Follow-up Story in the GR Press

Yesterday I had another great interview with Beth Loechler of the Grand Rapids Press. She wrote a follow-up story for the end of my $30 for 30 days project. It is another great piece. For those who don’t have time to read the article, I’m going to excerpt the awesome list she put together from my pictures and posts:

Spending only $30 for 30 days of food meant stretching dollars, foraging for plants and bartering for a few things. Here’s how Maria did it:

• Peanut butter 2.58
• Corn tortillas 1.19
• Evaporated milk 3.06
• Macaroni 1.19
• Brown rice 2.98
• Pinto beans 1.29
• Oatmeal 3.98
• Carrots 1.68
• Bread 1.49
• Cheese 1.89
• Salsa 1.49
• Tea bags 1.49
• Lentils 1.09
• Soybean oil 1.99
• Onions 1.09
• Apple .90
• Spices .45
Total $29.83

Bartered: Eggs, wine, maple syrup, peppers, home-canned pears, potatoes and black beans, all harvested and produced in Michigan.

Foraged: Dandelions, daylilies and wild garlic, onion and leeks.

Thanks, Beth for the great coverage and Lori for taking the photograph.

Hope to see you all at the Open House today!!!

May 9, 2008 at 1:32 pm 1 comment

You’re Invited to My Open House – Plus More Media

The countdown is on – only 2 more days to go before the end of my $30 for 30 days experiment! The staff at Blandford Nature Center & Mixed Greens has been hard at work in the background coordinating a celebratory open house for Friday and you’re all invited.

 Where: The Blandford Farm Blandford Nature Center, 1715 Hillburn Ave NW, Grand Rapids, MI 49504

When: Friday 4:00-6:00pm

Will There Be Food: Oh, my, yes! Thanks to my friend and co-worker Ashima Saigal’s help, we will have some tasty goodies from Marie Catrib’s. If you’ve ever had Marie’s food you know it’s worth an appearance :O

So, if you’ve wanted to meet the crazy person behind this project and the awesome staff supporting her, learn more about all the great programs at the farm, nature center and in the schools, make a donation in person, sign up to become more involved, or just spend a nice afternoon walking the nature trails and seeing the progress at the farm, come on out! It’s going to be lots of fun…



I also have a couple more media appearances coming up. On Friday you can hear interviews with me and Sarah Erlewine of Blandford & Mixed Greens on WGVU 88.1 at 9:06 am (precisely!). You can listen live at their website.

Also on Friday, Sarah and I will be on Catalyst Radio on WYCE 88.5 at noon. They also have a listen live option.

There are a couple more possibilities. I’ll keep you posted as they happen.

May 7, 2008 at 12:30 pm 3 comments

Jack Johnson is Going to Match Your Donation!!

logo[1]blue I’m very excited to announce that Blandford Nature Center & Mixed Greens has established a partnership with Jack Johnson (the former pro surfer turned musician, and man behind the Curious George movie soundtrack) and his new All At Once  organization. This is great exposure for their programs, especially because they will have a place in the Village Green at Jack’s concert at the DTE Energy Music Theatre in Clarkston, MI.

What’s even better for Rice, Beans & Mixed Greens is that All At Once is going to match every donation made online or at the concert dollar for dollar up to $2,500. This means that any donation you can make online will be doubled! This project alone could result in $5,000 of funds going to:

  • Teach kids about gardening and nutrition
  • Provide access to the natural environment
  • Continue a strong farming tradition in a city of 500,000 people
  • And lots more stuff I haven’t even learned about yet!

This matching funds opportunity actually extends through September 14, but it would be so cool if we could get to the $2,500 mark by the end of this week! I hope all of you who are able will contribute to these efforts.

Hungry for a Good Cause,

May 5, 2008 at 7:02 pm 1 comment

Can $30 of Food Keep You Alive for 30 Days?

Since the beginning of this challenge, there has been some tension between people who think that my bartering for local food is “cheating” (Hi, Mitch Albom!) and people who were concerned that it would be impossible to survive without the extra calories and nutrients I have been getting. Considering that I work as researcher, I figured I would let the data do the talking on this issue. Since I have saved the receipts from every item I’ve purchased during this challenge, I have been able to add up the cost of everything I’ve purchased with my $30 and used either the package information or Fitday to calculate the total calories those items contain. Here are the results:

30 Days Calories 

As you can see, I was able to purchase enough food to average 1,382 calories per day. I’m a pretty small person, so I could definitely survive for 30 days on this. It would be the equivalent of a weight loss diet. The major problem is that the nutrition profile of this diet is pretty out of whack. As you’ll notice, the only fruits and vegetables I was able to purchase were carrots, 1 apple, 2 onions and a jar of salsa. My only dairy was evaporated milk (yuck!) and not quite a pound of actual cheese. The item I labeled “Fake Cheese” is made mostly from hydrogenated vegetable oil (yuck!).

One interesting fact I wanted to point out is that this list consists of food that is quite healthy – oats, brown rice, legumes, etc. – and items that are completely artificial. It’s a strange juxtaposition that I’ve been trying to work within. Unfortunately, most whole foods are priced out of this extreme budget. Even inexpensive vegetables like lettuce, cabbage, and frozen broccoli just don’t provide enough calories per dollar to justify their purchase in this scenario.

So What’s the Verdict?

I think it’s possible for someone to survive on $30 for a month if:

  • they have transportation to low cost stores
  • they are pretty healthy going into the month
  • they aren’t too much bigger than me and don’t have to do lots of manual labor

I still say Don’t Do It! This is not a safe or sane weight loss strategy or budgeting strategy. If a person was really in a position where he or she only had $30 for food for the month, I would definitely recommend a food pantry or other sources of additional food.

I will say, however that living on $1 per meal or $21 per week seems like an attainable goal. That level of budget leaves room for more vegetables, fruit, and probably even some meat – if you’re in to that sort of thing🙂

May 4, 2008 at 7:09 pm 3 comments

Week 3 Update

It’s the homestretch and I’m happy to report that I’m still doing well. Topics covered in the video:
*weight loss and exercise
*monotony in my diet
*new fundraising opportunity
*open house on May 9

May 2, 2008 at 5:03 pm 2 comments

Urban Food Deserts: Problems and (Partial) Solutions

From the beginning of Rice, Beans & Mixed Greens, I’ve been bothered by one overriding advantage available to me – I have a car. Having access to reliable transportation and the funding to keep it fueled up is a huge resource that isn’t available to many people. In particular people that live in inner cities.

As one commenter, Steve, rightly pointed out:

If a person in the category of working poor only had enough money for $30 of food in a month, and the rest is spoken for regarding such things as gas to get to work, utilities, rent/mortgage, etc. Wouldn’t all the running around you do to find ways to get extra natural foods or extra cheap foods, also use a significant amount of gasoline more than would be expected of a person living on very meager funds?

Steve is absolutely correct. I have shopped at 4 different stores this month. That is about 3 more than I would ordinarily shop at. In order to make my $30 stretch as far as possible, I have learned where to find rice, bread, oats, and more at the best price. More importantly, I have been able to get to those spots. I’ve also visited many people for barters and done some searching for forages items.

Locations of Grocery Stores in Grand Rapids Unfortunately, many inner cities in the U.S. and other parts of the world lack real grocery stores. By “real” grocery store I mean a shop that sells fresh and frozen fruits, vegetables, meat and dairy products. These areas are known as “food deserts” and they are a growing problem as locally owned grocery stores continue to be pushed out of business by large chains.

Grand Rapids is no exception to this trend. As you can see from this map (prepared by the Community Research Institute, where I happen to work), there are many places in the inner city of GR that don’t have a full-sized grocery store.* The result is that neighborhood residents often do most of their shopping at convenience and liquor stores, where they pay a premium price for processed food.

Each circle on the map represents a store of some type. The larger the circle is, the higher priced the store. As you can see, most of the small circles (the most affordable stores) are located far outside of the core urban area. Several of them are not accessible by bus. Some would only be accessible to most inner city residents by changing busses 2 or 3 times, which could take hours. Instead of enduring this, many residents choose to shop at the corner store and frequent fast food restaurants for cheap calories.

How Do We Solve This Problem?

If we start with the assumption that all people need to have access to fresh foods, it’s clear that food deserts are a huge issue. They contribute to the combination of malnutrition and obesity that is a national public health issue. Fortunately, there are many strategies that cities and community members are taking to make fresh food accessible in inner cities. Here are a few:

  • Farmers Markets. The city of Grand Rapids and many neighborhood associations sponsor farmers markets throughout the city. This is great, except that the growing season is less than year-round in the Upper Midwest. Most the farmers markets are only open for 4 or 5 months and others that are available longer than that feature lots of non-food vendors. In addition, as far as I know, on the Southeast Side market accepts bridge cards (food stamps), making them less accessible for very low-income residents.
  • Community Gardens. Again these are helpful resources, but far from a comprehensive solution in a northern community. Aside from the short growing season, there seem to be few resources to teach people HOW to garden. If anyone has information about this, please share in the comments.
  • Food Co-ops. I don’t know of a member-owned grocery co-operative in Grand Rapids, but there are a few large cities that have had success with these. Detroit’s Cass Corridor Food Co-op has been in existence since 1972. They carry a wide variety of organic and non-organic fruits, vegetables,  meat, dairy and specialty foods. In general, co-ops are less expensive sources of food because all profits stay within the membership. They also often have opportunities for members to work in the store in exchange for a discount on purchases.
  • Community Supported Agriculture. A CSA is a farm that sells “shares” of its crops to a certain number of families or individuals. In exchange for a fee, the members of the CSA get their share of whatever the farm produces. Many CSAs provide large varieties of organic of low-chemical produce for reasonable fees. In addition, some offer home or central city delivery. In Grand Rapids, Trillium Haven Farm’s CSA delivers produce to the Fulton Street Farmer’s market. They also offer a reduced fee in exchange for work for low-income families. Of course produce deliveries are limited to the growing season.

All of these options provide at least some level of access to fresh food in the inner city. However, even when they are all combined, they simply don’t have the capacity to solve the issue of food deserts. In the end, communities have to find ways to attract grocery stores in low-income neighborhoods. Until grocery stores are no longer the major supplier of food in our country (and I can’t forsee that happening in my life time), they are the most comprehensive solution to food deserts.

*If you would like a copy of the full map, send me an email at ricebeansmixedgreens (at) yahoo (dot) com and I’ll send it to you.

May 1, 2008 at 8:41 pm 4 comments

How to Cook Wild Food

Over the past 2 1/2 weeks I’ve been improvising with a small variety of wild foods such as dandelions, wild onions/garlic/leeks (they all look the same to me), chickweed and daylilies. Because these ingredients aren’t usually found on American dinner plates, I’ve had to be a little creative in the way I’ve used them. I also have a very limited number of other ingredients available, which makes it even more of a challenge. Fortunately desperation and hunger can really be creative drivers and I’ve been able to come up with a couple of recipes that have become staples of my limited diet.

Safety First

As a disclaimer, let me warn you that not everyone can safely eat weeds. Like anything else, food allergies are possible. In addition, I’ve been told by some wise elders that in the days before refrigeration, people often ate spoiled food throughout the winter. Eating spring greens was a way for these people to “purge” some of the toxins and crawly things that accumulated in their bodies over time.

I’ve been fine on this diet. You may not be. Proceed at your own risk.

Also, please consult my video in Dandelions – The Dirty Truth for some tips and safety advice on cleaning and prepping these types of plants.

Weed Fried Rice


  • 1 cup cooked rice (day old rice is best)
  • 1-2 cups wild greens such as dandelions, chickweed, daylilies, lamb’s quarter, wild onions, etc.
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tablespoon oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Sauté the greens in hot oil for a minute or two until they have cooked down and softened a bit. Add the rice and stir. Crack the egg and add it to the whole mixture. Stir and season.

I like this one. It’s quick, easy and pretty nutritious.

3 Ingredient Potato “Pancakes”

  • 2 medium potatoes
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 medium onion, or substitute wild onion, daylilies or any other combination of wild greens on hand, chopped
  • 1/4 cup oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Scrub and shred the potatoes. Include the skin. You can’t afford to waste any good eatin’! Let the shredded potatoes sit in a colander with a bit of salt on them for 10-15 minutes. This will pull the water out of them.

After they are drained, add the potatoes to a boll and mix in the chopped greens and eggs. Add salt and pepper and beat it together.

Heat oil in a frying pan until a sliver of potato sizzles. Using a soup ladle or small measuring cup, scoop up the potato and egg mixture and place the scoops in the frying pan. Wait until the edges are starting to brown (up to 10 minutes) before flipping. Place on a paper towel to drain. Eat while wishing you could afford ketchup!

Pinto Beans, the Old Fashioned Way

Dried beans have been a major food source for me during the project. As a vegetarian, I’m accustomed to eating them fairly often, although I think I’ll be taking a break after this is over! However, I realize that not everyone knows how to cook dried beans. If you like to eat beans at all, I encourage you to give this a try. It doesn’t take a lot of active prep time and you have a lot more control over texture and sodium level than you do using canned beans.


  • 2 cups (about 1lb) pinto beans
  • 1 tablespoon baking soda
  • Seasoning to taste. I usually use some combination of chili seasonings, but you can play around with other flavors if you like. Non-vegetarians often use a bit of ham or bacon as a seasoning and serve the beans with cornbread.

Place the beans on a large plate or other flat surface. Pick out any stones, shriveled beans, or funny colored beans. Rinse the beans thoroughly. The WILL have dirt on them.

Put the beans in a much larger bowl than you think you’ll need. Fill the bowl about 3/4 of the way from the top. Let the beans soak. I really recommend a 24 hour soak if possible. This softens the beans, making them quicker cooking. In addition a longer soak releases more of the sugar with are the culprits behind the “distress” some people get from this magical fruit! If you are going to do that, put a lid on the container and store it in your refrigerator. Also, change the water at least once if you get a chance.

Thoroughly rinse the soaked beans and place into a large pot with a lid and the baking soda. Cover the beans with water and about 2″ of extra water on top. Cook the beans over high heat until they boil. Quickly turn the heat down to a simmer and let the beans cook for 1 hour. Add seasonings and let the beans cook for another hour.

At this point your beans should be tender, almost falling apart. If they aren’t continue to cook them for another hour. At the end of the process you will have what amounts to a thick bean soup. If you’d like, you can drain the water off the top, or you can leave it and package it up that way. It will continue to thicken for a couple of days. Place any beans that you won’t finish within 4 days into the freezer.

Of course, don’t forget to add some delicious weeds to enhance your bean experience!

Now It’s Your Turn

I’m sure there are much better wild food recipes than I’ve shared here. If you have suggestions, please share in the comments, or email them to me at ricebeansmixedgreens (at) yahoo (dot) com.

April 30, 2008 at 7:43 am 4 comments

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