31 July 2013

Austin's First PUBLIC Food Forest! Making It a Reality.

Seattle may have gotten their toes in the public food forest waters first, but Austin's diving in right behind! It's one of the first cities in the US to design and move towards establishing a public food forest on city parkland, open for the benefit of the entire neighborhood and ready to serve as a model for similar projects across the rest of the city and nation.
 Austin's Food Forest Volunteer Organization       
East Feast 2022, a volunteer-only organization, has been working within the community of East Austin (the founders and much of the team lives within the community) and with the City of Austin to help realize a food forest within the scheme of the Holly Shores re-design project. It has a small but determined core team and an ever-growing list of new volunteers collaborators, including the Food Is Free Project, East Side Compost Pedallers, East Side Garden Exchange, the Sustainable Food Center of Austin, the Austin Parks Foundation and dozens more.

What started as a vision among a group of residents of East Austin, shared with local food forest enthusiasts and permaculture designers, has been gaining momentum: "Imagine] diverse neighbors from all parts of East Austin celebrating abundant local food and community along the shores of Lady Bird Lake."
Permaculture Food Forest Function
Sketch of Basic Mechanisms of a Food Forest by Samantha Belyeu

"What if we could restore this land and water to health and it could produce healthy food again? What if we could train and hire neighborhood youth to help transform our old fire house to a new resource center where we can work, learn, and experiment together to create and sustain accessible sources of healthy food and healthy living? What if research from this center could help all of Austin and other cities find ways to create communities where life thrives?”

Ongoing community outreach, design workshops and proposals keep this dream alive. If you're in the Austin area and are looking to get involved, check out East Feast 2022 on Facebook. Better yet, drop by August 11th for their Festival Beach Food Forest Community-Design Workshop. We at the Food Forest Retreat will be out there with you!

30 July 2013

Mighty Mountain Debut Album Campaign

Let me introduce you to some of our favorite people: the Food Is Free people.  Everything about what they do is wonderful, beautifully intentioned and done with the intent of the highest-best good for their friends, family, community, nation and planet.

These people have supported me, my community and the planet that we so dearly need and love.  In return, I will support them as they continue to spread the message that "We are all in this together!".

We contributed and ask you to consider clicking here to contribute to their IndieGoGo campaign.  Their Facebook page is here: Mighty Mountain Facebook page

Photo by Mario Villeda
Beyond the music campaign, please consider getting involved with the Food Is Free project.  You won't be disappointed.  You can meet amazing people, learn to build organic wicking beds that can provide free food for you, your family and your community while creating an instant outreach that reintroduces all of those people to their food supply and the truth that food is free.  

29 July 2013

Austin's Urban Forest Plan

A Facebook friend posted this on Our Food Forest Retreat page today and I felt it important to pass the info along:

Officials say the effects of continuing growth and development, combined with long term drought conditions, create a need to develop the Urban Forest Plan as part of Imagine
Austin’s Green Infrastructure Priority Program. Board members and staff will be stationed at multiple locations around the city today and Tuesday to engage with the public on the topic of Austin’s urban forest. Residents can also provide input online through a discussion forum and short surveys. There will be a community workshop and open house from 3-7pm on August 13. Online surveys and information can be accessed atwww.austinurbanforestry.org

Monday July 29th, 2013

7:00 am– 10:00 am|

Northwest Austin Recreation Center
2913 Northland Dr., Austin, TX 78757

5:00‐7:00 pm

Lady Bird Lake Hike and Bike Trail, Under the Mopac Bridge


Tuesday July 30th, 2013
3:00 pm– 7:00 pm

Ruiz Library, 1600
Grove Blvd Austin, TX 78741


Tuesday August 13th, 2013

Community Workshop & OpenHouse
3:00 pm– 7:00 pm

25 July 2013

Exploring the Many Uses of Our Local Plants - Passion Flower


Passion Flower (Passiflora incarnata)

Also known as the passion vine or maypop, this native to Texas and many areas of the southern US is a treat in the landscape (butterflies love it) as well as being edible and medicinal. 

Images of Passiflora lutea are from Temperate Climate Permaculture

The Wildflower Center's Native Plant Database notes that Native Americans used the leaves both internally and externally as a tonic and poultice. The USDA Plants Database notes that the roots were also crushed for ear drops and tonics. 

It's best to extract the juicy pulp from around the hard seeds like one would a pomegranate. When the outer leather of the fruit dents to the touch, it's at its sweetest and ready to pop open!

The insides of the fruit may be eaten raw or pressed into cold beverages--careful, it's tangy! The tang, however, makes a great addition to smoothies with sweeter fruits. I'm also considering making tangy preserves with it, but likely in combination with berries from the garden.

The leaves are also edible steamed, though they lack much gusto alone. Steam them with other edible greens.

There are two other species of passion flower that are native to Texas and have palatable fruit: Passiflora foetida (also called stinking passion flower--presumably due to the leaves and the flower) and Passiflora lutea (yellow passion flower, though the bloom is more greenish and doesn't stand out from the rest of the vine all that well).

Foetid passionflower (Passiflora foetida) (6128013446)  
Images are from Wikimedia commons. The left is Passiflora foetida (By Bob Peterson from North Palm Beach, Florida). The right is Passiflora lutea (by TheAlphaWolf).

Resources and further reading

Information on passion flower can also be found here:

"Edible and Useful Plants of Texas and the Southwest" by Delena Tull.

"New Healing Herbs" by Michael Castleman.
"Wildflowers of Texas" by Geyata Ajilvsgi.
"A Field Guide to Medicinal Plants of Eastern and Central North America" by Steven Foster and James A. Duke.

More Austin Foraging - Red Yucca

Update:  We have found no "scholarly" sites indicating that these are edible or inedible.  All sites we checked indicated no toxicity in the buds or blooms and indicate birds and deer feed on them. We have foraged these for a while and have followed others who have with no known negative impacts.  However, there are warnings on some sites indicating some parts of this plant are inedible and toxic.  We are removing the body of the post until we can further verify.  

18 July 2013

First Food Garden As We Begin Our Property Observations

As we just began with this property, we will spend about a year observing how the property lives and breathes prior to making any major modifications.  However, we will need a garden to feed our family and community.  The area just outside the house is terraced and has been used for planting in years past.  As this is primary zone 1 space, we decided to utilize it for a close-in, mixed-crop garden.  

The beginnings of our mini-Hugel.
Sami working on the retaining wall.

I tilled the soil and Samantha built the wall extension that allowed for the mini-Hugelkultur.  

We graded the property to allow for better water movement and retention by creating mini-swales and berms.  We put down crimson clover and alfalfa to aid in reintroducing nitrogen into the soil.  We added seed and turkey compost over the berms prior to laying down our hardwood mulch.  

My clown car has been converted to a part-time work truck.
We beat the storms by an hour or two, finishing in virtual darkness.  The next morning, we could see where we missed seeding and mulching in the darkness and where we might have miscalculated some of the runoff.   However, there was a lovely puddle at the high end of the Hugelkultur that will run under the soil to aid in the soaking of the mound and decomposition of its underground components.

Less than 24hrs. and we already have happy residents.
The morning after the storms.
Mini-wales the next morning.
Sami's completed wall (after the heavy thunderstorms).
Okra, tomatoes, Thai basil and English thyme waiting to be transplanted.
Ah... The first blisters of the summer season.
I think we will stay inside this afternoon.

13 July 2013

Seeing the Big Picture

Trying to make a positive change in a toxic world can be frustrating. There are just too many different problems, it seems. For years, I felt useless and truly hopeless about ever being any help at all, and couldn't see how anyone could make a difference with the range and scope of the issues: pollution, climate change, environmental destruction...there was just too much.

It wasn't until about six years ago that I had a change of heart. One video helped me put the big picture together, seeing how all the issues that I felt so strongly about linked together. I owe this revelation to a simple, powerful video, The Story of Stuff.

The big picture now seems very obvious and so simple. But having learned the linear production cycle in school, and being brought up in a consumer culture, it can be hard to see the full issue and the possible solutions until it's quite literally drawn out for you.

Since this video was made, Annie Leonard and her team at the Story of Stuff Project have made numerous other videos that expose and explain social and environmental problems. The underlying message in all of them is that there are many ways to help, and that the efforts being made ARE actually helping. This message was powerful enough to get me looking into new ways to produce and protect our most basic needs: food, water and living materials.

It wasn't long after I saw the Story of Stuff that I stumbled upon Permaculture and saw the ways that I could help build healthful, life-promoting production and consumption patters for myself and my community.