A Tradition of Comfort at Heirloom Café


When Jessica Rothacker imagined a restaurant all her own, she dreamed of combining the best of what she’d experienced working elsewhere. At Ike & Jane, she saw a bustling community built around a beloved place. At Farm 255, she learned the importance of knowing your farmers. At Muss & Turner’s, she found an empowered staff in an uplifting work environment.

She opened Heirloom Café in 2011, with the communal, local, seasonal, and inspired at the forefront of their offering. It was a fast success in a town that cherishes all of the above.

As the years pass, Jessica has continued to evolve and hone the mission of Heirloom: To create community, celebrate local farmers, and tell a story through food.

“For the first several years we were open, we only focused on the first two, but we came to realize that really what we were most excited about was the story behind our food and drink, the feelings it evoked for people, and the memories that it created or was created out of,” she says.

The celebration of tradition is in their name—Heirloom meaning a thing treasured between generations. Jessica and her staff keep this meaning at the heart of all they do, even as trends come and go.

“There are so many technological innovations happening right now and so many new ways of looking at food. All of that can be so intimidating and honestly is just not what we are about, so we just try to make really good food that makes people feel like home and provide a very comfortable service experience,” Jessica says. “Perhaps comfort and nostalgia inherently can't become irrelevant.”

Heirloom Café is among the Athens restaurants making farm-to-table cooking standard fare. Evolutions on that front, like the emergence of Collective Harvest, create an ever-expanding bevy of farm-fresh options for restaurants and households alike.

“The growth of the farming community in Athens and the ability of Collective Harvest to organize the way that farmers sell directly to restaurants has made it worlds easier for restaurants to access local food,” she says. “We are no longer special in that way, but I am excited that so many businesses are purchasing from farms, making it often a given in tight-knit communities like ours.”

Focus is essential for any business, and that’s proven true at Heirloom.

“Things often don't go as planned, and inevitably when you think that you should be focusing your attention on one aspect of the business, something else comes to the forefront of your focus. The most important thing is staying true to your company values when you try to make changes and grow.”

Everyday is a little different at Heirloom. Athens can be a transient town, with fresh new faces arriving each season for school. Yet rooted in the Historic Boulevard Neighborhood, Heirloom provides an enduring sense of place. For Jessica, it’s a vision realized.

“I want to see people happy. I want them to enjoy great food that evokes emotion for them, surrounded by loved ones, and made to feel comfortable and glad to be in our space. I want them to feel at home here, and to invite others to feel that way, too.”

Written by Jodi Cash
Photographed by Paige French

This story was created in partnership with Georgia Organics. The 2020 Georgia Organics Conference & Expo is Feb. 7-8, 2020 in Athens, Ga. Get excited!

This story was created in partnership with Georgia Organics. The 2020 Georgia Organics Conference & Expo is Feb. 7-8, 2020 in Athens, Ga. Get excited!

Building Better Farmers: Collective Harvest’s Jacqui Coburn and Alex Rilko


“If I plant arugula nobody cares when its ready except for me,” says Jacqui on a hot day at Front Field Farm in Winterville, Georgia.

That was before Collective Harvest and the responsibility of a shared farming cooperative.

Second career farmers, Jacqui and Alex started small with 1⁄4 acre in Covington, Georgia. But even in their early days driving into the Athens Farmers Market, they were looking ahead to what should be next. They knew their future–and the expansion of access to fresh food for their community–couldn’t rely on their farm alone.

They saw overlaps and flaws in the status quo every time they went to market. Sometimes Eva at Full Moon Farm would buy produce from Jacqui to fill gaps in her own small CSA operation. Jacqui would do the same.

“We’d joke about racing Ed [of Sundance Farm] to 5&10,” said Jacqui. “We were all at different points during the week going to the same restaurants and sending the same itty bitty [availability] email. We just thought that was silly.”

In 2015, the farmers behind Full Moon Farm and Diamond Hill Farm partnered with Front Field Farm because Alex and Jacqui put out the call for a new system that would give farmers more time on the farm and alleviate unnecessary competition between them.


Fourteen years prior, Jacqui left a job at Whole Foods (twice, her husband Alex reminds) after growing tired of the corporate world of food. Unexpectedly, a neighbor asked Jacqui to begin work on her farm despite having no experience to speak of. At almost forty years old, it was late in life to take on such a physical challenge as farming, but the transition felt immediately natural.

“I really just felt so comfortable in that environment. The competition in the corporate world is so underhanded...whereas the competition in farming is there but everyone is so open,” Jacqui explains. “Everyone will tell you pretty much everything about what they’re doing because you have different resources so you may or may not be able to use their technique or ideas.”

Individually, each farm was up against the off-farm challenges of emailing, social media, data collection, advertising, delivering, ordering supplies and the list goes on. Collective Harvest takes a portion of this burden off the individual farmer, offers expanded bulk buying power, stabilizes finances through regular payment on delivery, and enables the farmers to focus on growth both of produce and infrastructure without fear of an off harvest.

“Last year it was raining so much that it was a bad year for us personally with farming but other farms were able to pick up our slack. When you’re doing a CSA on your own, with the year we had last year we’d probably have had to refund their money... or they would have just gotten a lot of okra,” Alex jokes.


At the beginning of each year, the Collective Harvest farmers meet for a bid process in which they plan the crop schedule and their weighted produce commitments.

“The bid process allows everybody to be as involved as they want to be,” says Jacqui. “Everyone puts down what they’re really comfortable with because we all have other outlets as well. We all want to go to the market and look full. Everyone’s at different levels naturally.”

Just as one farmer’s secrets to success may not translate to another, each farm in Collective Harvest varies based on acreage of land, number of staff, physical capability and focus on market versus CSA and direct-to-restaurant.

While the organizational side may have taken getting some getting used to, especially by farmers who once didn’t even keep an inventory at market, this data driven planning allows Collective Harvest to reliably secure availability for 11-12 items every week, to provide members with the details of their share a week in advance and to enable customers to swap undesired items for a variety of 20 other items available in lesser or happenstantial quantities. After all, mother nature is a part of the collective too.


Although Collective Harvest primarily focuses on their CSA members, the group’s consolidation of direct-to-restaurant business has benefited both farmers and chefs alike.

“In the previous model, we would have to pick and choose, trying to order equitably amongst all the farms, trying not to play favorites because everyone does such a great job,” recalls Chef Peter Dale of The National. “Collective Harvest has taken away that awkward part of the equation. Everyone shares the orders and the restaurants benefit from expanded and consolidated availability.”

Restaurant owners, like Ryan Sims of Donna Chang’s, see the same values as the farmers in the being able to consolidate tasks and simplify systems while maintaining a strong standard of quality.

“We know their passion, values, and that quality is something that is important to them. That is something we are proud to align our restaurant with,” Ryan says. “What is great about working with organizations like Collective is that they are our neighbors. They aren't some face-less entity.”


Admittedly some farmers initially feared that combining forces would require them to shed an element of personal identity or recognition of their own quality of product. Fortunately, each farmer’s maintained presence at the markets, conferences and events only grows the power of their shared mission and the weight of the Collective Harvest name.

“Once people got involved with us they realized pretty quickly this is better,” said Jacqui.

With the stability Collective Harvest affords, the current eight member farms have all shown growth and ambition. Diamond Hill Farm moved from a landlocked farm to one closer to town with more acreage. Ed Janosik at Sundance Farm built a fence to protect his crops. Each of the farmers can support more full time employees just as Collective Harvest itself now operates out of a downtown headquarters with five employees to maintain the day-to-day operations.

As membership increases, Jacqui still smiles when she sees a CSA member shopping at the Saturday market with their Collective Harvest bag in tow. When Collective Harvest began, over 100 people signed up and the founders were nervous they couldn’t keep up. This fall they have a seasonal record of over 300 members. It’s clear that different outlets for fresh food working collaboratively and a cooperative farming community can uplift one another instead of existing in competition.

“Our big picture goal is to have all the farms at the farmers market be part of it,” dreams Alex. “It would be awesome to get to that point where you’re so busy, you have that many people, and you can bring all these vendors [into the collective].”


Written and photographed by Erin Wilson

Published originally in Georgia Organics’ print publication, “The Dirt.” The 2020 Georgia Organics Conference & Expo is Feb. 7-8, 2020 in Athens, Ga. Get excited!

On Farming as a First Career


The hum of friendly chatter mingles with a singer-songwriter’s crooning as the Athens Farmers Market fills on any given Saturday morning.  “Hi, how are you doing today?” bandies back and forth from grower to consumer and back again.

Derek Pope and Sydney Buffington of Ladybird Farm are new to this market but have already established a following of customers. They stand out with a fresh aesthetic, a well-presented variety of produce offerings with a flair for the unique and, of course, their youthful demeanors.

“We are the youngest people here by far as owner-operators,” Sydney said. “Most people do this as their second career and I’m really happy that we’re doing it as our first.” 

After about a year living in the college town of Bellingham, Washington, and experiencing firsthand competitive farming in the Pacific Northwest, they realized it was time to return to Athens, Georgia, where their connections run deep both with family and in the restaurant industry. Derek and Sydney simply had the feeling that the farm-to-table and farmers market scene were more vibrant and honest here.

In Washington, Derek struggled to find work in localized fisheries despite his east coast education at Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources at UGA. Sydney managed a lavender farm and worked on an apple orchard with a small vegetable garden.

“I was in a bunch of really competitive markets in Washington,” Sydney recalled. “They were really intense because the cost of living there is insane but the prices [of vegetables] are lower there somehow.”

When Ladybird Farm checked into the Athens Farmers Market, they expected that level of rigorous paperwork and regulations. What they found was a community of growers. Carter Dodd of Diamond Hill Farm, for whom Derek was working when they first returned to Athens, sold them their farmland and offered tips on how to price produce. Every farm is aiming to find that happy medium of living wage and affordability for the consumer; no one would ever undercut intentionally.


This ethos translates to the direct-to-restaurant business too. While at the market, Jessica Rothacker, owner of Heirloom Café and big supporter of Ladybird Farm, stops in to their booth to shop for produce for her home. This is the kind of loyalty and community connection that sets Athens apart. Restaurateurs, chefs and consumers want to really know their farmers.   

“It makes it a lot easier to sell wholesale when you have that in,” said Derek. From years working in restaurants, including Heirloom Café, he understands the important things like when to come with deliveries, how to best process orders and what chefs are looking for.

Derek and Sydney are growing some selections that will primarily be for wholesale like Mexican sour gerkins or jelly melons. They are up for an experiment, occasionally driven by a glass of wine or two while ordering seeds, and that is a fresh perspective to see at the market.

“One of the biggest things I hear about the farmers market is that ‘I go around and see the same stuff at every stand, so why wouldn’t I buy everything from the first stand.’ I mean, fair enough,” acknowledged Sydney. “I want people to come to us because we have something that they don’t have over there. I think we’ll get there in time for sure.”

For now it’s about figuring out their farm and what works for the livelihood of two young farmers.

“As soon as food started happening, the farm was paying at least for our bills,” said Sydney with pride. “And now [Derek]’s out of service industry and I’m only doing it one day a week. And I don’t necessarily have to do that but…I like nice things, so I’m okay with a little pocket change.”

While balancing every pursuit they have in mind, the couple isn’t opposed to a side hustle or two, to take risks, expand their business and to be able to hire another hand soon. These may sounds like big milestones, but Derek and Sydney aren’t afraid of aspiration.


Written and photographed by Erin Wilson

This story was created in partnership with Georgia Organics. The 2020 Georgia Organics Conference & Expo is Feb. 7-8, 2020 in Athens, Ga. Get excited!

This story was created in partnership with Georgia Organics. The 2020 Georgia Organics Conference & Expo is Feb. 7-8, 2020 in Athens, Ga. Get excited!

Sliver of Wilderness


I teeter on the edge, just within the no-man’s-land where abutting city parcels theoretically touch. Alleyways are inherently liminal, and in spite of its generous car’s width, balance is elusive here. But today is pleasant and my footing secure. The sun radiates a warmth dialed back from last week’s oppressive rays. Still, the damp air reminds skin and nose of the ground's recent inaugural searing, its reserves of moisture already boiled and airborne. 

The path I tread suggests an eternally dry riverbed whose grass and gravel compete for prominence along its length. To both sides, like abandoned shorelines, a bluff of green rises in defiance of nearby monocultures. When everything is a weed, nothing is—save the sods and lawn mixes that manage to creep across the nebulous border. Spontaneity reigns here; any approximation of design stands out like a dandelion. It is tempting to forget that the alley itself has long been defined by planned lots and roads. 


One of my neighbors aptly refers to our shared passageway as a parallel universe, not least for the unflattering vistas offered to passersby. It lays bare some pile of neglect only to graciously, if partially, obscure another with an improvised lattice of privet and mimosa. Some residents, moved by shame or distaste, have hidden their lives from the path and its travelers by way of tight-boarded fences and opaque structures. Others have accommodated its mischievous, viney crawl with haphazard chicken wire and unkempt trees, so as to summon the disarray. Parallel to the street yet indifferent to its facades, our alley exists to subvert. The absence of familiar patterns and meanings can be disorienting—a welcome sensation in a neatly gridded city. 

A breeze funnels through, which helps keep the looming heat and bugs at bay. The local avian chorus attempts an unrehearsed harmony with the alternating drones of light traffic and power tools, an effort only complicated by hourly church bells. Ivy and paradise trees overtake sheds and carriage houses before my eyes. In this sliver of captured wilderness, the domestic and feral coexist in what seems an interminable tension. But the tenacious sprawl threatens a merciless reclamation of all matter in sight, hedge trimmers be damned. Behold the earth, ever the patient underdog, about to have its turn. 

Written by Kelsey Cox
Photographed by
Ashley Cox

A Peach Without Purpose


After taking a bite from a peach, it jumped, as if of its own volition or by a jolt of electricity, from my hand. And in rotating through the air, it reached an impasse: to return to my hand or to plummet to the earth.

I, naturally, wanted to eat the peach. And so I reached for it. In spasmodic bursts, I overreached and sent it further into the air. I then under-reached and it began to fall again. The peach was meaninglessly suspended where it did not belong, and in this suspension became obsolete.

But was the peach not a peach and I not a human?

The fruits of the earth are perhaps the greatest gift that nature gives. For not only are they nourishing, they are shapely, soft, juicy, sexy—and their taste, equally delightful. But without being tasted, do they still delight? 

A peach without a mouth is sumptuous and velveteen, its flesh mimics the glowing summer sunset. It intrigues among leaves and grass of green and soil of brown and black. And so, it is aesthetically pleasing, but it is not substantially pleasing.

To a pollinator, the contents of a flower may be as divine as a peach to a human. But to humans flowers remain mostly within the realm of the aesthetic and only peripherally affect us.

I could not let the peach fall to the ground uneaten. I reached again and caught the slippery side where my mouth made the first bite. The peach shot into the air for another somersault.

My hand was sticky; my mouth wanted more, and the peach remained airborne. Why did I instinctively resist the peach’s fall to the earth? Convenience—not wanting to bend over to pick it up? Or was it my animal instinct to continue eating, to nourish my body, to taste good flavor? Or perhaps it was my capacity for complex thought, my prescience, that knew that a peach is as good as it can be when delivered directly to my mouth in prime ripeness, or that once the peach reached the earth, it would come into contact with dead stuff—rocks, sticks—and living organisms—microbes, plants—and this contact with the earth would effectively render the peach less desirable, in need of cleansing. 

Why reach for the peach?

For the peach to best serve me, did I not need to catch it? If I let it fall without a struggle, to become sullied by choice, bruised by its impact with the earth, would it not still be my choice to eat or not eat the peach?

As the peach, I am presented with a cruel dichotomy: either the hand that held me lost me because it allowed me to fall from its grasp, knowing that it might take me again, wash me, and consume me, yet only after an unnecessary struggle; or my biological condition resisted the grasp—by being bitten, slippery, sticky, I escaped, even though the hand reached for me, struggled with me, made several attempts to grab me, and eventually, the hand, master of itself, would focus its intention and succeed in holding me, enjoying me, and delivering the remainder of me to a mouth.

I caught the peach, laughed at myself, and ate it as quickly as I could. Another errancy, a random act, a peach without purpose, would not happen on my watch—whether I could control it or not.

Written by Gresham Cash
Photographed by Jodi Cash

Cook with Love, Kindness, and Generosity: A Conversation Between Chef Todd Richards and Tenisio Seanima

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At the inaugural event for Georgia Organics’ new Cast Iron & Collards Society, farmer and journalist Tenisio Seanima spoke with chef and author Todd Richards. They discussed everything from the inspiration behind Richards’ new cookbook, Soul, to serving purposefully, to food as activism in a troubled world. This is an abridged version of their conversation.

Tenisio Seanima: Without further ado, I want to dive into this young man's history. And I think it's very important when we look at the subject of this book, Soul. It's one of those terms that really speaks to just that: your soul, for each individual. And so what we're going to do tonight is dive into this subject of emotional eating.

You all heard of that term being used these days, right? Emotional eating. And when you think about it, typically it's discussed in this negative context. Like, you've just been coming out of work, a bad day; and you're at the gas station and there are the bon bons, and you know the end of the story. Well, when I look at this subject of soul and soul food, especially as someone of African descent, I also look at it as the positive sides of emotional eating. The things that food were designed to help us cope with, in a manner that has been perpetuated for centuries at this point.

And so starting off with you, Todd [Richards], and this journey that you've taken as a culinary expert, talk about the past. Talk about the things you remember about growing up, the things you remember about food. And I want to set the precedent with some quotes from your book if that's okay. You've got a quote that says, "I remember standing on Rainbow Beach in Chicago, looking over the lake and wondering: who are my people? I had friends from the Philippines and Haiti. They had a strong sense of their heritage and place, and staring into the water, I questioned what and where was mine."

So that's a question that's clearly stuck with you to the point that you put it in this book.

Farmer, journalist, and moderator Tenisio Seanima.

Farmer, journalist, and moderator Tenisio Seanima.

Todd Richards: I must have been drinking a lot of champagne when I wrote that.

Seanima: Well, you got some green juice here, so…

Richards: Yeah. Anything that is colored green is all right by me. My first food memory that I always go back to religiously is the first time I had rice. My great aunt, who was a very lovely person and has a very sick sense of humor, knew that I would just keep eating rice as long as she kept feeding me. And she was a practical joker: knock knock jokes, all those things we did as kids. And she cracked jokes so much that I started laughing and rice started coming out of my nose. I ate so much rice.

But her rice was just so simple. It was cooked perfectly, just with butter, salt, and pepper. And as I got older we had it—every birthday, holiday, Christmas party—we even had a bar mitzvah at our house. It was so unique that we gathered and food was always the central point for that. And if you look in the book, there's a place where I'm holding a cake, and it's my birthday. But on the cake were the names of my cousin Nikki, my cousin Romelle, all the other cousins, and my great aunt. And then my great grandparents, their 61st wedding anniversary was on there as well. But it was “my cake” you know what I mean?

So it was always entrenched in me that food was about sharing, and about how a family came together.

Seanima: Interesting. It's like you had the hand-me-down situation with clothes: basically passed into the cake it almost seems like.

Chef Todd Richards, author of  Soul.

Chef Todd Richards, author of Soul.

Richards: Yeah.

Seanima: You a sibling at all?

Richards: I am. I've got a crazy family. It was myself, my older brother who passed away when I was 12, and then my other cousin Tony. We were the only male cousins. So, 16 women and us three boys. They gave me hell, but those are life skills that I learned. And I learned how to braid hair.

Seanima: Put emotional eating within the context of time: the past, present, and future. So we're going to stay a little bit more in the past. You have another quote that says, "I wondered why we ate on different sides of the room in a restaurant. And I wondered why it was when I was having fun playing with a boy of a different race that his parents told him he couldn't play with me too long. And I wondered, couldn't I share my McDonald's french fries with him? And what I learned is that in some situations in life, many have been taught just not to share."

And you just talked about the fact that with your family, you all literally celebrated collectively for that one moment. Where are you as a chef in your journey of attempting to eradicate that type of understanding that what is yours is yours and what is mine is mine—even in this decorated culinary world?

Richards: Well, at that particular time, I was four years old in Madison, Wisconsin at a McDonald's. My uncle Daniel was a corporate district manager for McDonald's and was opening this new place. And so it was great to be a kid out there just jumping into all those things, and eating french fries, and putting your french fries in the shake before Wendy's did it. And what I realized is that no one told me I was black. I didn't understand the concept at four years old of racism in the sense that we weren't equal. I just knew that I had more french fries than he had because my uncle was a manager there running the place and the kid didn't have any. So I just said, "Here, you want some of my french fries?"

And so, as a chef, the only thing I wanted was to bring people together. And it's a tireless job. Because in the world of technology, we have so many distractions. But when you have delicious food in front of you, those distractions go away. How many times have you put something in your mouth to eat, your eyes close, and then you put your phone down? Or you turn your TV off? Or you stop eating in your car? You don't eat delicious food in your car while you're driving down the street. The concept doesn't make any sense.

And we're talking about how to make people kind. So civility in the world right now, is especially what we need in our current climate.

The concept of being black in food, there's a lot of injustice from that. When you think about a pot of collard greens, that takes one day to cook. The first day they're good, the second day they're even better, the third day, you would literally fight somebody for 'em.

But it's steak, right. The steak: you get it, you cut it, you sear it, you put it in the pan. You think about flat iron steak. It's $6.95 a pound right now. But in our neighborhood we only charge x amount of dollars for oxtail stew. In other neighborhoods they can charge whatever they want for steak.

That's what I mean about the equality of food. That food done right is delicious. How do you affect your own community and how do we balance out wages? How do you have people who have living wages first of all, and how do you own your own businesses and properties? That's the backstory reason of why I wrote the book.

Seanima: So do you find there is somewhat of a chance for these experiences to potentially be lost without efforts of yourself and others who are perpetuating that type of movement?

Richards: The chances are diminishing. The chance of losing are diminishing, because access to information is so broad right now.

Seanima: True.

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Richards: And cooks are now coming up with more information, more knowledge, and actually going back home and really figuring out these recipes that their families made. I look at my great aunt—when I did the book, my great aunt was 94 and still made 14 to 15 cakes a week. She's 95 and she doesn't have one recipe written down. So now my next journey is to go up to Chicago and get all the recipes and I have to sit there and watch her because she's not going to tell me.

Seanima: Very powerful, paying homage to the cuisine of your family and your ancestors.

And you talked about the fact that when you eat good food, you even close your eyes. I remember I had that experience literally yesterday with my son. We had this nice big kale wrap that we split in half. I let him have it. And I was eating. And he was all of a sudden like, "Why are your eyes closed?"

Richards: Right.

Seanima: And I got to share with him a whole world of experience I'm having just with that food, right? And so with you as a father, and as someone who's not only just eating food but clearly preparing some of the best food in the world, what influence have you seen on your own family environment, and how are your children having their own connection with this history and presence?

Richards: Well, I dispel a lot of myths in our household that chefs cook at home; I never cook at home.

Seanima: Okay.

Richards: Thanksgiving, maybe. Christmas, I can do that. But cooking at home, I really don't do that. But we all gather around. We have this beautiful living room, dining room, all those things, but everyone hangs out in the kitchen. It is the place where we bond. And it's required that we eat delicious food. I mean that is the only way we can get our kids to pay attention to what's going on. What's your homework? You playing soccer this year or you playing football? How about bullies? It’s those kind of conversations. Who's that girl that keeps texting you at eleven o'clock at night. Real conversations.

But the construct comes around delicious food. And I don't know if they have it in them to be a chef. I do know that the skills they are learning from eating out of restaurants can help them in many ways in conducting business with other people. It's the way the world works. And just giving them those same opportunities my parents gave me to go out to eat. To try different things.

It's equally important to learn what you don't like as it is to learn things that you do like. And I teach my kids that on a daily basis.

Seanima: So I'm going to throw a curveball.

Richards: All right.

Seanima: What would be like "Shut your mouth" meal? Y'all know what I mean when I say that, right? Now watch this. If you had to sit across the table from Donald Trump, what would be the "Shut your mouth" meal that you would give to Donald Trump?

Richards: That doesn't include arsenic, right?

Seanima: That would shut his mouth wouldn't it?

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Richards: One thing that our President suffers from is a bad diet. Anyone who thinks that Cinco De Mayo gets celebrated by going to Taco Bell, that is a problem. And I would say something definitely, looking at him, something commonplace. Like for him just a burger might do, probably ground with some Benton's bacon in it. Make the pickles ourselves. He doesn't eat burgers medium rare, he eats them well done. So it needs a little more fat, that's why I'd put the bacon in there. Definitely American cheese. And for him, probably white American, would be more his mindset. Sesame seed bun.

Seanima: Amen.

Richards: All right?

Seanima: I love it. Well I just want to close out with a very cliché question, which is why is soul food from your perspective still important today? Because you talked about even the health of our current President right? And many would say, "Well soul food is the food that oftentimes was rooted in chattel captivity, and it's what we had to eat." And obviously you've taken and looked at that history and said, “But there's still something invaluable about that that really needs to be perpetuated.” So what is that for you?

Richards: That's the first and foremost thing—so many people sacrificed for us to be here. It just honors our ancestors.

When my publisher got to my sea urchin recipe, they asked, "Why would you want sea urchin in a soul food cookbook? That makes absolutely no sense to any of us." You think about where sea urchins are plentiful in the water, and people will walk out there with sticks, spear 'em, put 'em on the grill, and just seeing the images of that is a celebration. That people would sit down and just open up sea urchins and eat it, is a celebration.

In Charleston, you see those areas where the slave ships came in. And there are more sea urchins in that area than anywhere else. Telling that story of the sea urchin gives me credence to know where our people came from. And with soul food and its health concerns, let's dispel a lot of those questions. First of all, nobody could afford meat, so most of the diet was vegetarian.

Seanima: That's right.

Richards: Right? So people say it's high in fat, high in this. Well first of all, what vegetables are high in fat?

Seanima: Right.

Richards: Okay so that's one. That it's poor people's food. Then why do they charge so much for other ingredients that are included in soul food? What I mean by collard greens, sweet potatoes, things like that. Sweet potato fries actually came out of another area in North Carolina, where people use to come round, cut 'em thick, and fry them. They were traveling food. So sweet potato fries is in that same construct.

And then the third myth is that it's not an American food. It is the original American food. There's the old term, "Northern food." Tell me where you go in this country and say, "I'm gonna go have some Northern food?” Right? It doesn't make any sense.

Seanima: Right.

Richards: When you have Southern and soul that run the same parallel lines, you're talking about agriculture. You're talking about how we were only divided by the color of our skin, not necessarily by the food that we ate. If we destroy that myth which is the most important myth, then we have a way of serving delicious food to the masses of people and bringing us all closer together. And those folks and wishes are relegated to people who really want to prepare delicious food and most importantly who want to grow delicious food, because without you all doing it; I'm nothing.

So, I'm putting the same question to you, because our legacy is not only being enveloped by how many restaurants are open and how many plots of food that we grow. It's about all the kids that come along after us, eat delicious food, know where it came from, know the heritage of the people who prepared it, and they serve it with love and kindness.

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Seanima: Beautiful. It made me think of the fact that I've been a vegan y'all for 20 years now. And my family's property is in Texas. My grand aunt Odessa, before she had passed away back around 2001 was preparing some fried chicken. And she was sick and was going through her healing and wanted to prepare this dish for the neighbor who was continuously coming over to help her. And guess who she asked to do the taste testing, right?

And I was literally running to my mom going, "All right now, I'm not going to tell Aunty I'm vegan and I can't eat this chicken." Man, I swallowed that real quick, and I swallowed the chicken real quick. And I tell you it was one of those things where literally it was that moment of me connecting with her, because really she and I didn't know each other. I'd met her once before that and this was just a random visit. But she felt something about me that was like, "You're gonna be the one." And I tell you even as a vegan to this day, that was one of my most intimate food experiences ever. It surrounded us all with the food.

Richards: I just tell everyone, if you know the cuisine then you can know the people behind it. It's just very important that we take all of those things. And if you don't have that fried chicken recipe written down somewhere, we're gonna have a fight. But that's really what it's about. It's about the cuisine of the people and how we represent each other. And again, my motto is always that—it's not my motto, it's actually my dad's motto—my dad always said, "Cook with kindness, love and generosity." And I didn't understand that when I first opened restaurants, but generosity was the most important part. Because my legacy is not going to be tied only to restaurants. It's going to be about all the cooks that come out of that kitchen after me.

Photos by Jodi Cash

On Holiday Departures


I return to my car, parked curbside at a convenient store hastily selected for relieving an inconvenient bloated bladder. But for the half-gallon of coffee consumed since the pre-dawn morning, I would’ve made it to Florida without this needless break in otherwise seamless interstate travel. Back in my seat, warmed by a gentle, late-November sun, I’m eager to resume frictionless motion upon concrete conduit a hundred yards to the east. But when I press the button standing in for a keyed ignition, I’m greeted with a quick succession of impotent clicks. After a few rounds of earnest attempts at willing my engine to turn over (press harder, double press, pretend-I’m-not-going-to-press-again-but-then press), reality awaits.

It seems less than paranoid to surmise that the freeway and the modern automobile regularly conspire to obscure our sense of reality. While ostensibly intended to connect virtually everywhere with everywhere else, highway driving inevitably renders the panoply of places between origin and destination in relative terms. Never mind where I am. How far am I past Richmond? How long until Tampa? Every place along the way is naturally perceived to be no place at all, scarcely distinguishable from that larger conglomerate of matter remarkable only to geographers. And from within the car, violent forces acting on the vehicle are seldom felt, compounding my sense of separation from the world beyond the glass. I reach peak estrangement with audiobook and cruise control synced in a perpetual, automatic fury—achieving escape velocity beyond a blur of nowheres in my periphery.

But this only happens when the engine will start. I reluctantly scan the parking lot for a capable benefactor, and after briefly considering the congregation of state patrols behind me, I spot a thin, older man whom I presume to be a local. His name is William, he tells me, and he’d be happy to help. I pop my hood, cables in hand, and we wait for the neighboring SUV (occupied and running) to pull out. After enough small talk and several conspicuous glances towards an oblivious driver, William kindly asks if we can borrow electricity while they idle. They kindly oblige.


Engine now running, I contemplate deferring maintenance in the name of expedience and gambling that I don’t get stranded somewhere even less populated. But in a rarer moment of attentive caution, I surrender my anticipated arrival time. A Google Maps search for AutoZone yields a nearby Napa, en route to which I encounter an even nearer, down-home mechanic shop. It occupies an idyllic, mid-century filling station that, in a place more intent on becoming a somewhere, would no doubt be repurposed for creative class consumption. But there is little apparent interest in achieving relevance beyond the county line. I’m soon told that my battery is shot but they have a replacement in stock, and I’m oddly relieved this isn’t a microbrewery I’ve stumbled upon.

It’s strange to give thanks for interrupted plans, more natural still to deride them as meaningless bumps in the road. Maybe it’s the autumn sun filtering through a canopy of moss-strewn live oaks, or the unusually friendly technician tending to my vehicle, but by now the predicament has lost its weight, and I find myself attuned to particulars I had not meant to be bothered by. I know that a few miles away waits a veritable vortex howling with holiday travelers. But it’s a few more minutes until the car’s ready, and what’s there to do but bask in the sublimity of being stuck in a real place.

Story by Kelsey Cox
Photos by
Ashley Cox

Give the Gift of a Great Book


Resident book enthusiast, Tyler Goodson, recommends the books filling his holiday shopping bag this year. There’s a book here for everyone on your list, naughty or nice. If you live in Athens, be sure to stop into Avid Bookshop to find all of these titles.


The Girl Who Never Read Noam Chomsky by Jana Casale

We meet Leda as a college student, and follow her the rest of her life—through marriage, children, and everything else. It's funny and breezy, but also beautiful and profound.

Early Work by Andrew Martin

This is about a young man trying to figure out (and mostly failing, spectacularly) writing, life, and relationships. You will probably cringe. You will definitely laugh.

The Distance Home by Paula Saunders

These characters and this story transcend the typical family drama, as Saunders shows us a world where hate and love are made of the same stuff, and where home and family are the best and worst things that will ever happen to you.

Severance by Ling Ma

I'm not sure how a novel so funny can also be so terrifying. It's millennial, apocalyptic horror. It's also smart and surprisingly affecting, as it investigates what happens when nostalgia becomes a disease.



The Library Book by Susan Orlean

Orlean chronicles the history of libraries, focusing on the 1986 fire at the Los Angeles Public library, as well as her own love for them. It's perfect for anyone who loves books and the places that hold them sacred. 

All You Can Ever Know by Nicole Chung

In this memoir of adoption, Nicole Chung shares her story of daughterhood and motherhood with such thoughtfulness and honesty that it feels like a privilege to read.

I'll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara

I'll Be Gone in the Dark is a story of obsession and violence, a woman and a killer. As much a book of true crime as it is a book about a time and a place. Go ahead and plan to stay up all night. It's that good (and that scary).

These Truths by Jill Lepore

This is a single volume history of the United States by one of our greatest historians and writers. I don't know how it's possible, but it's here.

Cooking and Drinking

Now and Again by Julia Turshen

I have cooked Julia Turshen's recipes more than any others this year. This book is full of ideas for easy and delicious food. I could eat her Roasted Tomato Enchiladas every day.

Cook Like a Pro by Ina Garten

Ina will never let us down, and this new book is no different. It's full of delicious recipes and helpful tricks to help us cook just like her. How easy is that?

Everyday Dorie by Dorie Greenspan

Mostly known for her baking prowess, Dorie gives us a glimpse of how she feeds herself and others on a daily basis.

Cocktail Codex by Alex Day, Nick Fauchald, and David Kaplan

This is the textbook of cocktails that is also fun to read. And tells you how to make almost any drink you can imagine. 

Story by Tyler Goodson
Photos by Erin Wilson

Thoughts on Food as a Resource, Not a Commodity

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Nothing will give you an appreciation of summer’s bounty like the cold, gray creeping of winter. The clocks have turned back. The night begins early.

Even in a warmly lamplit kitchen, rife with root vegetables and hearty cold weather greens, it’s easy to dream of the plentiful season that’s passed. Perhaps curiouser is how under-appreciated the wealth that nature provides can be.

I think of Atlanta in July. Astride many urban streets are trees, trees laden with fruit. More startling than the presence of fruit in a city setting are the number of pedestrians who walk past without even an exploratory pluck. On occasion, these fruits are on private property, often times not.

But no one has time for anything in the city, let alone picking available food, right?

Does anyone contemplate where their food is coming from? People who never question where their organic avocado or tomato come from are just as guilty of food-related ethical blindness as their grandparent who never questioned what a loaf of white bread was made from.

On a hillside in Chile, a single blueberry is picked and placed in a basket with other blueberries that make their way onto a tractor that dumps them onto a generator-powered conveyor belt that eventually drops them into boxes that are loaded onto a truck that is driven to a port where they are loaded on a boat that delivers them to Florida where they are again moved to a truck where they are delivered to a grocery store that is powered by electricity created at a dam that is slowly changing the ecology of a region.

How much fossil fuel was used to get that berry to the person who bought it at a remarkably low rate, considering the amount of ecological and environmental damage that spun off of the single berry, sold with a pint of other berries?

As we walk down the street past blackberries, blueberries, serviceberries, apples, peaches, pears, figs and muscadines, we should consider that we are presented with food, local food. The earth is gracious in its use of fairly obvious cues. If you see tomatoes growing on someone’s porch or blackberries growing in an abandoned lot, it is time to eat tomatoes and blackberries.

The complications of food ethics are vast. Do you abandon the farmer in Argentina who made a small profit from the grapes he shipped to the grocery store chain on your street? The food is there, should you buy it? Should you only support farmers markets? What about in the winter when there are only winter greens, cabbage and sweet potatoes?

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How you approach the purchase of what you eat is as subjective as what tastes good to your tongue. But the next time you are on a walk and you notice some fruit that seems to be falling to the ground and rotting, why not return with a bag, fill it up and explore the various ways that the available food can be stored and used (i.e. freezing, jamming, preserving).

Further, when you buy anything, and I mean anything, think about what it took to get that item to you — the amount of fuel burned, the rivers that were stopped to create power, the nuclear waste from the plant that powers the distribution center, the amount of plastic (wrap, binds, twist ties, gloves, containers, packaging) used to get the product to you.

Food tells us a lot about the earth, the places we should and should not be. There are places in the world where water is scarce, and yet people abound. Likewise, in places where food is scarce or difficult to grow, people should alternatively be scarce.

As we continue to consume more of the world around us, why not think a little more about taking what is right in front of us, for free, willingly sprouting from the earth. Think about what it takes to get an item to you. And remember, food is a resource, not a commodity.

Story by Gresham Cash
Photos by Paige French

An End of Summer Reading List


Now that summer is coming to a close, the sweet taste of vacation still on the mind, you can ease back into your favorite chair and travel again with a great new book. Tyler Goodson of Avid Bookshop in Athens, Ga., has a few top picks for the season to share. A staple at the bookshop for five years, Tyler hand-picks the latest and greatest literary works for adults, but his recommendations across the board will take you away.



My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh

This book is outrageous, hilarious, and a jolt to the system—the opposite of what our main character is after. I don't know how a book about someone wanting to sleep for a year is so compelling, but it feels somehow necessary and like I've needed it all along.


Clock Dance by Anne Tyler

Clock Dance is a novel about time; how it moves and how it can get away from us. It’s sweet, warm, and funny, without ever sacrificing sharp writing and well-observed characters. It’s readable comfort food that reminds us it is not only possible to make a new way in life, but it’s never too late.


The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai

This novel is the kind of book you make time for, the kind you cancel plans and turn your phone off for. It's utterly believable, heartbreaking, and beautiful. In Makkai's hands, this generation devastated by AIDS are not victims, but fighters, resisters, and believers. I am thankful for this book. 


The Mars Room by Rachel Kushner

A harrowing and compelling story of a mother serving two life sentences in prison, this novel is dark, but somehow full of what makes life matter. I love Kushner's writing, and her newest book does not disappoint. 






The Ruin by Dervla McTiernan

Tana French comparisons are constant (and usually wrong) but The Ruin measures up. With great plotting, characters, and writing, McTiernan has created a vital new series.


The People We Hate at the Wedding by Grant Ginder

Sometimes you want to read a book about characters who have it together even less than you. I loved this book. The characters are flawed but trying to figure it out. 


Ill Will by Dan Chaon

Ill Will is frightening and very unsettling.  It's a rare horror novel that is both well-written with great characters.  Don't read it alone at night.


Stephen Florida by Gabe Habash

Spanning a college wrestler's senior season, Stephen Florida is unlike anything else. Eerie and unsettling, it can be hard to live in Stephen's head, but it is impossible to stop reading, or forget what you find there. As a character, Stephen is unpredictable, sympathetic, focused, frenzied, cold, and tender. He is hard to love and yet I love him. We are lucky to have a new novel like this: something you haven't seen before, that makes you remember what good fiction is capable of.


Standard Deviation by Katherine Heiny

Katherine Heiny has a voice unlike anyone else. Her writing and characters are smart and fresh—full of precise, hilarious commentary on marriage, parenting, friendship, and dinner parties, etc.


Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward

There is a reason this novel won Jesmyn Ward her second National Book Award. This story follows Jojo and his mother Leonie as they travel to Northern Mississippi to pick up Jojo's father from prison. It is haunted and powerful. 





Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson

This YA novel is The Secret History meets Agatha Christie. Stevie attends a private boarding school, and wants to solve the school's decades-old murder, but has to turn her keen eye to the present when one of her classmates winds up dead. This feels like a classic. Fun and suspenseful.


I Felt a Funeral, In My Brain by Will Walton

On the first day of summer, Avery brings home a stack of poetry. Later that summer, as he tries to navigate crushing loss and disappointment, he turns to that poetry again and again; the reading and writing of it. This book is Avery's bold and thrilling record of his heartbreak, love, grief, and family. It's about creating art through pain, and dealing with pain through art. It blew me away.





I'll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara

I'll Be Gone in the Dark is a story of obsession and violence, a woman and a killer. As much a book of true crime as it is a book about a time and a place. And a person: Michelle McNamara. She is a streak of good in the darkness, and how fortunate we are to have this record of her perceptiveness, honesty, and humanity. Go ahead and plan to stay up all night. It's that good (and that scary).



Words by Tyler Goodson

Photographs by Erin Wilson

How City Pharmacy is Recreating Community in Covington

For seventy years, City Pharmacy was a place where people could gather in downtown Covington, Georgia. It was a true functioning pharmacy when Phil Stone worked there as a teenage soda jerk in the late 1950s. The experience inspired him to go to pharmacy school, and later he returned to buy the building. 

After the space took on different shapes and names a few times since the mid-90s, Phil's son Tedo re-opened City Pharmacy, this time as a farm-to-table restaurant with chef Christian Perez at the helm. New owner Tedo Stone shared what the experience and business means to him.

What was the inspiration for City Pharmacy?

The idea of reopening City Pharmacy as a restaurant/bar grew out of conversations amongst my siblings over the years. There was always that simple idea in the back of my head, but it was touring around with my band that allowed me to experience tons of bars and restaurants across the country to draw inspiration from. Every town has that one place we sought out based on recommendations from locals and visitors alike. The establishments I was particularly drawn to were those rich in history and unique to that community with a comfortable and friendly energy. Those intangible energies of a gathering place that locals cherish and passersby seek out is something that can't be replicated, but I knew City Pharmacy had been that place for Covington before closing it's doors in '96. I wanted to bring that energy back into the space — the energy that once lived within the pharmacy and soda fountain. 


What does it mean for you personally to restore life in a place that has been vital to your community for so long?

It feels like a rite of passage to be opening a business on the square in Covington. In addition to my dad's business, his mom and sister owned a dress shop across the square. My grandfather on my mom's side owned Covington Furniture store a few store fronts over from City Pharmacy, where there is now an Irish pub. Covington is a quaint, picturesque city that is currently experiencing a lot of growth. Revitalizing the pharmacy will hopefully preserve some of the town's history not only with its namesake, but with the stories that can be retold within its walls for years to come. With all the challenges I've faced opening a restaurant, its these things that make it an extremely fulfilling endeavor. 


How did you facilitate such a convivial atmosphere?

For the duration of the pharmacy's life, "Where Friends Meet" was painted on the side of the building. I believe there is an energy in the space that facilitates communion, and has for many years. The pharmacy was much more than a place to get your prescription filled, like we think of today. At the time it was much more. It was the place where individuals would congregate on the square before there were restaurants or bars. 

I also believe excitement and joy derives from creation. We want the menus to be ever-evolving with the seasons, products, and the hands that create them. Encouraging our culinary team and bartenders to create and explore brings excitement into the food, drinks and atmosphere. 


Which historical elements of the space did you think were most important to maintain?

To me, the ceramic tile floors make the space. Mike, the gentleman who repaired the floors, was the first one in and last to leave during the renovation. They no longer make the particular size of tile, so he hand-scored over 2,000 tiles to restore damages from years of installations and walls being nailed into them. Another staple feature is the stained glass windows. We discovered a picture from the 40s displaying the stained glass on the facade, but it had been covered up for decades. The most exciting day of renovations was uncovering it to discover it intact with just one pane damaged. 


What's been the most rewarding part of opening this restaurant?

Seeing my dad, who worked his first job at City Pharmacy and eventually purchased it as his his first business, sitting at the bar in conversation or going table to table to speak to old friends and strangers alike brings me a lot of joy. All my life I've been approached by countless people my dad filled prescriptions for and the people who worked along side him. Stories of the service he provided to customers far exceed the big box pharmacies that have now replaced small, family owned operations that once lived in our downtown. Employees who admired him and his style of leadership now drop by the restaurant to introduce themselves and share their stories. To see those relationships carry on while new ones are created are what's most rewarding about reopening the pharmacy.


 How have you engaged/included the community with your new space?
 We did a community supper with The Giving Kitchen and Sweetwater Brewery in the spring and look to continue those seasonally. It was a different dining experience than the typical night at City Pharmacy. Inviting the community to come together to learn about such an awesome organization as the Giving Kitchen intertwined with Chef Christian speaking on her dishes created a unique and enlightening experience, educating our community on some things that excites us. We hope to continue to showcase organizations and purveyors, local and statewide, that we love and that are doing amazing things.


What is your vision for the future of City Pharmacy?

Above all, I want to see the story of City Pharmacy continue to attract likeminded creatives, bringing new food and drinks to our community. I want to continue providing Covington a place where friends can gather and share in conversation. My hope is City Pharmacy will carry on as the special place it's always been for Covington and its visitors for years to come. 

Video & Stills by Ethan Payne
Score by Gresham Cash
Interview by Jodi Cash

Archival Photos Courtesy of City Pharmacy

The Mindful Nutrivore: Ryan Monahan Finds Purpose in Wellness


After enduring years of chronic illness, Ryan Monahan had almost forgotten what it was like to feel good. He battled the kind of exhaustion that made it hard to get out of bed. He celebrated the days when he managed to brush his teeth or send an email. He was so tired that it made him depressed, and being depressed only made him more tired.

The Athens, Georgia, based musician was trapped in the hell of bad health and running out of places to turn. He saw countless doctors. He researched endlessly. He even presented his case to a group of doctors at Yale. He got no answers. He began to lose faith in Western medicine.

“During that winter of my life, I spent countless hours doing all this research and trying to understand how I might be able to approach this differently,” Monahan says. “Because I'd visited so many doctors and just wasn't getting answers.”

It was hard to explain the gravity of his symptoms, and he suspected that many doctors, not to mention friends weren’t taking him seriously. He came close to giving up.

“I was like maybe this is just how it goes; maybe this is just how I feel. But at a certain point I was unwilling to accept that as the baseline. I thought life could be so much better than how it was at that time. I just got fed up and decided to take my health into my own hands.”

He began to research functional medicine, and he sought a more open-minded practitioner. This pursuit led him to Dr. Moon, who is licensed in both Chinese medicine and as a traditional M.D.

On a hunch, Dr. Moon tested Monahan’s thyroid function and discovered what then seemed so obvious — he had Hashimoto Thyroiditis.

This inflammation of the thyroid gland causes fatigue, brain fog, weight gain, digestive issues, muscle aches, and depression — and Monahan had suffered through it all. But the diagnosis alone brought him hope; now that he’d identified what was wrong, he could begin to deal with it.

Dr. Moon placed him on a prescription medication, and at first it brought him enormous relief. For the first time in years, he felt like himself again. He had the energy to do the things he loves. He was able to play music again, and to engage with his friends and community.

But his improvements plateaued and soon his health began to spiral back downward. He returned to his research.

He read “Hashimoto’s Protocol” by Izabella Wentz, and it changed his life. “The revelation that I had is that the thyroid malfunction is not the problem, it's the symptom. It's the result of the problem,” he says.

He learned the hard way that his own body must be treated like the complex, interconnected organism that it is. He discovered a truth that the medical community is embracing more and more: his illness originated in his gut.

“Once your gut becomes permeable through either infections or a poor diet or a combination of those diet and lifestyle factors, suddenly you've got toxins and undigested protein and bacteria leaking through your gut, and it causes your immune system to go on red alert,” he says. “Your immune system can become so overactive that it becomes confused and it starts attacking your body's own tissue — and that can manifest as fibromyalgia; it can manifest as cirrosis; it can manifest as arthritis; it can manifest as an autoimmune thyroid condition — but it all starts in the gut lining.”


Monahan attributes leaky gut (in his own case and the general prevalence of the condition) to our modern lifestyles being far from the how our bodies were meant to exist. “Our genetics are programmed over millions of years to expect certain kinds of food and expect a certain amount of movement and expect to be in line with our circadian rhythms, with cycles of light and dark. So the problem is now we're all sitting in chairs and eating Doritos and staying up well past when the sun goes down and that totally confuses the body.”

Using Izabella Wentz’s book and further research, Monahan began to heal his body. He cut grains, processed foods, and sugar out of his diet. He started eating grass-fed meat and butter, bone broth, sauerkraut — many foods we’ve culturally dismissed in the generations since agricultural industrialization.

“One of the reasons that we're seeing higher instances of chronic disease is that we're just not seeing the same amount of nutrients per calorie as we used to,” Monahan says. “What would happen if you put sand in your gas tank? Your car doesn't run on sand. But that's what we're doing to our bodies.”

After making some big changes, Monahan got his life back. In fact, he felt better than he ever had. He picked back up his musical endeavors and restored his relationships. It impacted everything he did. “Your health is at the bottom of that needs hierarchy. You can't fulfill those mental, emotional, spiritual goals until you have that physical health as the foundation.”

But he observed a pervasive culture of unwellness, and wanted to catalyze a much broader change than just his own. “Most people don't even realize that they could feel so much better, even if you're relatively healthy,” he says.

He became a Functional Diagnostic Nutrition Practitioner and launched a business, The Mindful Nutrivore. He guides clients through intensive diagnostics and helps them reset their lifestyles and diets.

He’s had a profound impact on many of his clients, taking them on the same journey he endured from chronic, crippling illness to better health and energy than ever before.


There are many paradigms Monahan hopes to break as his practice grows. He hopes to open eyes to how our daily choices impact our health. He hopes clients with chronic illness will be treated as a whole person, with all of their systems taken into account.

But perhaps most importantly for his own holistic existence, he hopes to shatter the illusion that being an artist, and especially a musician, means that you have to be unhealthy.

For many professional musicians, there’s no getting around that opportunity comes from a life on the road. Playing dingy bar venues late into the night, for little to no pay, spending hours a day in a van, and sleeping on floor makes healthy choices seem infeasible. But Monahan questions this status quo.

“I really hope that I can do my small part to remove the stigma that you go on tour and eat Taco Bell and drink beer, because it's stupid, and it's not sustainable. And if you want to be a career artist, sooner or later those choices are going to catch up to you,” he says. “To people in the music world, it's almost seen as kind of like a joke. And it's just not funny.”

Monahan is defying the odds himself. He tours the country with his band Easter Island, and he still manages to prioritize his health, even though it isn’t always easy. He packs food thoughtfully, he scopes out places where he knows he can eat well in every city they visit, and he does whatever he can to get good sleep. He even manages to consult his clients while on the road, which serves as a great motivator to walk the walk himself.

“If your goal is really to be a musician, then truly your goal should be to try and share that music with as many people as possible. It takes a lot of stamina,” he says. “You have to be pretty healthy to go on the road and tour and constantly be performing and interviewing.”


Ryan Monahan makes health his top priority. He bravely embraces a lifestyle that flies in the face of what our culture tells us to do. Although at first glance it seems restrictive, it’s actually life-giving.

“I guess what it comes down to is that I'm all about getting the most you can out of life. I don't know what happens after we die, I don't think any of us can answer that for sure, so that kind of motivates me to want to experience everything I can.”

Story by Jodi Cash
Photos by Elliott Fuerniss

Mike Cunningham's 7 Steps to Organic Gardening

Mike Cunningham of Country Gardens Farm talks to Alice Rolls, executive director of Georgia Organics. (Photo by Jodi Cash.)

Mike Cunningham of Country Gardens Farm talks to Alice Rolls, executive director of Georgia Organics. (Photo by Jodi Cash.)

“Growing a little bit of your own food is easier than you think,” Mike Cunningham of Country Gardens Farm told us at a recent Georgia Organics Organic Vegetable Gardening Workshop. Many people think that growing a garden can be difficult, but what about an organic garden? Doesn’t that take a lot more time, money and effort? Mike has been farming organically for 10 years on his farm that has been in the family since the 1940s. He reassured us that it is not only more simple than you might think but very affordable to have your own organic garden. Here are seven steps to having your own successful organic garden.

1. Choose the right location. Your garden will only be “seven steps from your door” if you have a location in your yard that receives ample sunlight. If you are building a raised bed, your soil is composed as you desire, and thus, you only need to set it up in a location that has proper sun. Otherwise, you can till and amend your native soil that has complete sun coverage. 

The majority of garden plants require around 6-8 hours of full sun. This can be tricky in yards with heavy tree coverage, but Mike gave us a good way to remember how much sun your plants will need: “If you grow it for the fruit or the root, you need full sun.” This means that tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, radishes, potatoes etc. will need to be planted in full sun. If your lawn restricts this need, try to find a community garden near you.

If you still want to try it out on your own land, you can follow Mike’s second rule: “If you grow it for the leaves, partial shade is all you need.” Lettuces, kales, etc. may be more appropriate for your yard if sun is limited.

Elm Street Gardens, Sparta, Georgia.

Elm Street Gardens, Sparta, Georgia.

2. Make beds and garden containers. The advantages of where you plant your garden depends on your environment. Say you only have a porch at your apartment. Good news, many tomatoes and peppers will grow well in pots. However, it is important that your vessel is around five gallons in volume (approximately one cubic meter). Some peppers, cucumbers and other plants can adapt to less soil, but most tomatoes will need at least five gallons. 

In general, your plants will need enough soil to excel and produce the most fruit. If you have a yard but you want to contain the soil and disruption to your landscaping, a raised bed is an appropriate option for your garden. Raised beds can be built with just about any material (wood, stone, tin, etc.) except for pressure treated lumber. Four by eight feet is about as large as you want to build your bed; this ensures that you can always reach to the center of the bed. 

Generally, the soil should be around seven inches thick, so it is best to build your bed about twelve inches high. If you choose not to build a bed, your plants will still benefit from a raised bed. This encourages proper drainage and gives your plants the most available topsoil to grow in.

3. Focus on the soil. Mike Cunningham said, “The most important thing for organic farming is the soil.” He explained how the soil acts as the stomach of the plant. In a handful of soil, there are billions of living microorganisms, and much like those found in your stomach, they help to convert nutrients and other elements into energy. 

Essentially, there are two options for your garden soil. The first is starting with the mineral soil (native soil) of your area. If you are using this, you will need to take a core sample of your soil and have it tested to determine the amendments you will need to make. 

The ideal garden soil pH is 6.5. If your soil is too acidic, you will need to add lime. Furthermore, your mineral soil will likely need added organic fertilizers, compost and worm castings (act as a probiotic). 

If you opt to build a raised bed and establish your soil from scratch, you can purchase many of the premixed bags of potting soil that contain peat moss, perlite, and vermiculite (elements that aid in water retention, aeration and nutrient retention). 

You will still need to add compost, worm castings and organic fertilizer to your bed [see bottom for “Mike’s Mix,” a suggested soil mixture]. It is important when adding fertilizers and other soil additives to keep in mind what constitutes an organic garden. For example, organic gardens cannot use synthetic fertilizers. Many of these have chlorine and acids in them that are harmful to mycorrhizae and other fungus that aid plant growth. 

Compost can be composed of cow manure, chicken manure, mushroom compost and others. Furthermore, mulch and leaves can be added on top of your beds to slowly add organic material but also to aid in water retention. 

Full Moon Farm, Winterville, Georgia

Full Moon Farm, Winterville, Georgia

The process of soil correction and optimization can take years if you are using your own mineral soil, but it is still important when using potting soil and compost to keep a vigilant eye on the quality and composition of your soil.

4. Know what to plant, when. It’s not just about location, timing is everything in farming. A beautiful, sun-drenched plot with perfect soil could be for naught if plants or seed are in the ground at the wrong time. 

Planting times are completely contingent on where you live and on the predicted weather for that specific year. For example, Atlanta is in Zone 8a and 7b according to the USDA’s Hardiness Zones. Thus, you should consult weather, temperature and other predictable factors before you plant your garden. 

In general, cool season plants should be planted from March or August to November. Warm season plants should be planted in April. Winter or cool season plants should be planted with protection (plastic covering) in October. Each “season” indicates when the crops are harvested, not planted.

Regarding the approaching warm season garden, check the soil temperature with a thermometer to ensure that it is 65℉ before planting. 

5. Keep your garden hydrated. Leaves and mulch should be added to the top of the soil around plants and in walkways to slowly add organic material to soil, aid in water retention and promote fungal growth. 

Simply using a ground covering that has not been sourced organically makes your operation not organic. For example, hay or straw can have residual synthetic herbicide treatments on it that could harm your crops and decrease the quality of your produce.

A plant should never be watered arbitrarily. Use your finger. If the soil is dry and light, water your plants. If the soil is damp and water can be squeezed from it, wait to water. 

For most open-field plantings in Georgia, the sun will do a pretty good job of drawing the majority of moisture from the soil, so water your plants daily unless a summer thunderstorm soaks them for you. 

6. Protect your garden from harmful pests and diseases. To grow a healthy plant, you need 6-8 hours of sunlight a day, productive soil, compost, mulch and proper watering. But what if you do all that and then the insects and critters decide they want a taste of your crop too?

Plants that don’t need to be pollinated (i.e. leafy greens or plants without flowers), can be covered with a fine mesh to prevent insects and animals from eating them. But if they need to be pollinated, there are a few options for predation prevention. 

Enclosures of chicken wire or fencing are often the only defense against squirrels, rabbits and other small animals that will nibble your plants to death. However, if deer are your public enemy number one, you have a bigger battle to fight. Deer are able to clear fences that are nine feet tall. And yes, by “clear” I mean jump over. “Fly” may be more appropriate. So, tall fences need another layer, a very literal other layer. Mike Cunningham has found that a double fence system seems to work best if you can’t afford a twelve foot fence.

As your garden grows, constant observation of growth is necessary, but further than that, constant monitoring of what insects are interested in your garden is important. Around 90% of insects that you will see in your garden are good for your garden (pollinators, wasps that eat caterpillars), but there are also the enemies that will destroy your garden. Once you have identified the presence of malicious invaders, an attack plan will be needed, and soon.

Even still, it is good to plant flowers that attract beneficial pollinators and insects (try buckwheat, basil, clover, daisies and many others). 

Most synthetic insecticides are blanket killers. This means that when you spray for plant eating moths, you are likely also killing honey bees and good insects as well. But you need to stop the pest before they destroy your garden. There are a few organic options that can be found: organic sprays, dusts, insecticidal soaps, diatomaceous earth, spinosad, organic pyrethrum, neem oil. Always check for target species and proper application. 

Disease can still be a problem in your garden if you’ve effectively controlled all of these other elements. Solutions can range from application of copper, soap and milk to potassium bicarbonate, natural fungus blocker and sulfur. 

7. Enjoy your harvest! Once you start to see your garden begin to produce fruits and vegetables, you will likely rush out to your garden and rip the produce off to show off to your neighbor or wife. But it is imperative (and the reason that harvest is a step to having a successful organic garden and not the end) that you put as much care into your harvest than the rest of your steps.

As soon as your plants begin to produce, harvest in the morning and often. Use a knife or scissors to clip the fruits and vegetables away from the stems. Treat the plants delicately. Don’t allow the fruits and vegetables to get overly large as this is not only taxing on the plants but also diminishes the potentially delicious flavor of your produce. 

Be consistent in your care. Who among us doesn’t like taking care of their pets other than vagrants, criminals and angry old aunts? Your organic garden is your new pet. You can’t just plant it and leave it like you may do with your kid at summer camp. 

Having an organic garden is a lot of work, but presumably you are interested in having your own because you care about where your food comes from, you desire to have a smaller footprint, you hope to minimize the amount of synthetic materials added to the environment at your behest and you love to eat delicious fruits and vegetables. Perhaps, the seven steps necessary to build, plant and tend your organic garden will make you think about all of these things while you discuss life’s big issues over a fresh heirloom tomato and cucumber salad—that you grew.  

This story was made possible by Georgia Organics and based on Mike Cunningham's presentation about the 7 Steps to Organic Gardening. You can learn even more from his book. Check out the Georgia Organics events calendar and the Country Gardens events page for more opportunities to learn about organic food and farming. 

Story by Gresham Cash
Photos by Paige French (except where otherwise noted)


What's in Season: April in Georgia


This is a bountiful moment in a shoulder season. As the weather waivers between cold and hot, staple winter crops remain and favorite summertime foods appear.  But it’s worth appreciating spring for its own distinctive merit — a time when the natural world comes alive again, marked by the chirp of baby birds and flowers in first bloom. It’s fitting that this prolific season can be celebrated with a myriad of produce.

This list includes foods in season in the southeastern region. We are big advocates for eating locally (and this is the time — farmers markets are back in full swing!), but mindful shoppers can also feel at ease when purchasing foods that are at least regional. When in doubt, phone a farmer.


Ground cherries

Captivate the height of strawberry season with our Gluten Free Tomato-Strawberry Pie. We’re not being hyperbolic when we say it might just change your life.


Bok Choy
Celery root
Chili peppers
Fava beans
Garlic scapes
Green onions
Lamb’s Quarters
Mustard greens
New potatoes
Pea Shoots
Snap peas
Snow peas
Summer squash
Sweet Potatoes
Winter squash

While cauliflower, radishes, and greens are still around, try our Roasted Cauliflower Salad.

Story by Jodi Cash
Photo by Paige French


Meet Miss Ethel, Athens Vegetable Apostle

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“I believe in my vegetables,” says Ethel Collins, the 79-year-old visionary of the West Broad Market Garden, who can be found most any day of the week with her hands deep in the community.  

Collins has had a lifelong love for produce. She was born and reared on a farm in the Wilkes County town of Rayle, where her parents were sharecroppers. When she was old enough to cook for herself and her parents, she departed from their normal biscuits and gravy and started working vegetables into their meals. She moved to Athens in the early 1950s and has been an active member of the community ever since. 

Her belief in vegetables took a stronger hold late in life, when she was diagnosed with leukemia. Her doctor suggested that she reevaluate her meal plans to achieve a balanced diet. And it worked. Collins has long since been in remission and attributes her health entirely to the power of eating well.

When Collins caught wind of an organic garden in her Rocksprings neighborhood three years ago, she stopped by to see what she could learn. “What brought me into this garden was the word ‘organic,’” she says. “I wanted to find out what is organic—what’s going on with organic?”
At the time, Fenwick Broyard, now the executive director at Community Connection, was running the West Broad Market Garden that she stumbled upon. The half-acre of land is Athens’ first community-based urban farm (soon to be joined by another Athens Land Trust farm in East Athens). Here, produce is Certified Naturally Grown through bio-intensive growing methods like composting and companion planting.

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Along with his colleagues from the Athens Land Trust, Broyard helped Collins become a fundamental part of the operation, and he taught her how to grow crops organically. As she tells it, “I came in the garden one morning, and I met Fenwick at the gate, and I said to Fenwick, 'You mean to tell me you take all these weeds and all these vines and all this stuff that you can’t sell, you take it and you ground it back up and you mix it up and put it back in the garden, and that’s what you use for fertilizer?' And he said, 'Yeah, that’s what organic is all about.'”
She was astounded. The West Broad Market Garden verified her love for vegetables, and the organic practices pointed toward a higher belief. 

“God didn’t make no junk,” says Collins. “To take what we call junk and to turn it into real life, to put that into the ground and vegetables will come out of it, healthy and ready to eat, that’s what it’s all about.” 

Collins has helped to grow the garden in every way, since it began in 2012. In this time, the garden has produced more than 3,000 pounds of produce, and over 600 of these pounds have been donated to the food ministry of its neighbor, The Light Christian Church. On Saturdays 10 a.m.–2 p.m. and Thursdays 4–7 p.m. during the market season they sell what they’ve grown at the West Broad Farmers Market, 1573 W. Broad St.

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The garden now hosts a composting program where about 400 pounds of vegetable waste and other compostable trash is dropped off by Athens residents and picked up from local businesses, diverting it from collecting uselessly in a dump.  

The garden also provides a place for learning. “Miss Ethel” and her fellow West Broad gardeners teach Classic City High School students involved in the Young Urban Farmer Program how to grow food and run a farming business. Younger local students often visit on field trips to learn what’s going on, and people of all ages are welcome to volunteer in return for learning experiences and produce.

Collins hopes that organic farming can bring good health to her Rocksprings community. “It brings something positive to this neighborhood,” she says, “and I’m gonna be the one to voice that what we need is a clean street.”

Collins says she has witnessed a transformation already and sees fewer people causing trouble in the nearby streets. Instead, people are taking an interest in what’s growing in their backyards. 
The West Broad farmers make a distinct effort to grow foods that their neighbors will enjoy, but they also try to expand their horizons to unfamiliar foods, like kale and eggplant. “But I’ll show them and teach them how to do it, what it’s for, you know?” says Collins. “They’ll get it.” 

Collins also shares vegetables with fellow church members. She cooks for them twice weekly and gives demonstrations of new, approachable ways to prepare what comes out of the garden. She uses these opportunities to take a stance to change the norms of eating in her community. 

“You can do your fast food or whatever, but please for God’s sake keep that balanced meal whole and wholesome,” she says. “Pay attention to what God gave us and how to use it.”

This story appeared originally in Flagpole Magazine

Story by Jodi Cash
Photos by Paige French


What's in Season: March in the Southeast

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For those of us in the Southeastern U.S., March can be a fickle month. When the first day of spring rolls around on the 20th, there’s little telling whether it will be balmy or snow-laden, and often it varies throughout the region. Just before true spring crops are ready for harvest, this month you can count on hearty winter produce to remain in strong supply. And as farmers markets open back up, it's well-advised to simply check with your local growers about the best things to eat this month. (Remember that this is a month, straddling two seasons, in which there are especially drastic differences between what’s growing in Florida versus what can be found in Virginia, etc. ) 


Ground cherries

For an exotic take on a favorite snack, try our Carrot Hummus with Gochujang and Hemp Oil.


Bok Choy
Brussels Sprouts
Celery root
Chili peppers
Fava beans
Garlic scapes
Green onions
Lamb’s Quarters
Mustard greens
Pea Shoots
Snap peas
Snow peas
Sweet Potatoes

What's in Season: February in the Southeast


February marks a turning point in the winter. The dreariest, shortest days fall farther behind with Christmas and winter solstice. But, it's still cold, gray and the crowns of trees are completely transparent. And yet, the earth still provides us with a unique variety of fruits and vegetables. Trucks of citrus stream out of Florida and Texas like milk from a nursing cow. Greens, true winter greens, are widely available. The roots of many of those greens are colorful compliments to any meal. Don't make the mistake of wallowing in self-pity as you dream about the soft fruits and berries that will be available as soon as late-March. Pick up a piece of produce at the store and consult the sticker to find out where it is from. If no sticker is visible, use the encyclopedia in your pocket to determine if that eggplant is in season ("Not yet, put it down"). Most importantly, continue to enjoy the many vegetables widely available in the Southeast in February, and remember to feast on the flood of citrus from Florida to spare it from rotting on the ground.


Lighten up the last of the year's dark winter days with our quick, simple Roasted Cauliflower Salad

Bok Choy
Brussel Sprouts
Green Onions
English Peas
Sweet Potatoes

Story by Gresham Cash
Photo by Paige French

The Sustainable Kitchen: A Guide to Reducing Culinary Waste


Eating has always been a joy of mine; cooking not so much. Times were simpler when I made food solely to feed my own budding appetite — my naïveté in both the kitchen and with the more insidious workings of the food industry made sure of that. You see, so much of our household waste happens in the kitchen, and an inexperienced home chef is an easy culprit for short cuts that quickly add up — negatively impacting both her wallet and the environment. 

Today, after one too many food-based Netflix documentaries, I quell my anxiety by keeping my waste to a minimum and my choices as sustainable as possible. Some choices are easier than others, but bear in mind that we’re always learning and growing. With enough practice, certain inconvenient behaviours will become second nature.

I studied Anthropology at The University of Georgia, so I’ve always felt somewhat in-tune with the concept of sustainability as a community-based endeavour. However, much of what I learned at university wasn’t applicable — or even tangible — in my life until I ventured outside my comfort zone, i.e. the American Southeast. Something that I learned early on in my freshman year is the multi-faceted concept that it’s not just finances that shape your food choices, but also your culture and immediate environment. Take for instance my middle-class childhood: my mother, raised in the Midwest, never once cooked fish in our family home. Assume that we had the resources to purchase such a healthy staple, but understand that even if fresh seafood were readily available that far from the coast, my mother would shy away from preparing it for her children due to her personal aversion. Just as our culture defines our relationship with food, so too does it shape our attitude in sourcing, preparing and consuming it.  

My love of seafood and the marine environment has grown steadily over the last five years, and my affinity for the ocean can be traced through my multiple moves to tropical locales. Grand Cayman is a gem of an island, picturesque with turquoise waters and lush vegetation, located just an easy flight from Atlanta. Super yachts and cruise ships frequent the harbour, and the Ritz-Carlton boasts the Caribbean’s only five star restaurant; the rampant luxury makes this country a true “millionaire’s playground.” Convenience and conformity were the order of the day, however. Recycling facilities were non-existent and conservation wasn’t encouraged. The juxtaposition of a near-obsession with water sports and marine life and a blatant disregard for pollution (the dump caught fire no less than three times during my stay) sat like a lump in my throat; no one made an effort, so why should I? I wanted to, but I didn’t. I had no agency, no outlet and no support.

Australia posed less of a threat to my conscience, as I soon discovered that the country known almost exclusively for its unique coral ecosystem would be more inclusive and encouraging towards a slew of progressive environmental practices and legislation. The friends I made in Sydney were also less apt to toss a cigarette butt on the beach or a beer bottle out of a boat; surrounding myself with like-minded individuals made my attempts at sustainability much more concerted and certainly more frequent. I suddenly found myself cooking and eating with both vegetarians and vegans, and exchanging recipes and banter over dietary choices. Whether for animal rights concerns, environmental sustainability or financial reasons, the choice to consume less meat was a common one in my diverse expat community.     

Making the decision to move back to my partner’s home country of New Zealand was an easy one; how could living in the land of Middle Earth be anything less than magical? Fairy bread aside, Aotearoa is home to some of the most wholesome food in the world. Known for its dairy and agriculture industries, it’s not unusual to receive milk bottles at your doorstep or to serve lamb as a casual weeknight meal. Farming and fishing are more revered than religion, and with such esteemed status comes a nationwide respect and understanding of the complexities of each pursuit. Massive swathes of coastline are marine reserves, and the Department of Conservation has very strict guidelines on bag size and limit. Cattle — both beef and dairy — are grazed in grassy, eternally-green meadows, and supplemented in winter with silage, not corn. There is a general, underlying respect for the welfare of the animals that we consume and a subconscious understanding that we are all operating as an ecosystem; this intimacy with nature limits the detachment (food vs. environment) that I so often see in most western countries.  

While our 100-year-old farmhouse is no off-the-grid ecolodge, New Zealand farmers may have been the original hippies. We aren’t equipped with solar panels (yet!), but we are too far outside of town to be on the water or sewage lines. All of our water is derived solely from rain and piped via gutters into hulking plastic tanks behind our home. My access to a precious resource — once an intangible understanding that it was simply there — has been severely limited. Perhaps more painful, the glaring visual of the water tanks reminds me daily of our dwindling supply.  


Water has never once — save for a brief trip to West Africa — been a pressing concern of mine. However, wasting is easy when you don’t know where it's going. Or where it came from. The Eco Pulse Report on Water (2016) sums it up perfectly: “It's not just that consumers underestimate how much water they use — it's that they simply don't make the connection between the way they personally use water and the potential for a water crisis.  In fact, they have a tough time connecting their own behaviors to their environmental impact in general.”                                                                 

Similarly, I hauled bags and boxes of post-party detritus to the dump recently and was unexpectedly horrified at the sheer ugliness I witnessed. Have you been to a landfill? I don’t mean the sanitized, tidy tours you go on as a primary school student. I mean a 50-acre lot of stained concrete stalls of organised debris. It was utter chaos. The tip was smoggy, and the sound of screeching, belching machinery and hungry, warring seagulls was almost more unbearable than the sight of people’s leftovers. Dozens of obsolete TV’s with once-convex screens, furniture missing vital appendages, and a sea of broken glass as far as I could see. Everything we did — used, ate, wore or read — amalgamated in this hideous collection. It felt desolate, Blade Runner-esque.

I resolved to amend my part in this cycle — to no longer be complicit in the willing degradation of my immediate environment. How could I do this? In what way could I possibly impact the sheer volume of rubbish? By not adding to it, for a start. “Reduce, reuse, recycle" — this is the eco-friendly mantra we are all so familiar with, but a simple starting point for going sustainable. Reduce your consumption, reuse what you can, and always, always recycle. But let’s add another vital step to the alliterative mix: refuse. Say “no thanks” to the plastic bag at the supermarket, or the plastic straw at the local bar. Again, remove yourself from the cycle; there is so, so much we can’t control — but what we can, we should.     

The constant deluge of global issues we are bombarded with can take one down a rabbit hole of consumer anxiety; while a post-apocalyptic world lurks on the edges of our collective imagination, it is important to focus on the enlightenment and progress we are seeing that is necessary to change the course of history. Being a part of such interconnected, grassroots movements can be a salve to the soul and perhaps slowly correct the human trajectory of a ruined planet. Find a local chapter of an eco-organization or have a conversation with a farmer at the local grower’s market; involve yourself in the conversation and be a part of the change.

While I commend those taking baby steps towards sustainability — such as swapping out household cleaners with a natural/biodegradable alternative (indoor air pollution is a thing!) or choosing glass over plastic — I encourage the bravest among you to roll your sleeves up on a weekend and put together a few projects that’ll benefit your home, garden and the wider world for generations to come.



Turn Garbage into Gold: Compost

In Al Gore's eye-opening book "An Inconvenient Truth: The Planetary Emergency of Global Warming and What We Can Do About It," he highlights a startling fact: “when organic waste materials, such as kitchen scraps and raked leaves, are disposed of in the general trash, they end up compacted deep in landfills. Without oxygen to aerate and assist in their natural decomposition, the organic matter ferments and gives off methane, which is the most potent of the greenhouse gasses — 23 times more potent than carbon dioxide in global warming terms. Organic materials rotting in landfills account for about one-third of man-made methane emissions in the United States. By contrast, when organic waste is properly composted in gardens, it produces rich nutrients that add energy and food to the soil — and of course also decreases the volume added to our landfills.” I’d consider the previous quote a pretty substantial introduction as to the importance of eliminating food waste in your home.

Another staple of Kiwi households, the compost bin is a humble tool used to both rid the kitchen of scraps and boost nutrients in the garden. Admittedly, our compost bin is a pre-fab kit from the local hardware shop, but there are a range of styles and sizes to suit any budget or backyard. I’d steer clear of the snazzy tumbler option though, as it’s not significantly speedier at producing compost (as advertised) and doesn’t allow for worms to interact with the contents of the bin (a necessity, in my opinion) — plus it’s one of the more expensive options. A simple three-sided enclosure can be nailed together from a few pieces of scrap wood and you’ll be on your way!

Once your compost bin has been assembled or constructed in a distant corner of your backyard (beware its potential as a pest magnet), it’s time to get the fermentation process started. I keep a giant old Tupperware container under my kitchen sink and pull it out whenever I cook; anything from potato peels to egg shells gets chucked in. I save onion, garlic, carrot, and celery ends in a freezer bag for chicken stock, but most other raw fruit and veggie scraps are safe for the compost bin. Remember to never put meat or dairy products in your compost and avoid anything that’s been cooked in oil. While various yard waste is acceptable to throw into the mix, it’s an especially good idea to keep a pile of grass clippings nearby. This is particularly important if you are going with an open-air design; the grass clippings serve as a thin, protective layer between decaying food and pesky flies — so top it off when necessary. In addition to your scraps pail, another useful accessory for the home composter is a small pitchfork as compost needs to be turned. A few other random bits I toss in my compost bin include un-laminated paper (like newspaper or the toilet roll, but not cereal boxes), hair clippings, and vacuum dust; and while it should be self-evident, never, ever put pet waste in your compost bin. With a steady supply of organic material and a consistent turning, in a few months your compost bin should be producing a dark, loamy soil perfect for supplementing your veggie patch.

You’ll also notice the abundance of worms come to help out the decomposition process, as you have effectively created for them the perfect conditions in which to thrive. Worms have long been known as a gardener’s best friend, and it’s not just because they break down and aerate the soil. Worm poo, or ‘castings’ as they are politely called, are rich in nutrients. It is for that reason that my next eco-friendly home project suggestion is the construction of a worm farm. This is an especially exciting endeavour if you have young children, as it’s not often that you buy worms in a box — or treat them like pets! 

A homemade worm farm requires very little to get started and can easily be added onto later. We purchased two plastic tubs (minimum requirement), but were more concerned about the lid benefits than the size. The containers you choose need to come with sealable lids, and “stackability” is key. I also opted for lighter-colored plastic (but not clear!), as black attracts too much sunlight; too much sunlight means too much heat -and too much heat equates to shriveled worms. I even placed my worm farm in all-day shade (a prime location) when completed, stacked neatly on salvaged bricks (to prevent moisture from decaying the wooden deck underneath).

As for the construction of the unit, start with two same-size containers: one to hold the actual worm habitat and the lower level to catch the castings. As your worm farm grows, you can add upper levels, also full of soil and compost, for the worms to travel through. Again, make sure the tubs fit snuggly together when stacked on top of each other; this is not just for stability, but also to guarantee a more direct route for the castings to pass through the aligned holes in the bottom of the top tub/lid of the lower tub. When drilling holes in the tubs, I have a few trial-and-error recommendations: 1) Stack your boxes in the order that you want them and drill through the bottom of the top tub and through the lid of the bottom tub; this aligns the holes more accurately and saves time. 2) Complete your project on a smooth surface to allow for easy clean up; the abundance of plastic shavings might entice hungry birds/rodents if not disposed of properly. 3) Don’t bother with a precise grid pattern; I tired quickly of this and just made sure no hole was more than half an inch from another.

Once complete and cleared of any debris, I filled my upper tub with roughly ¾ potting soil and sifted a few handfuls of compost throughout (just to add extra nutrients — but you can skip this step if you don’t have any on hand — just don’t use solely compost to begin with). Further, make sure you don’t fill the tub to the brim — you’ll need room to feed your worms! Release your pre-purchased (or garden-sourced) worms into their new home, briefly water the soil (think moist, not wet), and cover with a “worm blanket” before putting the lid on the unit. Some worm farm kits come with a burlap rectangle to fit snuggly over the soil, but I simply moistened thin strips of cardboard from my recycle bin, and overlapped the paper until the soil was covered. The purpose of this step is to not only keep moisture in, but to keep the flies at bay. The warmth, moisture, and presence of decaying food is a big draw for other bugs, but as long as your soil/food scraps are covered, and the lid is closed snuggly, you should only see earth worms in your worm farm!

As for feeding them, I generally save the “better” food scraps from the compost container under my counter for the worm farm. Think sweet — fruit pieces or vegetable peels — not sour or harsh (i.e. no citrus or aromatics). The worms don’t need to be fed often, a handful once a week or so, but be sure to place food under the “worm blanket” or under a bit of soil; rotate the location of the feeding spot every time, just to get the worms moving throughout the bin. Check every few days that the soil stays moist, that there aren’t any stray worms floating in the lower bin, and that you aren’t growing a pumpkin patch by accident. After a few months, you should begin to see dark liquid collecting in the lower bin. This black gold is like magic in your garden -collect and distribute where required. When you’ve got your compost bin, worm farm, and chickens up and running — consider your home and garden a mini ecosystem; everything works in synchronicity.




Keep Your Own Chickens

Over the past half-year, I have come to adore the four hens we call pets. They are clever, curious animals, and the blatant hierarchy amongst them is fascinating. Our recent move to the countryside allowed us the space to let our girls roam free; aside from the hesitation to go barefoot now, we don’t regret our decision. They have access to much more land — meaning shady spaces to scratch for worms and bugs, sandy spots to wriggle and nap in dust, and plenty of luscious grass to munch and scratch. The added nutrients — namely protein — from the multitude of discovered bugs gives their eggs a vibrant orange yolk. I am forever amazed at the daily uniqueness of each egg: in colour, shape and texture. There are the occasional abrasive calcium ridges or an interesting ring of white on an otherwise caramel-colour egg. Nonetheless, I find myself eager to collect the four eggs each morning and I’m forever scanning endless recipes for new and exciting ways to use eggs in the kitchen.

My partner and I were in agreement from the beginning about what to feed and how to treat our hens. We opted for a ‘scratch & lay’ mix, as opposed to the more commonplace pellets. We liked knowing what our girls were getting, and visually calculating the composition of ingredients. In addition to seeds and grains, chicken feed is recognizable for its calcium content — often in the form of crushed oyster shells. In addition to these rough pebble-sized bits necessary for shell development, they are accompanied by an insoluble grit. Lacking teeth, chicken require the consumption and brief storage of grit to aide in the digestive process. As our hens are free-range, they find small rocks and sand quite easily on their own. Equally as important as their food, chickens require a fair amount of water to survive. Quite meticulous in their cleaning process, I find that the girls not only drink water regularly, but they also use their water dispenser to rinse their beaks.

Chickens, though long domesticated, are quite hardy creatures, and often found wild and thriving in the bush. While some say we might spoil our birds, there are a few basic requirements I’d say are necessary for proper care. If you aren’t able to provide a fully “free range” environment like we’ve been able to do, at minimum I believe household chickens should have a ‘run.’ This is a relatively small, enclosed (but open-air) space outside the actual coop. While there are no natural predators here in New Zealand (leaving me a bit lax in their protection), I would strongly recommend making the run — and the henhouse for that matter — completely predator proof.

As for the coop itself, there is a relatively easy equation for deciding the dimensions of your coop relative to the number of chickens you want to house (consult Google), but I’m a firm believer in the more outdoor space they have, the less room they need indoors. Minimum requirements would suggest that the place where they sleep is separate from where they lay for the sake of hygiene; regardless of the size of your flock though, you’ll often find that they have a favorite nesting box — and that they’ll wait patiently for their turn in line. So do make sure that there are at least two nesting boxes, but more than adequate roosting space (their preferred sleeping location). Roosting space can also be provided in the run (in the form of large branches or logs), but chickens will need a safe, known location to sleep indoors. Twilight is an enjoyable time of day to observe your hens. As the light fades, they will slowly make their way to the henhouse and put themselves to bed — in order, of course.

While most of your kitchen scraps will make their way to the compost bin or worm farm, it is beneficial to get your hens familiar with fresh food as well. They often refuse anything other than feed in the beginning, but withhold a bit of their pellets or grains, and they’ll eventually be hungry or brave enough to eat offcuts of veggies or fruit. Unlike the compost bin, chickens can consume meat scraps (they love fish offcuts!), but don’t feed your flock anything mouldy or spoiled. Our girls are very well fed, between their feed, grazing, and bits and pieces from the kitchen; as such, they are very friendly and forward with their attention and affection.

Chickens aren’t an easy, self-reliant pet; they require daily feeding and watering, along with egg collection. Further, they are prone to minor hiccups that can quickly turn to major issues — things like mites or soft eggs can lead to more serious complications if untreated. Regular cleaning of the coop is also a commitment that many don’t anticipate, but like any labor-intensive endeavor — the benefits you reap make the effort worth it!


Waste Reduction in the Kitchen & Throughout the Home…

Applying sustainability practices in your own home can seem a bit daunting, as the learning curve is long and often painful — and living in a nation that finds caretaking your surroundings as a revolutionary concept certainly doesn’t ease the stress of going against the grain. Groupthink is a scary reality, but if you can start your own positive trends, you can see small, but meaningful change. Just note that what is often (initially) the most personally inconvenient choice may be the more conscientious or considerate option for the greater good; think of your actions as one of a global citizen doing good for his or her fellow earthlings.

What follows is a hodgepodge of advice and trial-and-error attempts (collected over years and across countries) at reducing my household consumption of resources and production of waste. Bear in mind that my partner and I reside in rural New Zealand; our immediate environment is most likely drastically different from the average reader’s — in physical landscape, policy decisions, and the pop culture approach to conservation. Apply what you can and alter what you need; what works for us may not suit your lifestyle, but we were once big-city dwellers too — the road to sustainability is a process!


My Kitchen Rules — basic guidelines that determine my shopping, cooking and waste disposal choices:

  • NO plastic.

  • Remember that water is a finite resource.

  • Make or take your own.

  • Plan and budget.


Breaking it down further…


  • This instead of that:

    • The less packaging the better!

      • Buy bulk instead of single-serve.

      • Choose loose produce (bring your own mesh bag) instead of pre-packaged.

    • Choose glass over plastic (for single-use containers/packaging).

      • It’s easier to recycle (glass can be recycled, whereas plastic can only be down-cycled),

      • healthier for you (plastic leaches chemicals into your food),

      • and a great option to reuse the container.

        • There’s a store-brand lime marmalade that I only use once in a blue moon (secret ingredient to a perfect Thai green curry!), but I purchase specifically for the cut-glass look of the softball-size jar

      • If you must use plastic, reuse an old take away container or washed yogurt pot — never buy new Tupperware; most new plastic is virgin, or newly made, as opposed to manufactured from recycled materials. Not only does this mean useful material that could’ve been repurposed is in the landfill, but also that resources had to be wasted in order to manufacture a brand new object.

    • Avoid aluminium:

      • Glass > canned food: better for you, better for the environment.

      • I always buy my tomato sauce or puree in a jar; not only is this better for your health (the acid in tomatoes breaks down the lining of the can), but the glass container is the perfect size and shape for large batches of chicken stock.

      • Make your own beans and lentils from a dried state — better tasting, no preservatives, less waste AND cheaper.

    • Metal, wood or silicon > plastic kitchen utensils: (better for you, better for environment, and they last longer).

  • Useful tools:

    • Containers: Again, avoid plastic and invest in glass if you can, or metal (I love metal bento boxes for lunches); however, I try to avoid buying new — either try to repurpose previously used containers or dig for unique treasures at a thrift store (some of my best kitchen utensils, cookware, and appliances are second-hand).

    • Serving dishes and tableware: choose ceramic, metal, glass, wood or other natural fiber over plastic; I realize picnic or camping use calls for indestructible items, but enamelware is a trendy alternative that I adore.

    • Standard kitchen rolls, such as cling film, baking paper and paper towels can be easily (if reluctantly) replaced with reuseable alternatives; thanks to beeswax wraps, a silicon baking sheet and an abundance of multi-purpose tea towels, my kitchen trash can is often empty for days.

    • Stock your purse, backpack, suitcase or car with the essentials to prevent any impulsive purchases: a (glass or metal) water bottle and coffee cup are key, but even having utensils (cutlery, chopsticks, drinking straw) on hand prevents unintentional wastage.

    • Reusable shopping bags — this is one of the easiest changes!

  • Accountability for waste:

    • Recognize that when purchasing anything from a shop, you are not just buying the product, but also the packaging. The onus to dispose of such waste (often hard to recycle soft plastics) is now on you, the consumer. Discuss with the shopowner or attendant, search for the better choice (i.e. loose onions vs. bagged), and declare your discontent on social media. We’ve all seen what organizing for action can do; don’t be afraid to exercise your voice. If you think something needs to be done in your community, weigh in.

    • Consider every dollar a “vote.” Companies and corporations generally have an ethos, albeit often for PR reasons; however, choose your allegiance wisely and make every effort to go for the product from the company who uses recycled packaging, sources local goods, keeps manufacturing as green as possible, and who supports progressive labor or environmental movements and policy.

    • Check with your local recycle center about whether or not they accept soft plastics (our supermarket here accepts old plastic shopping bags and other soft plastics), and whether or not they would consider it with enough support. With this service available to us, almost nothing in our house goes in the trash!

  • Seasonal and professional:

    • How many times do you hear “buy local”? It’s a good rule of thumb to follow, not just because it puts money into the local economy, but because the food didn’t have to travel far to reach you (meaning less resources wasted in transport AND much fresher because it travelled a shorter distance).

    • Americans have food — regardless of season — available at the drop of a hat. The proliferation of hothouse produce makes choosing seasonal fruit and veg a difficult endeavor, but give it your best shot. Buying produce in season saves your wallet, and also encourages experimentation in the kitchen when resources are low.

    • One of the best pieces of advice I have encountered in my voracious consumption of cook-books, food documentaries, and chefs’ biographies is that you should run your home kitchen like a professional kitchen: as in, like a tight ship. I don’t mean to say that only the best ingredients will do, but that you need to be smart about what you buy and how you cook. Use fewer random ingredients — or if you need something unique, make sure you put it to good use throughout the week. Use more of the food you buy — like peeling and chopping the stalk of the broccoli (as opposed to just consuming the florets), saving the rind of a hard cheese to flavor your risotto (chuck the parmesan rind in the freezer until needed, cook to recipe, and discard before serving), and using the stems of cilantro during the cooking process (vs. only using the leaves for garnish). Use meal planning religiously — this will prevent unnecessary purchases and also prevent wasted food down the track. Make your own — sauces clutter our fridges and are often a hidden source of sugar and preservatives. Master a few easy sauces (béchamel, gravy, aioli, balsamic reduction) and you’ll never buy packet products again! I am also a huge proponent of homemade spice mixes — try to buy one new spice jar on every shopping trip, and soon you’ll have an envy-inducing collection; I find spices can turn an otherwise sad assortment of pantry staples into a delectable meal. Don’t be afraid of frozen foods! Frozen foods are flash-frozen immediately after harvest, so they are often more nutritionally valuable than some fresh fruit and veg that have already begun the decomposition process on the shelf. This is often a more affordable option for certain foods (berries, for instance), and is a great back up when a last-minute trip to the supermarket for fresh produce isn’t an option. Some of my favorite frozen foods include free-flow spinach (for anything from smoothies to spaghetti Bolognese), frozen green beans (for curries), and peas or corn (a quick side dish in a pinch).

  • Resources:


In today’s ultra-modern world, it's incredibly time consuming and often inconvenient to “go green.” There are certainly companies out there that have jumped on the sustainability bandwagon and with clever marketing have made conscientious consumption more attainable. Do your research. Decide what works for you and implement small changes throughout your life where possible. I do believe that it is a process, so don’t beat yourself up for not being the perfect hippie just yet. The path of least resistance is just that — so make the unpopular choices and be a revolutionary in your own home, and perhaps you will influence the community around you.

Story and illustrations by Sarah Belcher





On Reading and Drinking to Be Seen

readingtobeseen (3 of 3).jpg

When I was very young — probably about six or seven — my mother taught a life-drawing class at an all-female college. She was a single mother, and so I would often go with her across the mountain to model for the class. A group of about 30 women would stand behind easels in a circle around me as my mother arranged me seated, standing, and then laying down. When I told her that it was really, really boring, and therefore hard for me to sit/stand/lay still, she’d let me read while I posed. But then my hands, flicking pages, interrupted the sketch’s stillness. It was decided that I could have the book, but that I couldn’t turn the page. One day I remember I had my favorite childhood book — "Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea" — and I read of the same 7,000 fathoms over and over and over again. 

Ever tried to read at a bar? Perhaps due to my personal history of reading-to-be-watched, I can’t do it. The paper in front of my face makes all of the people around me all the more interesting. Even the baseball on the TV is suddenly so fascinating. And I hate sports. And I also love books. So this is saying something. Sometimes I can’t even read when I’m alone. I feel totally watched. I have to isolate myself, however insufficiently, like a cat retreating into a cardboard box that actually sits in the same house he’s scared of. 

I guess what I’m trying to say is — what if you were to embrace the performativity of reading? What if you were to drink not what fits the mood of the book, but to consider what beverage makes the most hilarious, apt or curious juxtaposition between you, the book and the drink itself?

A few months ago, I saw a photo of Paris Hilton reading Sun Tzu’s "The Art of War." It turns out that the photos were part of a promo shoot for the 2006 VMAs, which was the same year that I went as “dead Paris Hilton” for Halloween. I wore zombie makeup, a blonde wig and a pink miniskirt. I was 12. I digress. It’s a Gemini thing. Anyways, this photo of Paris had me thinking of all the ways in which books can act as props.

Towards the end of my time in high school I would recline in the direct sunlight of a UVA garden, drink black coffee, cross and uncross my legs in the shortest shorts and read the collected works of the Marquis de Sade from behind my extra-extra-large sunglasses. I wanted to be seen. No one saw me. But that’s a good thing; it turns out that de Sade’s a really nasty guy and the schoolmarms aren’t lying about that. Due to my pose-reading I read about a page per hour and that was enough. 

For pairing: Try "Lady Chatterly’s Lover" and a dirty martini. "The Ballad of the Sad Cafe" and a stout. "In Cold Blood" and, hell, a Bloody Mary.

Words by Ryan Murphy
Photographs by Jodi Cash

What's in Season: January in the Southeast


If you’re anything like us, perhaps this New Year brought a resolution of eating both seasonally and locally. It’s not always easy, particularly in the winter months when so many of our favorite foods aren’t being grown in the Southeastern region. Nonetheless, it’s a worthwhile effort, and with a little planning and creativity, you can make the foods that January has to offer go a long way. As always, what’s available varies from state to state and even changes within the scope of a month.


An exceedingly cold winter in the South calls for soups, stews and other warming meals — we recommend our Winter’s Bounty Stew.

Bok Choy
Brussel Sprouts
Sweet Potatoes