What would it look like if we worked together with our neighbors to foster food independence, build stronger communities and improve our health? Zen Honeycutt, author and the Executive Director of Moms Across America, has an idea to get us growing food for our families and those around us, ensuring food access for all, which is especially important in times like these.
Zen explains the pilot program she is starting up to empower people to get growing their own food: the Neighborhood Food Network. She talks about the support offered to newbie gardeners including resources for when to plant, what to plant, how to handle pests, and more. She shares her vision for more connection with those around us and with the land that can yield food and joys to sustain us now and in the future.
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Resilience: Get Growing
Within the below transcript the bolded text is Hilda.
What would it look like if we work together with our neighbors to foster food independence, build stronger communities and improve our health? This is episode 376 and our guest for this episode is Zen Honeycutt. Zen is the founding Executive Director of Moms Across America, a group that raises awareness about GMOs and toxins in the food supply. Zen is also the force behind a new idea that can help us join hands with our neighbors to grow food for our families and those around us ensuring food access for all, which is especially important in times like these.
In this episode, Zen explains the idea behind her pilot program, the Neighborhood Food Network, and how she and Moms Across hope it will empower people to get growing their own food. She talks about the support that will be offered to newbie gardeners including resources for when to plant, what to plant, and dynamic conversations to support the efforts. She’s also honest about her gardening challenges and what she has faced trying to implement the strategy in her neighborhood. Plus, she expounds on the benefits of growing your own food beyond having access to healthy real food.
This is the second show in our resilience series. Before we dive into the conversation, I want to invite you to a special day at Sally Fallon Morell’s beautiful farm on September 11th, 2022. She and Joel Salitan. The famous farmer and author will be speaking about the basics, nourishing traditional diets, and the importance of local regenerative farming. The day includes their talks, a farm walk, and a delicious nutrient-dense lunch all for only $75.
Again, the date is Sunday, September 11th, 2022 and it goes from 9:00 to 5:00 in Brandywine, Maryland at PA Bowen Farmstead, Sally’s farm. Go to our website, WestonAPrice.org and click on the events tab for more information and to sign up. I’ll be there and I’m bringing some friends who are new to this wise way of life, so do the same. Join me and bring some friends along. Unfortunately, there isn’t room for children or pets at this event but it is well worth attending and getting a babysitter for. Sign up now at WestonAPrice.org/events.
Welcome to the show, Zen.
Thank you so much, Hilda, and thank you so much to your audience. This is fun. I love it.
I’m excited to talk about growing food. I know you moved to a place where you now have some land and you were telling me that you’ve started a three sisters garden. What does that even mean?
It’s a Native American, indigenous people to the United States tradition and perhaps South America as well, not sure, but what they do is they plant on mounds. They plant 3 or 4 of the same type of corn. They plant squash around the corn so that it prevents little raccoon feet. You know how squash is prickly so raccoons don’t like to walk on it. It prevents them from getting to the corn. It also is a great ground cover, so it prevents weeds.
After the corn has grown up for a little bit, maybe six inches or something like that, they plant the beans and the poll runner beans climb up the corn and they use that as a natural trellis. It’s three sisters working in harmony to grow food together then the beans put nitrogen in the soil, which corn is a nitrogen-hungry crop. They all work together to grow in harmony. It’s a beautiful tradition from Native Americans.
This is a beautiful starting point for our conversation because you have a new emphasis with this Neighborhood Food Network of having people work together in harmony to grow our own food. Now, I know you’ve been in the Moms Across America group. You’re the head of it for a while and you all have been focused on removing toxins like glyphosate from our food. Why this shift to growing our own food?
Yes, we have for several years now. Moms Across America, we call ourselves a national coalition of unstoppable moms but we are for mothers and others. We provide actions and solutions to create healthy communities. Our focus has been to transform the food industry and health in America and beyond. While that is still important and we have a whole testing program initiative that we invite people to donate to test the current food system, we have basically lost our patients with waiting for them to do something about the government and the food industry. We’re seeing that it’s important to do something else as well to be independent from the current food system.
It is good to take our health and our food into our own hands but talk to us about the problems with the food supply. I’ve heard rumors that they’re going to be issues down the line.
There are multiple issues. Access to food is one of the largest concerns going on simply because of climate change. No matter what you think is caused by, it is happening. Farmers, especially in the Midwest where it’s dryer or flooding or having problems growing food, of course, there are growing populations that are migrating. Those areas where they’re migrating to will need to have more food and in most cases, they don’t. Food prices are increasing. Scientists and farmers were correct and they’re predicting that they would increase up to 30% by some food types in 2022, and they did. They’re predicting 3% to 400% in the next 3 to 4 years.
I don’t think my income is going to be increasing by 3% to 400%. For me, it makes sense to start growing some food even if it’s berry bushes, green vegetables, potted tomatoes, or anything that will supplement the food that’s coming into our household, which we need a lot of. We have three teenage boys. To get started feels good. It feels safer and wise. In addition, I mentioned the food industry, the problem with the current food system is it’s basically not being regulated.
Previous administrations, all of them, all kinds, have decided that the GMO food manufacturers genetically modified organisms can govern themselves. Basically, they can regulate themselves. Our current government is not looking at food safety testing for genetically modified organisms. Clearly, the EPA is failing at regulating glyphosate and thousands of toxic chemicals in our food supply. It’s miserable.
The system is broken. They have been bought out by these large corporations and they’re not doing their jobs. We, mothers, simply feel like many people want to take matters into their own hands and start a parallel food system. This is what the Neighborhood Food Network is based on. It’s people coming together to have food security on their streets with their neighbors.
Let’s define that a little bit, this Neighborhood Food Network. I know it’s a pilot program. What does it consist of?
It was inspired by Neighborhood Watch, where you get your neighbors together. The policemen’s requirement is that if you have at least one representative from 50% of the households or more, a policeman or two will come out and educate your neighbors on how to prevent crime. Now, we don’t have parameters of it has to be 50%. If you get 1 or 2 of your neighbors on your street to come together, we encourage you to have a meeting.
First of all, download our invitations, go door-to-door, knock on your neighbor’s door, and meet them, which is to be a big step for a lot of people in the first place to meet your neighbors. Invite them to a meeting in your front yard, back yard, at the end of a cul-de-sac, a block party, whatever you want, and share with them what the Neighborhood Food Network is. We give you the outline for that first meeting. You basically share that the goal is for everybody to come together, talk, strategize, organize, and mobilize to create food security.
That could mean more people growing food and organizing that. For instance, when I lived in California. There was a woman who had a lemon tree on her street, on our street and she gave away at least 300 or 400 lemons. It would’ve made no sense at all for everybody on our street to have a lemon tree. If you get together with your neighbors and you coordinate a little bit on who’s growing what already and who might want to share or swap with other people, then you’re creating a community, unity on growing food.
Zen, I like this already because it gets people together, getting to know each other, and it’s apolitical. In other words, everybody wants to eat and how non-threatening is that? This is a great way to get people together and to get growing.
One of the positives that we have on our list is that you can bridge the political divide. You’re not going to care if somebody is a Democrat or Republican if you’re hungry in the future or if there is some type of crisis and they come at you with a basket full of food. Also, for people who don’t want to grow food, we’re going to ask for people to put those people in charge of accumulating a list of local small farmers, CSAs, and co-ops where they can buy their fruit from not a long distance away and support those local small farmers.
Access to food is one of the largest concerns going on today, simply because of climate change.
I know the Weston A. Price Foundation has already been working on this for decades to connect people with local farmers. That’s why I’m so excited to share with your audience because I think that the leaders and the facilitators of your network are already doing this. They may not be doing it on their street. They may be doing it in the larger community.
I love it so much. I also like this Neighborhood Food Network is doing some handholding. The fact that you said, “We have invitations that you can print out.” I was like, “That’s nice,” but that’s not where it ends. That’s where it begins. Talk to us more about what you envision and what you want to provide with this Neighborhood Food Network.
We do provide the first invitation you can download, print out and bring to your neighbors. We have the first meeting and a flyer that you can run your meeting by with this outline. We also have resources on our website, videos you can play, how to find out what your garden zone is, and how to find out when to start growing things and planning things. We have a Monday night call for the Neighborhood Food Network at 8:30 Eastern Time. It goes for about an hour sometimes. We have a gardening expert every week to talk about a particular thing.
For instance, container gardening, how to start a compost, or setting up water systems. You can bring your questions and it’s free. There are a lot of gardening networks out there and some of them are quite expensive. We wanted to make sure that there was something available for people who need a little help and want it to be free. Now, we’ll feature gardening experts that you could pay hundreds or thousands of dollars to be your personal coach or to come set up the garden for you or a food forest. We want to make sure that people can get started, have the support to do that, and connect with people in your local community as well.
The goal is for you to find a local gardening expert that you can connect with so that your neighbors have support on your street. You may be that garden expert. If you love gardening, you may be the one, but you can also find a local gardening expert through your local garden stores or the extension. A lot of people don’t know about this. Most counties have an extension, which is an extension of universities that support people in farming and gardening. The point is to get connected with these people.
Zen, this sounds wonderful but I have to be honest with you. I can picture my neighbors being like, “No, thank you.” What happens if I knock on all these doors and these people are like, “We don’t want to plant with you. We don’t want to do anything with you.” There’s no sense of community and connection or pulling together in the same direction. What would a person do in that case?
What we’re counting on is that our neighbors will start to become curious, especially if you bring them some extra food or if you do have a farm stand with free food. You start meeting neighbors on your street. You can connect in many different ways, but through food is one of the best ways. I have found that we gain many other resources and benefits by doing this. You learn about other resources available like a great guy who can help build fences or I’ve shared a resource for unsprayed hay and straw that we use to feed our animals or to grow potatoes with.
You can share resources and connect with other local mom-and-pop businesses by connecting with your neighbors. It has you feel safer, more connected, and more unified. That’s what we need now. We need hyper-local compassion, creativity, and unity. We need to stop looking for big government to solve our problems because they’re causing way more problems than we need now. We need to look each other in the eye, share our experiences, how we can help each other, and benefit each other. I think that’s what we need now in the world.
The other thing we need to make this work is land. Do you all have suggestions on how to find land to grow this food on?
People can grow more food than you would think in a small amount of space. There are a lot of the videos and resources that we will be showing. For instance, twenty potato plants or what is needed for a family of four to get started. You can grow quite a few of those tomatoes in baskets or bags, things like that. If you have a strawberry tower, you can quadruple the number of strawberries that you produce. You can also ask neighbors, churches, schools, and community areas for land.
One lady shared with us that they found a piece of, basically, abandoned land and they started growing food on it. I don’t encourage doing illegal things but they basically started growing food on it. When somebody from the city eventually inquired about it, they said, “We’re already going through here. It’s benefiting the community.” They said, “We’ll let you have the land for $1 a year as long as you have insurance,” which I think costs maybe $100 a year or something like that.
There are lots of different ways to get land and you can also grow vertically. You can grow on rooftops or walls. You can put things that hang off of walls to grow food. There are many people getting creative. They’re growing in containers. I prefer to go in the soil but there are people growing vegetables and things like that with hydroponics, stacking them up inside of facilities, and things like that as well.
As you’re talking, it’s reminding me of the victory gardens during World War II when there were food shortages and people were trying to ration their food so that there would be more for the soldiers, let’s say. People were encouraged to plant gardens. There’s something beautiful that could come out of a challenging time. As you said, whether or not a crisis is about to come. What a wonderful gift for individuals and communities to grow their own food.
It’s creative, fun, and fulfilling. I have to tell you when I grew my first yellow squash, I held it up like a trophy and posted a picture on Facebook. I was like, “Look.” People were like, “Zen, it’s a squash.” I’m like, “Yes, but it’s my squash.” It felt like such a triumph because you are nurturing that seed. I’m going out and watering it. I like to water it myself. I know I could put a timer on and have things set up. Eventually, maybe I will but I like that time.
I do it in the evening and I see the fireflies come out. I have a neighbor that plays the flute. I get to see the plants growing. I get to pick the weeds and be connected with the Earth. That is my balancing and connecting time with nature. I love that. I want people to start to experience the joy and the fulfillment that there is in growing your own food and see that it will take off from there. It will be so fulfilling and rewarding.
Coming up, Zen explains the support her network hopes to offer to those who think they have no green thumbs. She also expands on the vision of the Food Neighborhood Network to simply help us get reconnected with our neighbors face-to-face.
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That’s not to say there won’t be perhaps some obstacles in the way or challenges, which is why you have these regular Zoom calls and things scheduled to help people because you mentioned the thing about garden zones. It’s important to know what will grow where you live. In other words, some regions are more arid than others and so forth.
The garden zone is mostly about timing. What we are working on in this pilot program is gathering the data to have a downloadable event that you put in your calendar for every month for what needs to be done in that garden zone. With a click, it can automatically go to your Google Calendar or your Outlook Calendar on the first of the month and it says, “This is the time when you start your tomatoes or peppers indoors.” If you want to do that. If you don’t want to do that and you want to buy your tomatoes and pepper stars, the 3 or 4-inch plants in say May or whenever you plant them, you can do that.
You do you pay more. You do pay $3 or $4 per plant versus $3 for a whole pack of seeds. This timing, knowing your garden zone, and having a timing, we’re going to be making it easier for you to know what to do when. For me, that’s the biggest struggle. Almost anybody can put a tomato plant in the ground and water it. It’s knowing when to do that, how much maybe fertilizer to put on, and what to do when the pests and bugs come around.
The problem with all of those things is not them. It’s not the pest, bugs, and weeds. The main problem is when those things happen and maybe you lose a few tomato plants or all of them. People decide they’re not good at growing food or they don’t have a green thumb. I say hogwash to that. Nobody has green thumbs. They just have thumbs. Everybody has thumbs and it’s time to put them in the dirt and not make decisions about yourself, whether or not you can or cannot do something based on 1 or 2 experiences with growing a certain crop.
Maybe you grow that crop in a different place, you planted it a little earlier, or you only plant that in the fall. In the fall, you have a lot less pests, bugs, and mealies. A lot of people don’t think about growing a fall crop, planting kale, cabbage, and lettuce in the ground in September. People think, “It’s done. It’s over.” No, you can get a great fall/winter-early spring crop because there are not as many pests. There’s so much to learn about it.
That’s what I was going to say. It’s so interesting and there’s so much to learn but I want to ask another skeptical question now, Zen. Surely some strawberries, squash, and kale wouldn’t be enough to help my family survive during some food crisis, or would it?
Here’s the thing. Any food that you can get, especially for free during a food crisis is going to help your family survive. In fact, if there is a crisis, let’s say the gas pipe wanting is hacked, which has happened in my area. Gas was in a major shortage for two weeks. What if that extended out to two months? What if there was a nationwide hack on gas pipelines or power outages and grocery stores didn’t have food?
One of my team members was out in California with me. In Florida, her husband was stuck in the house with their son when there was a major hurricane. She said that within three days, they basically had no more food in the house. They might have had some pantry items, like crackers or something but they didn’t have meal food in the house because the refrigerator was out. Everything got spoiled. The only place that had actual food was McDonald’s. The grocery stores or something had failed there or they were also out or whatever.
She said, “I am very concerned about if there was a water power outage. What would people do? Where would they go?” The fact is that the only way we are going to survive in that type of crisis is if we do have access to local food. If you start planting some sweet potatoes in the ground, you don’t have to harvest those at certain times. You can leave them on the ground. In fact, they’re a beautiful ground cover. You don’t have to mow. If you’ve got a front lawn of sweet potatoes, you don’t have to mow and you’ve got free food. Highly nutritious pack with nutrients. It’s a great meal and it grows well with other types of crops as well.
If you check out TikTok, and we’re putting these videos on our website, NeighborhoodFoodNetwork.com, as well, there’s a guy in Santa Cruz, who has a front yard. I believe he’s a 64-year-old man. In that front yard, he grows enough vegetables to have a 60-something person CSA. It might be 80 people. He has tons of vegetables in his front yard. It’s an average size front yard. If you think about space and utilizing that space to the maximum capacity, you could be growing sweet potatoes, kale, and all kinds of vegetables in your front yard. I promise you, once you start to grow food, you’re going to have too much. You’re going to need to learn how to preserve, dry, dehydrate or freeze that food.
Once you start growing food, you will find that it gets easier and easier, more fun, and more rewarding.
You will have an abundance. There are jokes that go up on the Facebook pages about people growing foods. People are shoving zucchinis into people’s cars before they leave. They’re leaving boxes of zucchinis and Amazon boxes on the front porch so somebody will steal them and take away their zucchinis. Once you start growing food, you will have more than you need. That’s why people share and feel so good about growing food because you end up with enough to give away. Any food that you start growing, to answer your question, will support your family in a time of crisis. Once you start growing food, you will find that it gets easier, more fun, and rewarding.
You’ve inspired me and all of this sounds wonderful. Now I have to ask a practical question for you as you’re organizing this Neighborhood Food Network. Where’s the money coming from? If you’re offering these resources for free, how are you going to sustain what you’re doing on your end?
That is challenging but we have had some wonderful supporters in the past that we hope and they’ve said, they’re going to continue to support us so we can continue running. We are on a shoestring budget. We do ask. It would be wonderful if people who participated, donated anywhere from $3 to $10 a month. That would make a huge difference for us. We’re not asking for $130 something for a program upfront or $5,000 like some of the food forest planners ask for. Many of these coordinators and consultants worth their money, do require hundreds or thousands of dollars to get started.
We’re for the people that want to do it themselves. They want some support and they’re willing to be able to, hopefully, if they can invest a little bit of money each month. If you do that on our About page under Donate. Our graphic designer, who is practically a volunteer and she is working a little bit. She does get paid a little bit for us but has agreed to make a Neighborhood Food Network calling card customized for you.
You can print that out as a little business card and you leave it with the flyer with your neighbor. If they’re not home, they can respond to you, email you back, and say, “I’m interested in this but I couldn’t meet this Saturday. When is the next meeting? I have three tomato seeds to share or how do I do that?” Start connecting with your neighbors in that way. We’re going to be supporting you. We hope that people will support us back. We just ask for whatever type of donation we can give.
I’m glad you have a graphic designer on staff because when you mentioned Neighborhood Watch, I immediately thought of the sign I’ve seen with a little detective and a hat pulled down. It’s very memorable. I hope the Neighborhood Food Network has something like that down the line. I want to ask you as we start to wrap up just a couple of more questions. What benefit do you see this program offering besides access to food that we grow ourselves?
We touched on a few of them already but I’m going to elaborate. I see that people will feel safer and more connected with their neighbors. They will have access to more resources to neighborhood plumbers, fence builders, and technical-type-minded people or whoever. You’ll get to know your neighbors and you will bridge that political divide. You will have access to things you never had before.
For instance, my kids had the experience of meeting our neighbors that had alpacas and having conversations with them. They are like giant stuffed animals. They’re adorable. You get to have experiences that you never would have before. I met another neighbor who’s an artist and we got to talk all about flowers and art. That’s what we need now. It is to be more connected, not disconnected. We need more compassion and less political divide. We need more generosity and less focus on prepping, importing, and being afraid of our neighbors.
Aren’t you all tired of being afraid? If you’re tired of being afraid, what are you going to do about it? This program will support you to get connected with your neighbors and create that connection that erases and eliminates fear. That’s what I see. I want a world that works. I want a world for my kids where they can go down the street and know their neighbors. They’re sharing tomatoes with them or making sure everybody’s okay with them.
I have to say, one of the main inspirations for this was this comedian named Jayde Adams. She is on an Amazon series called Serious Black Jumper. She is a heavyset woman that experienced a lot of harassment. Her main message is compassion. When she speaks, people listen. One person said to her, “Jayde, you should run for parliament.” She’s in the UK. She said, “No, we don’t need more leaders. We need a whole heck of a lot of people who are willing to make sure that everybody else is all right. We need to take care of each other.”
When you look at this program through that lens, that’s what we’re doing. We’re encouraging people to take care of each other, get to know your neighbor, and ask them, “Do you need anything? Can we help you? Is there something that you want to offer the community? Do you have a teenager that needs a job?” Things like that. When we do that, we’re going to triumph over all of this fear, division, and whatever this is that people think maybe the government is doing intentionally or not. It doesn’t matter to me why they’re doing all that. It matters to me what we’re going to do about it.
I love your vision. I feel compassion and connection. Love will win over fear. Thank you for setting this up. It sounds amazing, Zen. I want to ask you as we close the question I like to post at the end and it may be related to this topic or something else. If the audience could do one thing to improve their health, what would you recommend that they do?
For me, always grow, buy, or eat organic as much as possible. Reduce your exposure to toxins and you will find that your body has a better opportunity to heal itself, sleep better, think better, and heal from whatever trauma, illness, or sickness that you may have. When our bodies are able to heal itself, then we are happier, more responsible, connected to people, and less angry. Less of all that other stuff that’s going on in the world that we don’t want. My first and foremost choice and recommendation to people is always to eat as much organic food as possible. Whether it’s organically grown, biodynamic, or whatever that is. If you can, know your farmer, know how they grow it, and go for the food that does not contain GMOs and toxic chemicals.
Thank you, Zen. Again, thank you for your vision, your heart, and where this is all headed. We are so thankful to be partners with you in this effort to help people grow healthy organic food.
Thank you so much and to all of your audience. I appreciate you so much.
Our guest was Zen Honeycutt. Visit her websites MomsAcrossAmerica.com and NeighborhoodFoodNetwork.com. I’m Hilda Labrada Gore. Find out where I am, what I’m up to and the services I offer at HolisticHilda.com. Now for a recent review from Apple Podcasts. Shanae Trudeau says, “Thank you. I’m learning so much listening to Wise Traditions. I appreciate all the guests you have chosen to interview especially the series on mental health. Muchas Gracias.”
You are so welcome, Shanae. If you would like to rate and review the show, please do so. Go to Apple Podcasts and click on the ratings and reviews settings, then give us as many stars as you like so people might be intrigued about the show and listen as well. Thank you. Stay well, my friend, and remember that all shall be well and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well.
About Zen Honeycutt
Zen Honeycutt is the Founding Executive Director of 10 year old non profit Moms Across America – a National Coalition of Unstoppable Moms.
Moms Across America raises awareness about GMOs, toxins in the food supply, and the benefits of organic with the goal of creating healthy communities.
Zen is the author of Unstoppable Transforming Sickness and Struggle into Triumph, Empowerment, and a Celebration of Community, director of short film Communities Rising and mother of three boys whose health has all greatly improved by switching to organic food.
Zen is also the force behind the pilot program “Food Neighborhood Network.”
- Moms Across America
- Neighborhood Food Network
- PA Bowen Farmstead
- Neighborhood Watch
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