The whole world is changed: The Food Is Free Project

The Food Is Free Project was born in Austin, Texas in 2012. It grows community and food. The main idea is to go back to our food and neighbors. I have asked John VanDeusen Edwards, Founder of the Food Is Free Project, to tell us more about those reasons behind HOW, WHO, WHY… You can read more about Austin, sustainable growth and the people around The Food Is Free Project.

Hi John, what is (according to you) the greatest value behind being able to share your own vegetables, fruits, herbs?
Hi Hana. Thanks for reaching out. It’s funny because as I look back at how I started gardening in my front yard, I didn’t know how joyous it would be to share with others. I thought it would be a cool experiment to plant the garden out in front of the fence to create a place for interaction. As I fell in love with gardening, I began to realize that it is a tool that connects and unites people. When we grow food together, we naturally want to share the harvest, and even cook and eat together.

Do you share home made jams as well?
I attended a skillshare class to learn how to make jams but I haven’t tackled it yet. We’re finishing up our outdoor kitchen which will hold homesteading classes like pickling, jams, canning and many more.

Why Austin?
I was born and raised here in Austin and now it’s a booming city. It’s the fastest growing city in the US, so I see this as a chance to create a model for how cities can sustainably grow while incorporating urban agriculture into their landscapes. Food is Free has spread to over 150 cities around the world, so we’re excited to be connecting with like-minded people around the globe, uniting with a shared vision and starting conversations about how to collaborate.

Sustainable community growth in the US – can you describe to us, how does it work, is it part of capitalism or do you feel it as „a new answer“?
I don’t think we know how to grow sustainably yet. Over 50% of our populations live in cities, so we need to find ways to feed them without relying on cheap oil. As we return to building our local economies, we believe the open-source movement will continue to help this initiative thrive.

How people approach the public places (like library) to offer free food? Is there any system for the “food display”?
We encourage people to grow food and share it. A Food is Free Project will look different in each city but we’ve found a simple veggie stand in public with a sign Food is Free inspires so many people. We’ve never heard of an issue with giving food away. In a way, it’s sometimes better to just go for it since you know you have good intentions.

Do you use one type of pallets/beds or any can serve the project?
We use all different shapes and size pallets for building our raised beds. Here in the US, they often get thrown away, so we encourage upcycling and getting creative. If using wooden pallets, we recommend the heat-treated ones rather than chemically treated. They have an HT stamp for Heat Treated.

How do you motivate people to join this project? What are the most common problems with them?
After lining our block in front yard gardens, neighbors started to interact, smile and wave more. The neighborhood immediately was affected in a positive way and we realized that something as simple as front yard gardens can be a tool that connects the community. We shared what we did online and organically, people were attracted to the idea. We always encouraged people to take action in their communities and in time people began sharing their gardens with the #foodisfree hashtag. It’s exciting to see people connect and create change in their piece of the world. What we’re realizing is that changing the world can seem overwhelming but if we focus on uplifting our piece of the world, in time, the whole world is changed.

Who are the people around Food is Free? Guerilla gardeners, permaculture pirates or simply people like us – with kids?
We love that Food is Free encompasses such a diverse group of people. From elderly to newborns, on every continent, folks are joining the cause and spreading the word. Food is Free is a worldwide movement to grow food together and share it. We believe food is a human right and so we don’t want to leave anyone out. We know that if we all collaborate and get creative with growing food, and minimizing waste, we will have more than enough!

Is there any added value for homeless people, can they use the offer as well? Or do you participate at some “free food charities”?
All of the Food is Free gardens are open-source. There are no rules about who can or cannot harvest from them. Eventually, the vision is to line our streets and neighborhoods in fruit trees, gardens, and chicken coops to start building an ultra-local food system. Many Food is Free Projects donate their harvest to their local food bank. Unfortunately some food banks don’t have the facilities to accept perishable produce. We need to come together to create ways to distribute excess produce. So much food from grocery stores is wasted and thrown in the dumpster while people are hungry and skipping meals. Take a dive into the dumpster and do a little hands-on research, it’s quite enlightening!

What are the Food is Free volunteers doing? How many supporters from the Austin community do you rely on?
Here at the Food is Free teaching farm in Austin, we are on about 1/2 acre. We host 12 chickens, 1 rooster, 3 aquaponic systems, 1 hugelkulture spiral garden, an edible fish pond, an outdoor kitchen, a tool sharing workshop, and a community composting program. We also have a mini food forest on the property. Our volunteers have helped create this teaching space from the ground up and we are transitioning the farm from having workdays to teaching workshops and hosting meetups.

Is there any energy saving part of Food is Free project? E.g. Do you help people to recycle, reuse, use alternative sources of energies?
We will be hosting a bike powered A/C outlet in our outdoor kitchen to run all the kitchen appliances. We are also switching our Aquaponics systems to solar power. We love alternative energy and are excited about what other kinds of ways we can get creative with open-sourcing power generation.

Would you help any other international community to start with such project abroad? If so, how they can contact you?
The Food is Free Project is open source so we would love for you to start a branch. We are here to offer any advice we can. The first step is to just plant a garden in your front yard or anywhere public that people will pass it by. From there start conversation with friends and neighbors about your vision and consider hosting a potluck at the future site of your garden and brainstorm about what resources and tools y’all may have access to. Just take it one step at a time and know you will be inspiring many others!

Do you have any other important message for the Global community reading this blog?
We believe we are all in this together and that it’s time we forget the constructed boundaries that make us feel separate. Food unites us so let’s plant seeds of possibility and start conversations about what’s possible. We can and will create the world around us, so let’s make a world that works for all of us! Even small actions ripple out, so smile at a stranger, practice random acts of kindness and share your abundance with others and before we know it, we’ll be creating a new normal.

Thank you and you can find out more about this project here.

Photos: Food is Free Project, FB pages


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