On spreading the good news…of kale, that is

Greens from the Magnolia garden.

Greens from the Magnolia garden.

One of my mother’s favorite pastimes is getting my stepfather to unknowingly eat his vegetables–and enjoy them. Kale and beets are her current champions, but during summer’s bounty, she’ll creatively experiment with varieties of eggplant, tomatoes, and summer squash. Mom’s surreptitious cooking exploits have slowly chipped away at Cecil’s white-bread-and-bologna upbringing. He now reluctantly eats tofu and vegetable curry, enthusiastically enjoys a bowl of homemade chili (unaware of the finely diced kale and ground beets within), and I even saw him eating the seaweed from his bowl of ramen.

Mom and Cecil, loving husband and culinary guinea pig.

Mom and Cecil, loving husband and culinary guinea pig.

I am my mother’s daughter in a lot of ways, and this is one of them. Once, I brought black bean avocado brownies to an office party, waiting until the entire plate was devoured before revealing the identities of their secret ingredients, to the horror of some of my coworkers.

Garden goofballs.

Some of my favorite garden goofballs.

Although it was tempting, I decided to keep the secret ingredients to a minimum when preparing for our first school garden open house event. With the chaotic energy of the holidays enveloping the school in a Christmas-themed cloud, I thought it appropriate to host a celebration in honor of how far our garden program had come in the past three and a half months. Of course, the ulterior motive was to recruit parent volunteers and co-opt more teachers to the ways of the garden

Central to the occasion was the food, relatively healthy food. Prentiss made a delicious sweet potato cake; I made a salad with quinoa, dried cranberries, and a few pounds of garden fresh collards, kale, and broccoli leaves. And to entertain the Santa-crazed children, I had a craft table set up making holiday-themed potato prints (but actually y’all, this activity is not just for kids).

Lots of good food. And a raw potato, acting as a paperweight.

Lots of good food. And a raw potato, acting as a paperweight.

Potato prints.

Potato printing: surprisingly easy and addictive.

Overall, it was successful. Even though only one parent showed up, there was a good turnout of teachers and staff, a few community members, and all of the Jackson FoodCorps ladies. I especially enjoyed talking to the people who, though initially dubious of the whole “garden business,” were now excitedly asking questions about growing beets and making kale salads. Some of the kiddos picked giant bok choy leaves as party favors, a few of which were devoured before making it into the building.

Potato print champs!

Arts and crafts champs!


As much as I enjoy manipulating people to eat vegetables, moments like these, when kids (and adults) independently make choices that benefit their health are far more gratifying. I think that allowing kids to make healthy choices on their own is the best way for them to form lasting healthy habits. The key is providing students with the means to make those choices, educating them about food, and encouraging them to step outside their comfort zones.

Eating their greens, and looking into the sun.

Eating our greens and looking into the sun.

It can also mean not being personally offended when an 8 year old sprints to the trash can to spit out that organic, locally grown radish or collapses in dry heaves at the sight of the school compost pile.  Cherishing the small victories are reason enough for me to keep doing what I’m doing. Because witnessing that same radish spitter-outer nibbling on kale stems of his own accord is, to me, on par with any Christmas miracle.


Big soul, little city

Is it cliche to say that Jackson is full of surprises and contradictions? Well, I apologize a million times, but it’s true. This city buzzes with the energy, talent, and creative drive of any large urban center, but it’s tempered by small town charm and the feeling that everybody knows everybody.

And the surprises?  Hip hop here is darn good.  Friday night we went to a benefit concert in the back lot of a self-identified “modern day juke joint” where I was blown away by the talent of the local hip hop artists.  There was a distinctly Southern flavor in the way their raps mixed pride for their Mississippi roots, love for family and community, and biting criticisms of modern inequality in the South.  If you want to hear an example, check out Mr. Franklin aka Kamikaze. There was also a killer brass band called Southern Komfort, and a lot of talented DJs, one of whom also happens to be a city councilman. And true to Jackson form, when we left, the bartender gave us a hug.

Fresh ideas in JXN.

Fresh ideas in JXN.

In other news, despite some initial confusion and skepticism, I’ve found a few strong allies in the teachers and faculty at my school who care deeply about healthy eating and outdoor education. Five teachers so far have shown interest in having me teach in their classes; I’ll be starting with two classes next week as well as working with the music teacher. That doesn’t sound like much, but it’s a great start and I’m optimistic that more teachers will be open to working with me once word spreads and the garden starts growing.

You can't see it yet, but that's going to be a school garden.

You can’t see it yet, but that’s going to be a school garden.

Speaking of gardening, last week Prentiss and I staked out the garden plots to prepare for tilling tomorrow. Since the majority of children at the school are hearing or speech impaired, we are building a sensory garden, moving away from the traditional boxiness of raised beds toward a more free-flowing permaculture design.  We went to the salvage yard yesterday to get some up-cycling inspiration. I’m going to scavenge for used wine bottles in order to make a whimsical pathway, kind of like this. We also found some old car tires that we’ll use as herb containers.

P.S.  And guess what? I’m joining the Jackson roller derby team. Roller derby name suggestions are more than welcome!!

Back in Boulder

Boulder, sweet Boulder.

Boulder: land of dreadlocks, perfectly pulled espresso shots, cycling, and recycling.


I’m back in Colorado for the first time since I graduated college in May 2011.  I’ve been hiking, seeing friends and family, and enjoying the novelty of 0-5% humidity (I forgot that sweat can actually dry!). Maybe it’s because I’ve been removed from the city for a couple years, but Boulder somehow seems even more green and hippie-friendly than I remember. My fermented foodie dream came true when I discovered that they have kombucha on tap at the local Whole Foods (the flavor of the day was “wild root”). Sam and I also enjoyed yerba mate and vegan carob chip cookies at the Yellow Deli, a restaurant owned and operated by an obscure religious sect. Needless to say, Birkenstocks, Tevas, and Chacos abound.

Unsurprisingly, food activism thrives here in Boulder. Through a mutual friend, I met one of the founders of Boulder Food Rescue, an incredibly forward-thinking non-profit that redistributes food “waste” to homeless and low-income populations. But even in this seemingly hyper-aware and informed city, there is a long way to go to creating a completely sustainable food system.  What does this mean for Mississippi?

For one, I’m sure Mississippians won’t have the haughty–and often hypocritical–attitude of many Boulderites when it comes to lifestyle choices. But at the same time, I wonder how receptive Mississippians will be when it comes to making dietary changes that incorporate more whole, healthy foods. Rebecca Rosenthal (check out her FoodCorps blog here), a fellow Jackson FoodCorps service member and one of my future housemates (!!), puts it perfectly:

“When you know first-hand the dramatic benefits of eating a consistently healthy whole foods diet, it’s easy to fall into “preaching” these habits to other people without any concept of reality or of other people’s preferences and needs.”

Like Rebecca, I want to avoid being preachy. But as a newcomer to the South, how can I adapt my teaching plans and my own understanding of health to Southern culture and attitudes while also accounting for Jackson’s distinct socio-economic reality? I have a lot to learn, and I’m hoping that the FoodCorps Orientation which I’ll be attending in Portland in about a week and a half will answer a lot of my questions. I will definitely be posting about that later!

In the meantime, I still have about a week left in Colorado, leaving me plenty of time for more vegan treats, fermented effervescent drinks, mountains, and thin, dry air.

Hikin' in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Hikin’ in Rocky Mountain National Park.