The Afikomen Project
Coming Home to Nature’s Garden
The Afikomen Project is a public wild foods education program. Our goal is to have, by 2030, every child in the United States be able to safely identify and harvest the ten most common wild foods in their area. As of 2016, we are completing Phase I, a pilot program in Asheville, NC, and seeking funding for Phase II: developing foraging curriculum materials and a science teacher continuing education program.
The Afikomen Project is the first widespread foraging training initiative in the world. It is based on the well-known proverb, “give people fish and they eat for a day; teach them to fish, and they eat for a lifetime.” We believe that being able to feed yourself from nature is, as much as math and literacy, a basic skill. By teaching children to forage “for food and profit,” we are promoting national food security and establishing sustainable local economies at the same time.
Since hunger is closely related to poverty, The Afikomen Project establishes local markets for surplus produce, and this, in turn, funds the project. These wild foods markets serve as a ready outlet for young foragers’ “catch of the day,” building their self-worth and regional food independence at the same time. In other words, whatever food the children don’t use to feed their families is sold at market. These wild foods markets are staffed by project-trained experts to ensure proper identification and quality control. Proceeds from the sale of this produce, in turn, pay for future classes.
This local, closed-loop economy is based on the quintessential renewable resource: the bounty of nature. It offers a lasting, effective solution to both food scarcity and unemployment. Foraging feeds people, not through continued dependence on unsustainable industrial agricultural systems, but through community self-reliance. Foraging doesn’t just create jobs; it creates self-employment. This is true American independence.
Being an outdoor education and nutrition program, The Afikomen Project addresses childhood obesity, diabetes prevention, nature deficit disorder, and more. Through foraging, children gain sunshine, exercise, wholesome food, and a sense of home. They contribute both to their family and their community, building their sense of self-worth in the process. Or would you rather our children just play video games?
I praise the mushrooms for keeping my kids off their iPads and game boys for a whole day!!!
Jackie Siegel, The Queen of Versailles
The Afikomen Project’s pilot city is Asheville, North Carolina. Asheville is situated in The Katuah Bioregion, the richest temperate ecosystem on earth. With over one hundred common local wild edibles, all free for the taking, Asheville sits in a veritable “Garden of Eden.” Yet Asheville also has the third worst hunger problem in the country. The Afikomen Project addresses this incongruity with an obvious, permanent solution: by empowering local families to feed and fend for themselves.
The Afikomen Project currently works with two local wild foods purveyors, James Armbruster and The Asheville Wild Foods Market. Armbruster sells wholesale to restaurants and the market sells retail to the general public through its tailgate outlet.
Armbruster runs a buyers club similar to Community Supported Agriculture (CSA). Members place a standing order for a certain quantity of whatever is collected in a given category each week, e.g., 5# wild mushrooms and 5# wild greens. One week they might receive chickweed and chanterelles; another week, boletes and lambsquarter. The other wild food categories are flowers, fruit, nuts, seeds, and roots (see product list by type).
As of 2015, The Afikomen Project has worked with Asheville Middle School, Hall Fletcher Elementary, Carolina Day School, and the Asheville YMCA (see photos on this page and here). We have been invited to work with Owen High School and the four other Asheville city elementaries as well.
The Afikomen Project is endorsed by:
- Dr. Andrew Weil, world-renowned pioneer and best-selling author in the field of integrative medicine
- James A. Duke, PhD, thirty-year economic botanist for the USDA, advisor to The World Health Organization and The National Cancer Institute, and author of over twenty-five books, including The Green Pharmacy and Peterson’s Field Guide to Medicinal Plants
- Nathalie Dupree, author of fifteen cookbooks and host of nine cooking shows, three-time James Beard award-winner, Grande Dame d’ Escoffier, and 2013 French Master Chefs Woman of the Year
- Ashley Christensen, 2014 James Beard Best Chef of the Southeast
- Sandor Katz, author of Wild Fermentation
- Aurelia Kennedy, Founder, Nantahala Outdoor Center, the largest outdoor recreation company in the nation
- Jeremy Seifert, Director, GMO OMG, is filming his next documentary on our work
- Jerry Mintz, Executive Director, Alternative Education Resource Organization
Mike Keenan, Director, Hokitika Wild Food Festival
- Amy Padolf, Director of Education, Fairchild Tropical Botanical Garden
- Dr. Douglas Schar, ten-year herbal editor for Prevention
- Dr. Jeanine Davis, the regional authority on nontimber forest products
- Cindy Threlkeld, Executive Director, MANNA Food Bank (which distributes over 10 millions pounds of food a year through 231 partner agencies)
- Kathlyn Terry, Executive Director, Appalachian Sustainable Development
- Julie Mayfield, Executive Director, The Western North Carolina Alliance
- Lee Walker Warren, Executive Director, Organic Growers School
- Jeanie Martin, Board Member, Transition Asheville
- Tom Llewellyn, Director, SHARE Asheville
- Sarah Schober, Operations Manager, BioNetwork BioBusiness Center
- Amber Baker, President, North Carolina Herb Association
- Lucie Manley, VP, McKibbon Hotel Group
- Buchi Kombucha is dedicating their next flavor (as part of their “Intentional” series) to the project
- Ceara Foley, Director, Appalachia School of Holistic Herbalism
- Sow True Seed is dedicating their upcoming “wild weed collection” to the project
- Katie Button, Chef/Owner, Curate
- Andrea Reusing, Chef/Owner, Lantern
- William Dissen, Chef/Owner, The Market Place
- Nan Kramer, President, Slow Food Asheville
- Graham Duvall, Owner, Mother Earth Produce
- Janell Kapoor, Director, Ashevillage Institute
- Michael Moore, Executive Director, Blind Pig Productions
- Stan Cross, Director, Environmental Leadership Center, Warren Wilson College
- Fred Bahnson, Director, Wake Forest Food, Faith, and Religious Leadership Initiative
- Joe Allawos, Owner, Mushroom Central
- Darcel Eddins, Director, Bountiful Cities Project (our fiscal sponsor)
- Bridget Kennedy, Program Director, The Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project
- Anne Lancaster, Purchasing Director, Mountain Food Products
- Billy Jonas, internationally-known singer songwriter, who is helping to integrate creative arts into our foraging curriculum
- attorneys at Alston & Bird LLP, working pro bono to register No Taste Like Home as a 501c3 nonprofit and to assist in addressing and resolving any regulatory and liability concerns that may arise