The Benefits and Age-Old Success of Waffle Gardens: A history on one of the oldest sustainable farming methods of the Southwest

Located in the arid Southwest, on the Southeastern edge of the Colorado Plateau lives the A:shiwi also known as the Zuni people. Zuni Pueblo is the largest of the nineteen pueblos in New Mexico and perhaps the most isolated. Zuni Pueblo and its farming villages are nestled in valleys surrounded by Jurassic, Triassic and Early Cretaceous mudstone and sandstone mesas. Since the time Zuni was inhabited their survival was dependent on what the land provided. They developed different types of farming methods that enabled them to contest the variable water availability and inadequate soil quality that is common in desert soils. These methods include terrace gardening, a type of farming that allowed them to use the hillslopes of the mesas to divert water among several stair case terraces. On a larger scale is a type of agriculture known as dry-land farming or run-off agriculture which farmers used to grow important staple crops such as maize, squash, beans, and cotton. These agricultural fields were strategically placed on alluvial fans, which allowed farmers to capture and divert runoff and nutrient rich sediment from upper watersheds (Homburg et al.).


On a smaller scale, “waffle” gardening was maintained by each household. This type of family gardening was primarily done by the women as it was situated close to the main village near the primary source of water, the Zuni River, a small tributary to the Little Colorado River. In historical context this type of agriculture along with those mentioned before were practiced extensively since the time of inhabitance up until the turn of the century and around the time of WWII. My interpretations of this change in farming practices includes a decline in dependence on survival to obtaining more easily accessible food at grocery stores and a transition from traditional-sustainable ways of living to a more modern lifestyle. Other factors contributing to the decline of waffle gardening was the availability of water due to natural (drought, less snow pack) and anthropogenic reasons; the Zuni River was dammed by the Bureau of Indian Affairs in 1904. These events altered Zuni ways of living; however, there is a renewed interest in traditional waffle gardening knowledge. Cultivation of land, culture and our language are interwoven so I believe that learning, practicing and carrying on traditions such as waffle gardens will help keep us connected with each other, our community and to our Earth.

“Zuni culture is deeply based in farming and the A:shiwi A:wan Museum and Heritage Center (AAMHC) believes that Zuni farming knowledge is integral to the long term sustainability of Zuni culture and economy and should be celebrated. Farming and gardening is also a very healthy activity that produces clean nutritious food.” Ashiwi Awan Museum website

The A:shiwi A:wan Museum and Heritage Center (AAMHC) located in Zuni is an excellent resource of documenting, preserving and engaging young and old alike to keep ancient traditions alive. With their guidance I was able to construct my own waffle garden in the hopes that other people will give it a try for themselves. Another resource I found helpful was an online blog by the University of Redlands which was an interview of one of the last known waffle gardeners in the village. This document helped tremendously as it was an account from an elder who was still practicing waffle gardening.

Preparing Your Garden

Let me first tell you as I beginner gardener myself that any type of gardening is no easy task. The first thing I had to do was clear my garden of weeds, which was a lot since my garden has been out of use for a few years. Next I turned the soil with a shovel (what a workout). It is important to make sure your garden is level so that no one spot receives more or less water. I found it useful to water the leveled area the evening before building to allow the water to infiltrate the dry soil.


The garden minus the weeds, leveled and watered. Photo by Reyna Banteah

Constructing Your Waffle Garden


A group of women building waffles and a man working on the stick fence surrounding the garden. Photo Credit: A:shiwi A:wan Museum Photo Archives

To start making your waffles, the soil must contain a significant amount of clay in order for the walls to hold. First decide how large you want your squares to be, this will depend on what type of food you want to grow. Typically, squares are at least 12 inches by 12 inches. I used a 14” x14” measuring tool. Traditionally, waffles are made by hand using a flat piece of sandstone or in my case a piece of firewood to make the walls. You can also use a garden hoe and a measuring stick if you like. I started on one corner of the garden and used my measuring tool to shove the soil to the sides to form a square. Since the soil was still damp I pressed the soil together to form small walls around 4-5 inches in height and 4-5 inches in width. Add a bit more water if it is too dry to hold together. I was able to do a 2×5 grid, a 2 x(# of your choosing) allows you to construct, plant, water, and weed with adequate room on any side. These depressed type of structures make efficient use of space, acts as a barrier against wind and concentrates the water available near the plants.


Soil Amendments

Resourceful methods of soil additions were utilized to produce adequate yields. The mixture of forest soil and sheep manure made an excellent compost. These days you can find compost readily available at most hardware stores, plant nurseries and at a local New Mexico compost facility Soilutions, Inc.


Planting and Watering

Upon asking several pueblo members, they could recount chile, onions, cilantro and beans being grown in the gardens. For your garden, pretty much anything you can think of that grows vertically, underground, and is suitable for the climate is fair game. Plants that vine out will require more space. In the past, water was carried by women and children in earthen jars from the nearby river, and each waffle was carefully watered one by one with a dried, hollowed gourd. Later on jars and gourds were replaced with buckets and dippers. Today you can water your garden using a garden hose or watering can, concentrating the water at the base of plants.

Learning of the ingenuity it took my ancestors to perfect this type of gardening and by making my own garden, I am completely grateful for this tradition to be passed on to future generations. A special thanks to the A:shiwi A:wan Museum, Curtis Quam, for their invaluable resources and to my grandpa who helped me haul sand and take pictures.

-Posted by Reyna

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Organic vs. Conventional: A Closer Look at the Facts

We’ve all heard it before: “Eat organic. It keeps your body and our environment healthy!” But where is this advice coming from? Aside from information from a handful of knowledgeable professionals, many of the things we hear touting the health and environmental benefits of organic foods are mostly hearsay, without substantial, scientific evidence to back up claims made. The same is true for claims that conventionally grown foods are just as healthy as organic, and that their growing methods don’t harm the environment.

In many instances, information presented to us simply isn’t reliable. Positive information and dismissal of concerns usually come from individuals with something to gain from swaying public opinion. Let’s take a closer and more critical look at the debate.


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What is organic food anyway? states, “Organic produce and other ingredients are grown without the use of pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, genetically modified organisms, or ionizing radiation. Animals that produce meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products do not take antibiotics or growth hormones.” The USDA has three categorizations for organic foods –100% Organic, Organic, and Made with Organic ingredients. Many in the organic industry argue that foods grown using organic methods produce more nutritious, better tasting foods and are better for soil health and the environment. They infer that organically grown foods are simply higher quality because in their minds, less is more — in this case, less chemicals and less mass production.

The environment is also a hot-button topic in the organic industry. Organic farmers don’t use the same chemicals that the conventional food industry uses on their crops and fields. Less chemicals used on fields means fewer pollutants leaching into local water systems. Since no synthetic pesticides are used, organic farming must be better for the biodiversity on farms and surrounding areas.

Conventionally grown foods also have their advocates. Foods grown in a conventional manner still have to meet certain requirements and, according to the University of Arizona, chemical levels are still below what the EPA considers safe for human consumption. It’s also pointed out that the use of raw manure instead of composted manure on some organic farms can cause higher levels of e.coli and salmonella in the soil which can taint the end food product. Proponents of non-organically grown foods also say that there is no scientific proof that organic foods are more nutritious. Mass production is also seen as a benefit because conventional farming produces much more food and maximizes the use of land and resources available for increased crop yields.


Image credit: Andy Dean Photography /

You’ve heard both sides of the debate. Now let’s take a look at the facts. In 2012, a controversial Stanford University meta-study declared organic foods were no more nutritious than conventionally farmed foods. The study was held as a standard and seen as a blow to the organic industry. But recent 2014 research published in the British Journal of Nutrition has proven that organic food is unquestionably more nutritious. These different results came after researchers included a larger data set which included 343 peer-reviewed studies—much larger than the 237 used for the Stanford meta-study. The researchers discovered higher levels of anti-oxidants (linked to lowered risk of diseases such as cancer) and Omega-3 fatty acids in organic foods. This L.A. Times article explains the new findings in plain English.

The safety of organic foods has been called into question over the years, with many reported instances of organic foods causing illnesses because of manure and farm slurry (liquid manure) use in organic farming methods. As a result of ongoing issues with manure, in 2014 the FDA proposed new rules regarding its use in organic farming. Due to feedback from the organic industry, the FDA has postponed new proposed rules regarding the use of manure until further research can be done. In the meantime, the FDA recommends that organic farmers move to compost since the composting process reduces pathogens that may exist in raw manure.

Organic foods are widely thought to be pesticide-free. In fact, there are over 20 chemicals commonly used and permitted by US Organic Standards in organic crop production. These chemicals are natural (vs. synthetic) in origin. But just because something is natural doesn’t necessarily mean it is safe. Rotenone, for example, is an organic pesticide used for decades until it was found to cause Parkinson’s Disease-like symptoms in rats and to be potentially fatal to humans. Unfortunately, Rotenone was re-approved by the EPA in 2010 and is currently used by fisheries to remove unwanted fish species. Rotenone is a concern but it’s not likely to be used on organic farms in the USA. However, certified organic farms in other countries have different rules and it’s possible to receive certified organic products from other countries where Rotenone was used.

In a rebuttal to synthetic pesticide use in conventionally grown crops, UC Davis food toxin and pesticide expert Carl Winter says, “Our typical exposures are at least 10,000 times lower than doses we can give to laboratory animals every day throughout their lifetimes and not cause any effect. If your concerns about pesticide residues are leading you to reduce your consumption of fruits and vegetables, then I think you’re doing yourself more harm than good.”

Pretty young woman making a decision with arrows and question ma

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So what’s the best thing to do now that you have an overview of the facts? Make a choice and do what’s best for you, given your budget and values. There are many ways to support the organic farm industry should you choose to go the organic route. To support organic farming methods, buy foods that require large tracts of land such as wheat, corn, and beef. To support how animals are raised, try free-range, organic chickens and grass-fed beef. And if you’d like to support the organic industry as a whole but have limited resources, try eating organic versions the Dirty Dozen.

-Posted by Joe

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Street Food Institute Voted Local Hero!

An idea that started out as a chuck wagon to feed hungry cowboys has evolved into one of the best ways to enjoy affordable, tasty food while investing money into your local economy. Yes, I’m talking about food trucks. A model that used to be associated with hot dog vendors and ice cream has morphed into a viable business for entrepreneurs who embrace the idea of serving “street food” as an alternative to fast food or chain restaurants.

A local favorite and winner of Edible Magazine’s “2016 Local Heroes” is Street Food Institute (SFI). They’ve taken the food truck concept to a whole new level, cooking up some of the most delicious food truck fare you’ll ever have the pleasure of eating – and doing it in a sustainable way!

“Empowering young people to succeed as culinary entrepreneurs, creating a new wave in healthy, delicious food truck culture, Street Food Institute is the epitome of a community organization.”  – Edible Santa Fe

From Korean barbeque tacos to homemade bagels with green chile cream cheese and AMAZING sandwiches – SFI serves up something for everyone! Eclectic enough for the sophisticated pallet, but not too “froufrou” – food that can be enjoyed with an ice cold local beer, which is perfect because you can often find their trucks at Marble Brewery as well as both Tractor Brewing Co. locations.

Line for SFI

Customers quickly line up for lunch after spotting SFI at the Hispanic Cultural Center. Photo credit: Pam

The inspiration for SFI grew out of Steve Simon’s (E.D. of the Simon Charitable Foundation) vision of economic development in New Mexico, his love for street food from around the world, and the community building potential of the food truck concept. His short-term goal of helping people start their own businesses has developed into a CNM program that teaches entrepreneurship, builds community, promotes local agriculture and encourages healthy eating. SFI is a non-profit: sales from the trucks (along with grants), help fund the program and the trucks are run by CNM students and instructors, many of them going on to start their own food trucks.

Inside SFI Truck

Joe Meyer and crew working inside the food truck. Photo credit: Pam

Joe Meyer, a manager and intern in the program, is excited about having his own food truck in the near future and carrying on the tradition of using good quality ingredients by partnering with local farmers and creating recipes made from scratch. He admits it can be challenging. “We have to get creative when the fryer goes out and there’s a long line of people waiting to order, yet somehow it always comes together and we have a pretty loyal following.”

Jocelyn Gutierrez, a graduate of the program and owner of The Pink Ladies food truck says she is proud to be part of the local food truck community. When asked if she applies the same philosophy as SFI in her own business model, her response was an enthusiastic “YES!” Utilizing local vendors and preparing fresh food with seasonal veggies is a great source of pride for her – she wholeheartedly embraces the idea of sustainable business practices and has had great success in the few months she’s been in operation.

Dave Sellers, who runs the Street Food Institute along with Tina Garcia-Shams, says that their main challenge has been in keeping up with the rapid growth of the program and everything that goes with that.

“The rewards far outweigh the challenges – as a powerful workforce training/mentorship program we’ve been able to offer many students better opportunities in the workplace then they might have had otherwise. Our community outreach efforts have been substantial and we have alliances with many different local businesses and farms, providing great resources for our students. We’ve done a lot of events with Agri-Cultura Network during the last three years promoting local agriculture and healthy food choices. As far as the industry itself, I think this is a great time to be in the food truck business, or other small, food-based business startup. So much of our city’s food is outsourced to corporations that don’t contribute to the local economy and Albuquerque has shown a real interest in “going local.” By providing delicious food with ingredients from local businesses, it makes it easier for people to support our local economy – everybody has to eat right?” -Dave Sellars

Customer with food

Happy customer with the sandwich and tacos of the day. Photo credit: Pam

You can find SFI at many different locations, including Tasty Tuesdays at Hyder Park from 4-7:30pm, a fun event featuring live music and a variety of food truck options. They’ll also be at the 8th Annual UNM Sustainability Expo on Thursday, April 21st from 10:30 – 2:30 on Cornell Mall just east of the Student Union Building – an exciting event featuring live entertainment, growers’ market, local artisans and much more!

Follow Street Food Institute on Facebook to keep updated on locations and events and check out their website.

-Posted by Pam

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The Power of Yogic Farming

Is the power of thought to be the farming method of the future? Sustainable Yogic Agriculture has been taking India by storm, led by the Brahma Kumaris World Spiritual University (BKWSU). Thousands of farmers in India are combining methods of organic farming with thought-based meditative practices. The theory is that seeds will react to the thoughts exposed to them in the same way that people can feel good or bad vibrations from one another. The BKWSU recognizes that to sustain agricultural production, healthy environments, and viable farming communities there must be a whole-systems approach to agriculture. Traditional knowledge and organic farming should be incorporated into this whole-systems approach to link ecology, culture, economics and society.

“What farmers are doing is that they are taking the seeds and they are giving them the power of positive thoughts, through a higher state of consciousness, through meditation,” Sister Jayanti, from Brahma Kumaris

Yogic Agriculture harnesses an organic systems-wide approach, recognizing all elements of farming: humans, animals and bird, flying and crawling insects, micro-organisms, seed, vegetation and surrounding ecosystems, and the natural elements of sun, soil, air, water and space. A month before sowing, the seeds are placed in a meditation center where they are given thoughts of peace, non-violence, love, strength, and resilience. After, meditations are conducted remotely and in the field with the phases of the crop growth cycle. According to Climate Home, early data collected through a field study in Gujarat suggests an improved seed quality and increase in crop yield, which are pretty remarkable results. Additionally, local farmers determined that the yogic process saves a total of Rs. 14769.00 (USD $330) per acre as compared to alternative chemical farming, offering low-cost high-benefit methods for local communities.


“Preliminary findings indicate that OFM-2 (organic + meditation) has the greatest soil microbial population, the seeds germinate up to a week earlier. Subsequent crops reveal higher amounts of iron, energy, protein and vitamins compared to OFM-1(organic) and CIM (chemical).” Citation:

Another big component of the Brahma Kumaris is the aim to resolve the problem of Indian farmer suicides by promoting self-esteem and improving farmers’ emotional well-being. The BKWSU has been teaching methods of personal empowerment based on techniques of Raja Yoga meditation for more than 75 years, including techniques of understanding the self as a soul, managing the energy of the mind, becoming cognizant of the relationship between thoughts and behavior, maintaining a thought-union with the Divine and experiencing transcendental states that fill the mind and character with strength.

Click here to learn the seven effective steps to practice Yogic farming.

“The same way we practice responsible stewardship of our land, yoga teaches how to be good stewards of our minds and bodies.”- Abby Paloma

The yogic farming movement is not exclusive to India. Other farms around the world have adapted some or all of the yogic farming principals into their farming practice. In the picturesque North Valley of Albuquerque, New Mexico, lies Sol Harvest Farm. The people of Sol Harvest believe in starting the day with gratitude, listening to the Earth, building community, giving back, food as art, and life as art.

Yogic farming isn’t exclusive to thoughts and meditations, and farmers should feel welcome to take advantage of yoga’s physical healing powers, a remedy for hurting bones and sore muscles brought on by working in the field.

Lacy Saenz is one of the interns at Sol Harvest, as well as a certified yoga teacher. I had the privilege of spending a day at the farm with her and the other lovely people at Sol Harvest! We planted onions, which ended up being the perfect work day to demonstrate some key yoga poses that can help with some of the body aches that come from farming or gardening. Below are 6 key poses with their physical and energetic benefits that you might want to try out!


Photo credit: Natasha

Ardha Utanasana
“forward fold”
Keep the weight in your toes, elongate your spine, and rest your belly on your thighs. This pose will increase circulation and keep your spine long. This pose brings a grounding energy to whatever you are doing, and since the quads will engage naturally, you could say it brings an enthusiastic energy with it.





Photo credit: Natasha

“diamond pose”
In this pose, you will want to move the flesh from your calves outward and sit on heels with the blades of your sits bones. Once you have positioned yourself pull the flesh from your glutes back as well to sit better on the sits bones as well. Farming and gardening has a lot of activity where the shoulders are collapsed. Keep the spine long in this position to keep the chest open and oppose that collapsing motion. This is a rooted or grounded pose and will bring that energy to whatever you are doing. You will find that this pose is especially helpful for seeding and transplanting. This pose is also a prayer pose. If your practice includes a blessing or prayer this is a   good connection pose to practice.


Photo credit: Natasha

“garland pose”
Keep your toes lifted, weight in your heels, and shins as vertical as possible. Place your elbows on the insides of the knees or thighs. Keep your hips open to give room for the chest to come forward and open. Make sure to keep the quads strong to allow the spine to be rounded. This pose is a default pose in India for farming and other daily life activities. This pose is beneficial for seeding and transplanting. This pose evokes a downward flowing or rooted energy, and it is reminiscent of childhood and growth and can bring that energy to what you are doing. This pose also connects to the root chakra, which is a feminine chakra. This can bring a    manifesting or creative energy that supports bringing life.


Photo credit: Natasha

Prasarita Padottanasana
“wide-legged forward fold”
Keep a wide stance with your feet parallel, quads engaged, weight in the heels and toes lifted. Keep the length of the body and bring the rib cage off of the pelvis. This gives more room to breathe into the lower belly. This pose is good when you have a need for a forward fold but also have a need for strength, like weeding.





Photo credit: Natasha

Utkata Konasana
“goddess pose”
Press the hips forward, press the knees back, keeping the feet in line with the legs. Drop the shoulders down and back and press the chest frontward as much as you can with the movement you are doing. This pose is good for things like raking and preparing beds. This pose has a creative energy associated with it; it can create a nest for things to be created so to speak.





Photo credit: Natasha


Photo credit: Natasha

“chair pose/fierce or fire pose”
Keep the weight in your heels and toes lifted. Shins are as vertical as possible. Quads are engaged! This pose has an upward energy that will create a lot of heat fast in the body. It is a complimentary high energy to grounding nature of all the other poses. This pose is very important when lifting heavy wheelbarrows, bales of hay, etc.


-Posted by Natasha

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Food with a Side of Plastic

I have been fascinated with the idea of waste ever since I started the UNM Sustainability Studies Program. I think it is incredible that we throw out 40% of our food in the United States and that we have things like this that exist. Every thing we own is waste at one point or another and it is enough to make you crazy. Once you begin to notice, you’ll wonder why we are wasting so much effort and money and time on packaging products instead of the products themselves. And that is exactly what sustainability champions like Lauren Singer and Collin Beavan have noticed as well.

Although I care immensely about this planet, I really enjoy the occasional hamburger with green chile and a fried egg, I buy the occasional to-go coffee, probably eat out too much and have definitely overindulged in things that are bad for the planet—but hey, I’m a college student. And any student understands that 24 hours in a day are not enough: how am I supposed to “adult” as in eat healthy, get enough sleep, exercise, see friends, build a resume, keep up with the news, pay rent and bills, read, travel, etc with full time school and a part time job? Is it possible to live sustainably when we can barely survive as it is sometimes? Is it possible to live and eat well affordably without wasting so much? I believe that with an adventurous attitude, an emphasis on DIY, buying in bulk, small changes like composting and repurposing, providing 100% of my own storage, and by thinking with a thrifty mindset this is definitely an attainable goal.

So here are the rules: for three weeks I will produce no waste (from food or packaging) or as close as I can get, which means: No packaging of any kind—no packaged cereals, milk, cheese, vegetables, fruits, or candy (it’s going to be a rough month). This also applies to drinks: no lattes to-go, no sodas, packaged teas, no alcohol (unless it is from a growler that can be refilled—so a quick thank you ‘Burque for being so full of breweries!).

All food scraps will be composted and anything that cannot be composted must be repurposed in some way. I already have some worm friends living next to my kitchen.


Photo credit: Keara

Eating out is allowed, however this is by no means more “sustainable”. It is also important to note the waste produced by single use napkins, sugar packets, etc. when dining out.

I will complete this in phases and try to determine how to live with as little waste and little impact as possible, here are the phases.

Phase 1: Think, shop, and DIY
Evaluate what I am eating, how it is packaged, and what I already own. Next I will determine how to avoid this packaging all together.

So as it turns out, my kitchen is filled with all kinds waste. I have a variety of spices, oils, and things like berries that come in small plastic tubs.

One of the focuses will be DIY almond milk and peanut butter, and completely eliminating packaging of fresh fruits and veggies.

Here are some tools I will need throughout my project.


Cloth bags used to purchase things in bulk and for produce, a growler, lots of Tupperware, and lots of jars. Photo credit: Keara

Peanut Butter
One thing I should mention is that my roommate LOVES peanut butter. I have bought a 16z jar and it is gone in 3 days. I have never met someone so passionate about peanuts, peanut oil and salt—which are the ingredients to peanut butter. So with that in mind I bought 3 pounds of peanuts at $3.50 a pound, put the ingredients in a food processor and am now licking fresh homemade peanut butter off a spoon as I type.

This was incredibly easy. I think it took me five minutes in total. It saved money and I’ll definitely do this again.

Almond Milk
I’ve actually never been partial to dairy milk, but I have purchased prepackaged almond milk multiple times. Using the same bulk supply of nuts I was also able to make a little less than a liter using a cup of almonds. I most definitely will be making this from scratch again; it has a really nice almond flavor that I’ve never tasted from a store brand.

Corrales Growers’ Market
I feel that our culture may be centered around plastic, even in Corrales’ adorable little winter market—vendors need to supply plastic because of, well, demand for it. That is why individual choices matter so much. I came to the market with my cloth bags in tow and was actually able to save vendors money by bringing my own bag. More money in New Mexico! In trying to live zero waste, local food may potentially be the best option. Vendors encourage you to bring back their containers like a 10oz jar for honey or an egg carton. Technically this isn’t zero waste but it does allow for re-use and re-purposing, which is much better than recycling.  Also, as far as growers’ markets go, where else in the world can you go grocery shopping, see local products and people, and pet 12 dogs? (That happened.)

Phase 2-Becoming more independent
If you want to live zero waste, you have to cook your own food, which means owning spices and oils to do so. Spices and oils can be bought in bulk, but if this isn’t available you have to buy them in their packaging. More importantly it is important to plan meals with zero waste in mind. In eating package free for three weeks I essentially adopted an [almost] vegan diet without even realizing. Some of my favorite no waste recipes that I survived off of were things like black bean burgers, vegetable hash, and kale chips.

I also thought about how I buy spices in bulk but this does not eliminate waste all together. One way to eliminate waste from spices is to grow your own! Over the course of this project I planted basil, chamomile, cilantro, sage, and oregano.

I’m still waiting on them to sprout but hopefully I will have fresh zero waste spices in no time!

Phase 3-What next?
Throughout this project I learned a few things:

A zero waste diet takes planning: when you shop, eat out or go out for drinks—all of it takes thought on where your product and packaging is going.

A zero waste diet is mostly vegan but as a result you eliminate processed food from your life. For me this resulted in several instances where I caved and purchased candy (oops).

A zero waste diet opens your eyes to the incredible amount of packaging that surrounds us. Every time I went to the super market I thought, “I can make that” and it allowed me to adopt a thrifty mindset into aspects of my life other than food.

For example,  look at this citrus and clove oil infused vinegar I made as cleaning product. I found a way to reuse citrus peels and create an all natural cleaner that smells amazing and that I can technically eat.


Photo credit: Keara

Overall I believe that it is possible to live sustainably and “waste free” even as a broke college student. Even though waste is technically always present there are steps we can take to avoid it or drastically decrease it. Whether it is making things from scratch or simply bringing reusable shopping bags—there are all steps we can take to understand and decrease packaging and food waste from our lives. And in a world where you can Google and learn how to do basically anything, there is no reason not to give it a shot.

-Posted by Keara


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Pay Dirt: Overcoming the Challenges of Urban Gardening

Gardening in urban areas is challenging because of space limitations. About five years ago, I decided to take the plunge and begin growing my own vegetables.  I knew very little about gardening and failed to do the research necessary to have a successful harvest.  I planted haphazardly and without any sort of plan.  The most important lesson I learned was to plan!

In my opinion, the benefits of growing your own food outweigh the challenges.  Vegetables grown in garden containers have much better flavor and the colors are more vibrant than anything you find in a big-chain grocery store. You control what you grow and the type of soil you use.  If you are lucky enough to have an abundant garden, you can share with your family, friends, and neighbors.

There are challenges to gardening in small spaces, but there are tricks to bypassing those challenges.  There are limits to what you can grow in containers.  Areas with full-shade and full-sun are often overlooked because growing in these areas can be a challenge.  Tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, peas, and beans benefit from growing in areas with full sun.  Shade-tolerant crops like arugula, kale, lettuce, greens, and spinach are great for shade gardens. My front yard faces south and receives about 10 hours of sun a day.  I have been able to successfully grow patio tomatoes and jalapenos in containers in my front yard.  The west side-yard only gets about three hours of sun a day, but vegetables like snow peas grown nicely on a trellis.

I’m going to say this one more time! Planning is key to a successful harvest.  Before you decide what to grow, you need to decide what you can grow in your geographic area.  The U.S.D.A. has an easy to use plant hardiness zone map. Type in your zip code and the U.S.D.A. will give you your plant hardiness zone.  For the purpose of this blog, I will use mine, which is 7b.

Next, we’ll look at a planting calendar for zone 7. The Vegetable Gardener has charts for cool and warm season vegetables. Be sure to choose vegetables and herbs you like and know you will eat. Now that you’ve chosen what you will plant, you need to figure out where to plant.A planting journal is an invaluable tool when planning your garden. You can make your own or use the Old Farmer’s Almanac on-line gardening planner. This online tool is free for 7 days.  Planning where to plant is an all-day affair so grab your journal, a cup of tea, and a good book.  Draw a picture of the front, back, and sides of your yard in your journal.  Beginning at 7a.m. and ending at 5p.m., record where the sun and shade is every hour. Seed packets will give you the number of hours of sun or shade your plants need and if you plant from starters, nurseries will supply this information.

Making your own containers is easy even if you are not crafty.  Below are pictures of some of my containers.  Raised beds can be placed in long narrow areas, mobile containers allow you to move containers, hanging baskets work great where space on the ground is limited, and teepees and trellises allow you to grow vertically.  A great website for D.I.Y ideas is The Cottage Market.

You’re ready to plant! Now, the million-dollar question is should you use organic or non-organic soil? I use organic potting soil when I plant, but this is a personal choice.  The benefit of organic soil is that is has soil organisms that attack disease-causing organisms. It is possible to build healthy soil from non-organic potting soil over a period of time.  Bonnie Plants can answer some of your questions about organic and non-organic soil.

Happy growing and remember, if you have an abundance of vegetables and herbs, share them.  This is a great way to meet neighbors and grow a healthy community.

-Posted by Moya

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Don’t Throw Away That “Expired” Food Just Yet

Imagine that you go to the grocery store and buy three bags of groceries – and then drop one of them in the garbage in the parking lot! This comparison illustrates consumer food waste in America because we throw away a third of our food based on an arbitrary dating. Manufacturers mark calendar dates on food products that are perishable like meat, poultry, eggs, dairy products and on shelf-stable products like canned goods and other nonperishables. The only food product that is required by the FDA to have an accurate use-by date is baby formula, because the formula loses nutritional value that babies depend on. For foods like eggs the requirements are on a state by state basis, with some states requiring a sell-by/use-by date and other states not allowing a date to be printed at all.

We have all seen the dates and think, “okay, this food is bad – now I shall throw it away,” without a second thought. As it turns out, these dates are not set in stone. Even though they are defined by the United States Department of Agriculture division of Food Safety and Inspection Service, they are created by the manufacturing company to make you buy more of their product.

A “Sell-By” date tells the store how long to display the product for sale and is typically found on perishable item like meat, eggs and dairy products. It is recommended to buy the product before the date expires. A “Best if Used By (or before)” date is recommended for best flavor or quality. It is not a purchase or safety date. A “Use-By” date is the last date recommended for the use of the product while at peak quality and is typically seen on shelf stable products like mustard and peanut butter. This date has been determined by the manufacturer of the product. “Closed or coded dates” are packing numbers for use by the manufacturer.


Collage created by Sher. Image credits here, here, and here.

Besides an arbitrary date telling you that your food has gone rancid and should be tossed in the garbage, there are other reasons you should think twice about not throwing out that expired food. Food waste is a compostable and renewable resource, but 97% of food waste is thrown away, which alone accounts for 36.5 million tons of material put into our landfills in single year. According to the Green Restaurant Association, a single average restaurant in the U.S can produce 25,000 to 75,000 pounds of food waste annually – and that is just one! There are 48 million food insecure people who could have utilized those resources if they were allocated properly.

Where food waste hits close to home is that it is a waste of your money. According to the National Resource Defense Council, the average family throws out $2,225 of food they bought and didn’t eat. This adds up to $165 billion of wasted food in America in a single year, due to premature tossing of food based on arbitrary food dates, overpurchasing, letting food go bad, and improper storage. It also costs that American people an additional $1.3 billion a year just to dispose of this garbage. Last, but certainly not least, throwing away perfectly good food is a complete waste of water and soil resources. I place much personal responsibility on the consumer because it is we who vote with our dollars and can shift the system in a more sustainable direction. We can encourage – if not demand – companies to make the same changes we are making by not producing so much food, or by composting food waste in restaurants.

All in all it comes down to being aware that these dates were put there by the manufacturer to ensure that more product be made and shipped to further their bottom line. Trust your gut and be aware of signs of decay like a stench, mold or discoloration. Also know that we the consumers are not the sole nor the largest contributors to the waste of food. It should be our duty as a community to encourage the distributors of this food to follow in the footsteps of our local Albertson’s grocery store which donates a lot of its “expired” food to The Store House where it is given out to people in need.

-Posted by Sher

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