards worth or a farm’s worth of food sitting ready for casting in your home cabinet. Download PDFs below with seed saving instructions as well as a guide for seed ages for different species.