The Afikomen Project
Coming Home to Nature’s Garden
The Afikomen Project is a public wild foods education program. Conceived in 2003, 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 have embarked on 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 North America. 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 a basic skill. Like Rene Redzepi, we aspire to see foraging being taught in school “as commonly as reading, writing and mathematics.” By teaching children to forage “for food and profit,” we are promoting national food security, eliminating food deserts, and establishing sustainable local economies, all 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 along with regional food networks.
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 agricultural systems, but through community self-reliance. Foraging doesn’t just create jobs; it creates self-employment. This is true American independence.
By foraging, children gain sunshine, exercise, wholesome food, and a sense of home. In this natural way, The Afikomen Project addresses childhood obesity, diabetes, nature deficit disorder, and much more. Children contribute both to their family and their community, building their sense of self-worth in the process. Or would you rather our children play video games?
I praise mushroom hunting with you 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 in the Western Hemisphere. With over 150 common local wild edibles, all free for the taking, Asheville sits in a veritable “Garden of Eden.”
At the same time, Asheville also has one of the worst childhood hunger problems in the country. The Afikomen Project addresses this incongruity with an obvious, permanent solution: by empowering local families to feed and fend for themselves.
Our regional distribution partner is New Appalachia Foods. We have taught students at a number of local schools including Asheville Middle, Hall Fletcher, Rainbow Mountain, Carolina Day, and others, as well as through the 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. We also recently partnered with The Acornucopia Project on a regional wild nut initiative.
For more about The Afikomen Project, why we need it, and why the name, read “The Key to Ending Hunger.”
The Afikomen Project is endorsed by:
- Dr. Andrew Weil, best-selling author, considered the father of integrative medicine
- Mark Bittman, James Beard award-winning author of How to Cook Everything
- Dr. Gabor Mate, acclaimed author on human development
- Dan Barber, James Beard Best Chef in America (2009), Time 100 Most Influential People (2009), serves on the Presidential Council on Physical Fitness, Sports and Nutrition
- Tom Newmark, Chair, Greenpeace Fund
- Susan Leopold, Executive Director, United Plant Savers
- Bun Lai, invasive species chef and White House Champion of Change
- Brad Stanback, North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commissioner
- 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
- Tama Matsuoka Wong, forager for Daniel Restaurant and author of Foraged Flavor
- Sandor Katz, author of The Art of Fermentation
Mike Keenan, Director
Hokitika Wild Food Festival
- “Wildman” Steve Brill, author of
Identifying and Harvesting Edible and Medicinal Plants
- 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 of the international Alternative Education Resource Organization
- 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, former Executive Director, MANNA Food Bank
- Philip Stark, Principal Investigator, Berkeley Open Source Food
- Kathlyn Terry, Executive Director, Appalachian Sustainable Development
- Julie Mayfield, Executive Director, MountainTrue
- Lee Warren, Executive Director, Organic Growers School
- Tom Llewellyn, Director, SHARE Asheville
- Sarah Schober, Operations Manager, BioNetwork BioBusiness Center
- Amber Baker, President, North Carolina Herb Association
- Ceara Foley, Director, Appalachia School of Holistic Herbalism
- Katie Button, Chef/Owner, Curate
- Andrea Reusing, Chef/Owner, Lantern
- William Dissen, Chef/Owner, The Market Place
- Joe Kindred, 2013 Charlotte Chef of the Year
- Clark Barlowe, Chef/Owner, Heirloom
- 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
- 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
all images by No Taste Like Home