Growing and Foraging 100% of my Food- Documented in Photos

When I decided I was going to grow and forage 100% of my food for a year, I really didn’t know what my meals were going to be like. Heck, I barely had any practice with growing or foraging food! My first step was to figure out what grew well and what I could abundantly harvest from my surroundings to meet my basic needs. I had to figure out the calories, nutrients, vitamins, fats, proteins… you name it. Today is day 210 of my yearlong project and I’m here right now to show you what I’ve been eating. I’m well over half way into the year and have had hundreds of hours in the kitchen to share with you. In this blog I’m going to focus on my most common meals and the staple foods that I depend on to create them. I have grown over 100 foods and foraged over 80 foods to date. While this blog certainly doesn’t cover it all, it will give you a really good idea of what my meals have been looking like.
If you want to see my daily log of what I’m seeing you can find that here and if you’d like to see a list of each food that I’ve grown and foraged you can see that here.

So, let’s get started with some of my most common meals.

(Note: As you read through the meals you might ask questions such as “How does he make the coconut milk?” Just keep on going and there’s a good chance I’ll cover it later on.)

 

Seminole pumpkin, carrot, coconut milk soup

This an absolute staple for me. I crave it and haven’t tired of it yet. I grew over 150 Seminole pumpkins (see photo here) last summer and over 60 pounds of carrot this winter. I typically include sweet potato, yam or yuca in there as well to add some more calories and thicken it up.

The herbs vary from soup to soup but two common combinations include:

rosemary, oregano, thyme, garlic, serrano pepper and sea salt

or

basil, green onion, garlic, garlic chive, serrano pepper, cilantro, thyme

I simply cook it all in a big pot and then blend it into a creamy consistency.

Coconut milk is the base.

I will typically accompany the meal with greens and often sauerkraut.

 

Sweet potato, yuca or yam with greens and pigeon peas

My big three caloric staples are sweet potato, yuca and yam.

I grew 400 pounds of sweet potato in a small plot in the front yard. I ran out, but will have more in the fall.

 

I have yuca planted in six locations around the neighborhood. They are a serious calorie bank that I’ve barely dipped into yet. This photo shows a plant just after I have pulled it up. You can see how much tubers can be produced by just one plant. It is an extremely easy to grow and productive plant for the subtropics and tropics. 

The tuber grows below ground, but the leaves are also abundant and edible (must be cooked).

 

I grow some yam, but I mostly wild forage it. In one outing I can collect over 100 pounds of it.

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Yesterday I went out foraging with a few good friends here in Orlando and together we harvested over 100 pounds of wild yam (Dioscorea alata)! This will provide many meals in the days and weeks to come. My plan with my share is to dehydrate a majority and blend it up to make flour! While collecting food we were also doing a service to the forest. These yams are invasive and choke out the native plants. By removing them we are helping to restore the native land. I’m really happy to say that I’ve made it through the busy spring season and now have time on my hands. I feel a sense of freedom that had been lacking for the last few months. I knew the light was at the end of the tunnel, and now I’m in the light! As a matter of fact, after this Sunday I only have one concrete appointment on my calendar for 2019 and for the rest of my life! That feels great! I now have time for some food experimentations that I’ve wanted to do for the last six months that have the potential to really improve my quality of life. Today is day 187 of my year of growing and foraging 100% of my food. Now, I’m off to bike 13 miles to record a podcast with @wildideasworthliving. Tomorrow I am at the local elementary school inspiring some of the students and helping in their garden. Saturday I’m hosting a Gardens for Single Moms action day and Sunday I’m teaching a Gardening for Beginners in Florida class in my garden. – #foodfreedom #Foraging #wildforaging #urbanforaging #GrowYourOwn #GrowYourOwnFood #wildyams #Dioscoreaalata #invasiveplantremoval

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I treat these as I would a potato; you can do just about anything with them that you can do with a potato. One basic staple is boiling up any of these three tubers and eating it along with sautéed greens and pigeon peas.


Cutting up white sweet potato:

White sweet potato in the pot ready to be boiled and then mashed:

 

These crops are not nutrient dense, but are primarily for calories. I eat a couple pounds of greens on many days and they accompany most every meal.

Ok, before moving onto more meals I should say: I don’t write recipes and I don’t give exact instructions. This is for multiple reasons. For one, I’ve almost never used recipes in my life. I just put things together. Because I don’t follow recipes, it doesn’t flow for me to make them. Every meal I make is different, depending on what I have available at the time. As far as making different foods such as moringa powder, coconut oil and milk, fermenting jun and honey wine; dehydrating food; and processing food, I also don’t give exact instructions. There are many ways to perform these processes and I do what works for me. I’m not the go-to person to learn detailed items like these. I’m the inspiration and the bigger picture education. I’m here to instill critical thinking and open your mind. There are countless books, YouTube channels, blogs and social media pages that give step-by-step recipes to make different foods, so there’s no great need for me to cover this. Also, I am just figuring out a lot of these things myself and prefer to teach things once I am more knowledgeable, confident and competent in them.

Yuca and fish collard wraps

It’s really nice to add variety to the diet, not just for nutritional sake, but for mental strength. I love the idea of eating the same thing every day, but so far I need some variety to keep my interest sparked. Collard wraps are a great way to do this.

This is a common meal for me. The collard wraps make it like a burrito or taco. I’ve had collards growing successfully every single day of the last 210 days. It’s one of the easiest and heartiest greens to grow here.

Usually, I’ll garnish the wraps with some sauerkraut and a variety of herbs. This winter it may have been fresh cilantro and dill. It’s often garlic chives, garlic, hot pepper and basil.

In this photo I’m placing on some Everglades tomato, a tiny variety of tomato that is tolerant to our heat and humidity:

 

I’m also a big fan of these Seminole pumpkin collard wraps. This one is garnished with beet sauerkraut, dill, pepper and green onion. 

I don’t have an oven; but if I’m over at a friends house for dinner, I’ll often bring some Seminole pumpkins to bake them together. A little coconut oil and sea salt added in makes for a spectacular meal.

I eat pigeon peas with quite a few meals. I typically cook up a large batch and freeze them in individual jars to take out for each meal. They are one of my main protein sources along with Southern peas. One of these pea types or fish usually serve as my protein source for the meal.

Here they are in a jar, next to the pigeon pea tree itself.

 

Vegetable soup

I’ve made a lot of vegetable soups for the last 8 years, so this isn’t new to me. Now, however, I don’t go to the grocery store or farmers market to choose what goes into my soup. Instead, it’s a matter of whatever veggies are growing in my garden.

This veggie soup was made in April and consisted of sweet potato, carrot, celery, cabbage, turnip, greens, pigeon peas and a handful of herbs and of course sea salt and hot pepper, which the latter two go into most of my cooked meals.

I often prepare large batches of meals to freeze them for later. I can either take them on the go with me or take them out of the freezer in the morning to reheat for lunch.

 

By now you see that my food is pretty simple. I don’t have a lot of kitchen gadgets; I try to keep it very minimal and simple. But as I’ve immersed into this project, I’ve made some exceptions to my resistance to technology. I’ve purchased some used items or borrowed them from friends. The tools that I use are a high powered blender, quality electric dehydrator, food processor and deep chest freezer. I don’t endorse any company in this regard and thus am not going to explain which I use. On the other hand, I do use a Berkey filter for purifying my water and highly recommend them (I am not payed to say this. See my financial transparency here). After much resistance, I now also cook with a dual crockpot/pressure cooker to save an incredible amount of time. I primarily cook with gas with a standard camp stove and with a biodigester that turns food waste into gas. I try to buy everything used and minimize plastic; but, have been using more plastic than I have in many years because of the large volume of storage. Ok, back to what I’m eating!

 

My all time favorite meal of the year is Green papaya coconut curry.

This was inspired by all the Thai food I have eaten over the years. Thai coconut curry has always been one of my favorite meals. I was blown away the first time I made it; it was as good as many that I’ve had at a restaurant. Sometimes, it’s not quite that good though.

The ingredients are green papaya, coconut milk, lemon grass, garlic, turmeric, ginger (if I have enough) basil, onion, sea salt and greens (ideally an Asian green like bok choy but whatever greens I have work). I’ve also put in sweet potato, yuca, turnip, radish and celery on different occasions.

My friend Pete Kanaris came over and we cooked this meal together. You can see that in this video starting at 21:07.

 

Smoothies

I don’t really have separate meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Before this project I definitely ate “breakfasty” foods like oatmeal, but I don’t have any of that or haven’t been creative enough at least. For breakfast, I usually make a smoothie. I like to start off my days a bit lighter. My smoothies vary a lot and go by whatever fruits that I have available. I mostly eat whatever fruits are on the trees at the time, but I also freeze a lot of fruit when I come across a large bounty.

I don’t write recipes or do exact proportions, but when National Geographic was here to do a story on me I wrote up a typical smoothie for them:

Half a fresh papaya (grown)

1 frozen mango (foraged)

2 frozen starfruit (foraged)

2 frozen banana  (foraged)

Half of a mature coconut (foraged)

handful of moringa (grown)

small chunk of ginger (grown)

small chunk of turmeric (grown)

a few sprigs of mint (grown)

handful of holy basil (grown)

a spoonful of honey (grown)

A cup or two of purified rainwater

photo

That was a typical morning smoothie for me during the first 1/3 of the year. It makes about 3 pints to half a gallon of smoothie.

Lately a typical smoothie has been coconut, sapodilla, starfruit, banana, white sapote, papaya, roselle, moringa, katuk, holy basil and mint.

 

Green juice has been an on and off staple for me. I wish I could say that I drink a green juice every single day, but it’s actually been a minority of days.

My green juices consist of whatever greens are currently abundant in the garden plus herbs like basil, African blue basil, garlic chives and garlic.
I often make larger batches and then freeze them for the days to come. This helps me to drink them more consistently. I don’t have a juicer, so I just blend the greens with water in a blender. Then, strain it through a nut milk bag, like I do to make coconut milk.

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The power of greens! I’ll be the first one to admit that not everything I make is highly tasty, but what it lacks in flavor, it more than makes up in nutrition! Today is 163 of growing and foraging all of my food and I have a bounty of greens to work with every day. My gardens are producing far more greens than I could eat or even easily share. There have been some short stints over the last five months where I felt I had to ration, but those days have been the small minority. My life is substantially better if I’m drinking my daily green juice. It’s one of my main sources of health, happiness and power! Gardening can be challenging, but one of the easiest things to grow are greens. So, if you are looking to start growing some of your own food and eat healthier, then growing your greens would be one of my top recommendations for you. It’s no doubt in my top ten sustainable living suggestions all around too. My green juices can vary with dozens of different ingredients depending on what’s fresh in my garden, but they currently consist of kale, collards, cabbage, celery, Spanish needle, Italian basil, holy basil, mint and Cuban oregano. I’ll often put in some garlic and turmeric as well and if I have cucumbers and citrus I’ll do that too. Why these exact ingredients? Well, because they are what I’m able to easily and abundantly grow! I don’t choose my green juice by picking from my fantasy list of what can grow in far off lands. Instead, I chose whatever will grow so well that I can get lazy and forget about them or even go away for a week. One of my other top suggestions for beginner gardeners is to simply grow what grows really well in your region. Ask other local gardeners, visit a nearby community garden and seek out local resources. That one piece of advice can help turn your “black thumb” into a “green thumb.” I strive to live simply, which means I have minimal stuff. Instead of a juicer, I use my blender by adding water, blending up all the ingredients and straining it through a mesh bag. Less clutter for me and easier to clean! Well, all this talk of green juice has got me craving one! I’m heading to the garden to freshly pick my energy and absorb it a

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Coconut is an absolute staple for me. I forage them in South Florida. I either use a pole saw on an extension pole, a ladder, or both together. Sometimes I climb the trees but that is more energy consuming and a bit nerve wracking still for a beginner climber like me. I’ve foraged primarily in Fort Lauderdale, Fort Myers and Sebastian areas. Here I am foraging with my friend Cathy:

I make coconut milk with mature brown coconuts. This I use as the base for many meals, to make my smoothies nice and creamy and for warm golden milk (one of my favorite drinks on Earth).

It’s as simple as removing the coconut from the husk, removing the meat, blending it with water, and straining it through a nut milk bag.

I dry the coconut to make chunks that I can eat as a snack any time. I can also make shreds from this to top my sweet snacks with.

And of course I can make coconut oil. So far I have not succeeded much with this though. I’ve had very low yields, but I will get it down. (I will post about this process once I’ve got it down).

Oh yes, I’ve also been making coconut butter, and it is fantastic. It’s just a matter of drying the coconut and then blending it into a nut butter.

 

Tea

I drink a lot of tea, although I should honestly drink more.

In Florida I am incredibly blessed to be able to forage yaupon holly. It is North America’s cousin of yerba mate and it has just as much caffeine as its cousin or coffee. It’s also high in antioxidants. You can read about it here on Green Deane’s website.

My typical tea is yaupon holly, reishi mushroom, lemongrass tea, mint and holy basil with honey. I made a mix, so it’s quite easy for me to boil up a pot. I also grow green tea. However that is in limited supply and I’ve mostly used it for creating jun, which is like kombucha except with honey instead of sugar.

The reishi mushroom I forage is ground up and added to the tea mixture.

 

Salt

People are always asking me how I make sea salt. When I started planning this project I felt pretty clueless. I did not know how I would make salt. I did now that it was possible, recalling that Gandhi led a march to the ocean where they harvested salt to stand up to the British colonialists who had a tax on salt. This story stuck strongly with me. I’d visited places like the Dead Sea and the salt flats of Uyuni, Brazil, where you can harvest salt in that manner. But we don’t have that in Florida. Well, it turns out it’s just as simple as scooping up ocean water and boiling it down. The water boils off and the salt is left at the bottom of the pot. That’s how I get my salt. I have been told that it can be done in a more pure manner, but I have not looked into it. It’s also possible to leave it out to evaporate, using no energy. I also use the salt water directly in cooking, which reduces the workload because I don’t have to evaporate. It turns out salt water has about the same percentage salt as a typical brine used for fermenting, so I also can use it for that (after boiling it to kill any bacteria).

 

Honey

Honey is one of the most important foods to me. Without it, I don’t know how I’d be managing this project. I use it every day an in so many ways from making my jun, to sweeting my teas, to fermenting for winey wine. It’s a huge moral boost and a treat. I also use it medicinally to make my elderberry syrup and fermented garlic. I have three colonies of bees that I steward and in the fall I was able to harvest about 75 pounds of honey.

 

Green powder

I travel a lot, so it’s great to be able to carry nutrient dense foods on the road with me. For that, my go-to is moringa powder. To make it I simply put the greens into a dehydrator. Once dried I put them into a blender. I have used many methods of dehydrating including an electric dehydrator, solar dehydrator and simply laying the greens out to dry. I do this with katuk and Plantago as well and will expand this into more greens soon. This process can be done with a wide variety of greens. I also use this at home a lot as I’m always looking for ways to spend a bit less time in the kitchen without compromising health.

This is moringa powder:

 

 

Herb mix

Along the same line as my greens, I make a powdered herb mix that I can easily add to any meals or travel with.

My two current mixes are:

onion, garlic chive, basil, garlic

basil, green onion, garlic greens, serrano pepper, rosemary, cilantro, thyme and garlic chives

 

Photographed here is my dried good shelf, which is primarily herbs, as of 06/10/2019.

 

Fish

I primarily catch my fish from the ocean, but I also fish in freshwater. I try to take a few trips per month and freeze the fish for the weeks to come. I enjoy this time on the water. I’ve fished since I was about eight years old. I mostly fish in the intracoastal waterway in the Sebastian area from a canoe and mostly with a cast net, but have fished plenty with a rod and reel as well. Mullet has been one of my primary sources of fish, but you can see a list of all the fish on my list of foods I’ve eaten.

This story done by Envoye special shows me fishing starting at 27:40,in the Saint Sebastian river.

Below are photos from that story.

 

If you’re wondering about my thoughts on veganism and why I’m not vegan, you can read this article.

 

Fruit

I snack on fruit almost every day. My smoothies have five servings of fruit in them alone, but I get much more than that. I eat a lot of fruit fresh from trees that I forage and I also freeze a lot of fruit. It takes time to establish most fruit plants and I’m just here for a short period of time. Most of my fruit comes from foraging.

In these photos I am foraging grapefruits from a nearby public park. I use a fruit picking basket on an extension pole. These photos were taken during my outing with National Geographic and photo credit goes to Jason Schmitt.

I’ve harvested about eight racks of bananas so far from public parks and abandoned roadside plots. Bananas are a great staple for me whether fresh or frozen.

Mulberries, loquat and Suriname cherries were three springtime staples here. I have planted over 200 fruit trees as part of my Community Fruit Tree project but few of them will mature enough for me to enjoy the fruit from them. The one in my front yard produced enough mulberries for me to snack on for about a month long period.

Here is a foraging bounty from a trip to Fort Lauderdale in 2018. (Also, read about my favorite foraging moment from that trip):

These are Suriname cherries that I took out of the freezer. They make a great frozen snack. Suriname grow all over the city and few people know that they are edible.

I store much of my fruit in these reusable bags. Pictured here is nopal, Suriname cherry and starfruit:

Here is a photo of my deep chest freezer full of fruits and other foods:

I forage much more than just fruit. I’ve foraged over 80 foods so far. I learned much of what I know today from taking plant walks with local experts Andy Firk and Green Deane to the largest degree but also from many other local foragers. Green Deane’s website and YouTube channel have taught me dozens of wild edibles and it’s been my go-to source. I learned how to grow food from many resources and have written a whole local guide that includes all of those resources. I am incredibly thankful to the community that has helped me succeed in this project.

 

Fermenting

I ferment veggies, especially cabbage to make sauerkraut. Another frequent ferment is green papaya and daikon radish. My ferments are medicinal and packed with ginger, turmeric, garlic and other herbs to add health and flavor to my meals.

I also ferment jun and honey wine, two incredibly important foods to me.

 

Medicine

I grow and forage all of my medicine as well for this year. First and foremost food is medicine along with leading a healthy lifestyle. Plenty of movement, fresh air, hydration, time off the devices, connection to surroundings all play a vital roll in my health. Some of my key medicines include turmeric and ginger (pictured below) elderberry, garlic and ferments. The list goes on of medicinal plants that grow wildly and abundantly all around us. I’m still learning a lot there (The Florida School of Holistic Living community is an amazing source for this). When I get stung by a bee I use Plantago and honey to reduce swelling.

Now when I told people that I was going to grow my own garlic here most gardeners told me it couldn’t be done. But if I couldn’t grow garlic, I couldn’t eat garlic; so, I gave it a shot anyway. It was a huge success!
See my blog on growing garlic in Florida. 

 

Water is of course my drink of choice. At home I harvest rainwater and purify it with a Berkey filter. Read more on that here. When I’m not at home and my water bottle runs empty I’ll still drink from a faucet.

I do eat many of my meals alone, but I also eat many with friends. Sometimes, I bring all the food and we eat together; sometimes, we just eat our separate meals together.

Juli, Harley and I sharing yuca, green papaya and greens from my garden:

My friend Suzie stopping by for dinner on her travels:

This is Sierra, the amazing friend who took most of the photos in this blog:

I also forage a lot with friends:

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My friend @cathyshepardson came to town and we spent much of the weekend around town foraging. One of the first stops was this mulberry tree, even though I was pretty certain no mulberries would be ripe yet. I was pleasantly surprised to eat my first mulberry of the year! She walked away with a cup full and I walked away with some stained hands and a stomach full of mulberries. It was a delight! Yesterday we harvested from a dozen or so loquat trees throughout town. Boy did I ever give myself a loquat belly. I was uncomfortably full for most of the evening. Now it’s time to preserve the bounty by drying them. It is spring here and fruit is coming into full force. Life is good! Health and happiness to you all! Rob PS. This photo is somewhat staged. We didn’t actually harvest the berries with her on my shoulders. I just thought it would be a fun photo!

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A lot of people come over and spend time in my garden with me. I teach free gardening for beginners classes and usually have a few dozen people over for that. Here is my friend Michelle and I under one of my papaya trees:

As you might be able to tell from this blog, this project is quite the endeavor. It would be one thing if I was experienced, but I’m just a beginner gardener who is extremely passionate about knowing my food. I’m learning so much! I’m often real tired, this is how I feel at the end of the day:

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This photo represents something I feel often, being so tired at the end of the day that I could fall asleep while eating my meal. Many nights I come home and all I want to do is go to bed but instead I’m hungry and need to cook and eat a meal. Other days go by without leaving the homestead once, working all day, and even then, find myself up late still doing chores. This week I was up until about 1:00 AM on multiple nights processing foods. I’m working steadily at harvesting my spring bounty to preserve for the summer, when my gardens may be far less productive. Many gardeners take the hot and humid summers off here because the heat and pests are so strong. I’ll still be growing and eating fresh food from the gardens every day, and I’m grateful for that, but right now will likely be the most bountiful time in my garden for the rest of this project. My last harvests yielded 40 pounds of carrots, about a dozen heads of cabbage and kohlrabi, a small number of beets, 60+ heads of garlic, a dozen onions, a few pounds of moringa, 50 hot peppers, and many herbs and seeds like holy basil, coriander, dill seed and chamomile. I have been primarily freezing and dehydrating the bounty and also doing a little fermenting. My shelves are looking healthy and stocked, but I don’t know what’s going to happen this summer. I have nearly depleted my sweet potato supply. I do have a huge bank of yuca under the ground around the neighborhood though. Calories may be the main challenge this summer. This week I hosted two volunteer days and managed to prepare my main gardens for the summer season. Thank you to everyone who came out and helped! The main crops I’m planting now are sweet potato, peanuts, Seminole pumpkin, peas/beans, sunflower, okra and eggplant. I also have a couple dozen perennial foods that are growing now and will grow through the summer. I think that the heavy workload might be coming to a close in the weeks to come and I’ll get back into a pattern of going to bed early. Today is day 169 of growing and foraging all of my food. This is one of the most rewarding experiences of my life and I will be forever changed for the better because of this immersive experience.

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So there you have it!
That sums up my main meals and staple foods. This is not what I was eating before this yearlong endeavor started and much of this is quite new to me. I didn’t chose my gardens and foraging by walking down the grocery store aisles and conjuring up my favorite foods. Instead, I just learned what grows easily and abundantly here as well as what grows wild in a bountiful manner. I also came up with all the nutritional needs and then put together the pieces of nature’s puzzle to give myself what I hoped would be a complete diet.

There is plenty more that I want to explore in my gardens, out in the wild and in my kitchen. I will certainly be doing a lot more exploration in the months to come. There are some foods I thought I would have made by now, but with doing it all from scratch and continuing life in other areas, I just haven’t haven’t had time to do it all.

If you’re still interested to learn and see more, I’d recommend watching my two update videos below from day 111 and day 200. There I take you into my gardens, my pantry and my kitchen.

Also for a log of each days meals and snacks see this blog and for a complete list of all the foods I’ve grown and foraged see: All the Foods I’ve Grown and Foraged

 

Photos by Sierra Ford Photography
Videos by John VonMutius