I accidentally fell upon Joseph Franzen in Louisville Kentucky’s suburb Germantown in late September. I was walking down a neighborhood street with a friend on a drizzly day, camera in hand, when I noticed a shot-gun house with corn and tobacco stalks out front.
His neighbor motioned for us to come in and said “if we thought the front yard was loaded with goodies, wait until we saw the back yard.” His space is incredibly small, likely smaller than my San Francisco apartment and yet he is growing an incredible number of fresh, organic produce and other edible plants in his front and back garden. Why this matters?
It turns out that Joseph is a high school teacher where he focuses on sustainability and teaching kids to cook and appreciate cooking.
The actual name of the class is called Global Issues and they’re working with other local schools to implement more sustainable thinking in nearby communities.
He started a cooking club and they recently cooked up an a storm for 100 people at less than $5 a head. (all using food from local farmers: local hams, produce, dairy, turkeys, etc). Speaking of turkeys, did you know that their heads change color depending on what mood they’re in?
When we walked into the kitchen, we were lucky to be treated to homemade English muffin bread and Apple butter AND meet a frisky fun-loving dog named Hank who wagged his tail a lot.
Joseph is growing black-eyed peas, asparagus, peanuts, potatoes, green beans, and luffa, which is a ripe, dried fruit that is the source of the loofah or plant sponge; also used to make the soles of beach sandals.
He also has hops, horseradish, Jerusalem artichokes (in the sunflower family), birdhouse gourd, turkeys, chickens (that also means eggs of course), blackberries, strawberries, rasberries, peas, fish pepper, beets, black pepper plant, basil, stevia, chocolate mint and cherry tomatoes. He is even growing tobacco plants and popcorn.
He pulled out a flowering herb plant referred to as Jambú, also known as toothache plant or paracress as the leaves and flower heads contain an analgesic agent spilanthol used to numb toothache.
I didn’t try it after learning that it makes your mouth salivate and tongue numb, i.e., it and gives your mouth a pop. (I didn’t figure the timing was great given the fact that I was on my way to a four hour restaurant review after our chat).
The plant is native to the tropics of Brazil, and is grown as an ornamental (and occasionally as a medicinal) in various parts of the world. A small, erect plant, it grows quickly and sends up gold and red flower inflorescences. Some people actually use the plant to make a mouthwash or in a tea.
His advice: be curious, talk to old people, cook and cook often, read Mother Earth News, and learn about ingredients in your food. He thinks not knowing about food and not cooking your own food cheats us out of our heritage. I love that. Spot on Joseph!!
The video clip of my interview with him below.
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