Urban Farming: Grow Fruits & Veggies in Your Backyard in 3 Simple Steps

I am so excited to share this interview I recently taped with my favorite man-about-the-garden, Greg Peterson of The Urban Farm! Greg’s ease and joy with gardening (even in the HARSHEST of climates—summertime in the Mojave Desert!) is absolutely INFECTIOUS!

He makes gardening so do-able, and that is incredibly important as it’s one of the best ways we can take care of ourselves–by getting out in the soil and the sun and harvesting the freshest of produce from our own yards. And don’t be swayed from this prospect if you have a tiny lot, live in the city, or even have a purported “black thumb” – Greg makes it all come together in the seemingly most challenging circumstances. So, take a few minutes and join Greg and me in his urban backyard oasis in Phoenix, AZ and learn about the possibilities of growing in your own yard!

Greg is offering a webinar, coming up soon, called 3 Simple Steps To Grow Fruits And Veggies For A Healthier Life (click HERE for more information). He has dedicated his life to learning how to grow healthy, nutrient­ dense food and transforming the global food system.

He is one of the leaders in the Food Revolution and I absolutely love what he does. Below is an article that he wrote about a day on his farm:

There is something to eat in my yard every day, 365 days a year. Last Thanksgiving it was a wonderful salad that included: Six different greens such as Nasturtium leaves and sorrel (a surprise find growing in the back ‘wild’ area); ruby red pomegranate seeds; an incredible citrus called limequat that was sliced up skin and all for a tangy/sweet sensation; and a little bit of the herbs tarragon and fennel, with a smidge of that pretty little three­leaf clover you see growing in some yards called sour grass. The flavors were so diverse and striking that I chose
not to add any dressing at all.

I have spent a large part of the past 27 years integrating edible plants into my landscape, from the Thanksgiving salad and my farm soup, to the occasional snack as I work through my weekly urban farmer tasks. All the hard work and experimentation has netted an incredible, edible yard and a hard­knock education about how and what grows best in my yard.

When I was in the eighth grade my family moved into a home with a very large yard where the back 1/3­ acre became our garden. We planted, the seeds grew and a spark ignited inside of me…I decided to be a farmer. Over time, my dream became farming 200 acres out there somewhere, and when I went back to school for my bachelor’s degree I was required to write a vision for my life. In that vision, “farmer” showed up, but with a twist: Instead of 200 acres, The Urban Farm was born on a 0.4 ­acre property in Phoenix, AZ and I was a farmer. My gardening hobby of 10+ years was in reality urban farming, an incredible canvas on which to paint my dream.

One outlet for my passion has been to re­landscape my entire yard with the notion that everything that I grow is either edible, or supports the plants that are edible. Over the past 27 years I have planted trees that produce edible fruits, nuts and beans such as mesquite; perennial herbs including basil, rosemary and oregano that I use a hedge trimmer on periodically; along with the standard annual vegetables – broccoli, snow peas, and cucumbers to name just a few.

Because of our name, visitors to The Urban Farm have an expectation that they will see long rows of corn and beans, and a full working traditional farm. To the contrary, much of what we have accomplished lives in standard garden beds, and if a person visiting did not know any differently they would just see a nicely landscaped yard.

Magic happens when I stand back and watch the natural processes that exist in my yard. A couple of decades ago I was fighting a basil plant ­ it wanted to bloom, I wanted the basil leaves ­ as if I KNEW what was best for it. After a long battle, which I finally learned that I could not win, I gave up and let the basil bloom, and boy did it bloom. What happened next was one of those secrets that nature only whispers if you stand back and watch. The bees arrived by the hundreds, and since then pollination has not been a problem on The Urban Farm.

My job these days has become helping others transform their outdoor living spaces into edible wonderlands. Offering a plethora of classes on a diverse list of topics is the most natural way for me to express my passion. Over the years topics such as vermiculture (cultivating worms for their manure), desert gardening, edible landscaping, fruit trees, and the always popular Keeping Chickens in Your Yard” have begun to reconnect Phoenix residents to the roots of where our food comes from.

Urban-Farming-Grow-Veggies-In-Your-Backyard-Sarica-CernohousNow I’ve expanded my reach to the global community by offering online classes, both free and paid, to inspire and empower people from around the world to grow their own healthy, organic food and join the food revolution. My latest free webinar, 3 Simple Steps To Grow Fruits And Veggies For A Healthier Life, will cover how to choose the right space to plant your edible garden, how to determine what to plant when, why soil is your most important asset and gardening hacks that will make growing your own food easy and successful. If you are excited to join the revolution and start creating your edible yard or patio but have little to no experience, this webinar was designed for you! Click here to learn more.

Farming the city spaces around us presents a whole new paradigm for growing our own food and reigniting our connection to nature. The tools are here, and the knowledge is available, you can kindle your desire by getting your hands dirty, taking a chance and spreading some seeds. The fruits of your labor are much tastier (not to mention cheaper) than what you find in the grocery store and come along with the satisfaction that YOU grew them. Many people tell me of their “black” thumbs as they admire what is grown on The Urban Farm. I reflect back to them the years of experimenting that I have done, noting the countless plants that did NOT make under my care… and that is how I learned.

Greg Peterson
Your Urban Farmer
May 2016

Why You Should Give Some Time Between Meals

585261_sIt is often suggested that people graze through the day, to keep the energy buoyed.  While this will keep your blood sugar up, it will also keep your insulin up…and the combination of both for regular periods can be a contributor to cellular inflammation—and chronic disease patterns.  

When we eat a meal, our pancreas releases insulin to handle the blood glucose that will be present due to the foods we’ve consumed.  The pancreas—where insulin is produced by the pancreatic beta cells—works in two phases.  In phase 1, insulin that has been produced and stored by the pancreas is released into the blood stream, and this insulin stays floating through the blood stream for about 2 to 3 hours after a given meal is consumed.  In phase 2, the pancreas produces more insulin, stored and on the ready for the next meal.  

But insulin is not the only hormone related to weight, satiety and body composition.  Another big player is leptin—and receptors for this amazing hormone are also on the beta cells of the pancreas.  In a body that is working efficiently and well, leptin should be increasing as we eat our meal, and in turn, a sense of satiety and pushing away from the table should be the norm.  This rise should also be a cue to the pancreas to stop doling out insulin.  It’s a lovely feedback system—when it works.  But in a body that has a constant flow of insulin in the blood stream, this elegant feedback system loses its efficacy.  In fact, elevated insulin can also lead to elevated leptin—and when this happens, the pattern of leptin resistance is further enhanced, which goes lock in step with metabolic syndrome, considered a precursor to Type 2 diabetes.

Similar to insulin, a constant presence of leptin appears to blunt its ability to be recognized by leptin receptors at the cellular level.  And when the body doesn’t register that leptin is present—as happens when the receptors for the hormone are not working—this leads to uncontrolled eating.   The cue to stop eating just doesn’t arise.

There is one additional hormone to consider as well—glucagon.  This hormone works opposite insulin, directing the liver to release any stored glucose to maintain healthy blood sugar levels when we have not eaten for a few hours.  Its presence is only found when there is no insulin roaming in the blood stream, and this is considered a period of time when someone is truly moving into a fat-burning mode.  However, if someone is eating every 2 or 3 hours, glucagon never has an opportunity to present itself—and we will not have the fat-burning properties it offers.  There are so many people with what is termed “fatty liver,” who don’t drink or use drugs (historical reasons for this pattern), and who can’t understand how they developed this issue.  Eating frequently through the day can be a huge contributor to fatty liver, as the stored glucose will be converted to triglycerides and held in the liver—hence, fatty liver.  

If you find that you are very shaky or irritable if you don’t eat every 2-3 hours, this is a very solid cue that you are in the throes of insulin resistance—and remember, where there is high insulin, there is also high leptin, and the combination of the two will keep your glucagon from appearing and the glucose from releasing from your liver.  Snacking may make you feel better temporarily, but it will keep you in this incredibly damaging pattern.

With this design of our body, can you see where the grazing method of eating every 2 or 3 hours puts an incredible demand on the pancreatic beta cells, as they never get a break from producing insulin?  This type of scenario is a fast-track to overstraining the pancreas–and can eventually lead to the development of Type 2 diabetes.

Real Food App!

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Can’t it be a hassle to find healthy food on the road? Don’t get me wrong–I love traveling, and I love seeing what other communities have to share in their local restaurants, farmers’ markets and natural food stores.  I think it can be a GREAT way to learn a lot about a town or city, and can be a wonderful way to meet like-minded locals.  But FINDING these locales can be a bit of a challenge sometimes.

Thankfully, this just got a LOT easier!

For $6 a year, you can download the Find Real Food App for the Weston A. Price Foundation, and get this information directly on your smartphone–YAY!

I had the opportunity to meet the wonderful couple who have spent the last 3 years developing this app, and when they told me the price, I thought for sure the cost was per month–which still seemed reasonable to me!–but when they told me it was per YEAR, I was shocked!

All you’ll need to do is enter the zip code you’d like to search, and products, restaurants and other whole food entities will pop up on your screen–and they’re even ranked on a GOOD-BETTER-BEST system, by people who care deeply about finding the highest quality foods at the Weston A. Price foundation.

So in this busy season of travel, do yourself a favor and equip your phone with an incredibly helpful tool that keeps on giving!

Elderberry Water Kefir

Delicious and delightful elderberry water kefir!

Delicious and delightful elderberry water kefir!

Cold and flu season has arrived — good times.

Thankfully, the natural world has much to offer in support of a healthy immune system, not the least of which is immune-enhancing beneficial bacteria, and wellness-enhancing  plants, such as the long-revered elderberry, traditionally used in treating respiratory ailments, allergies, and combating influenza.

So, why not bring them together?

I found dried, organic elderberries at the natural food store, and of course the first thing I think to do is ferment them.  Since I have water kefir always prepared at home, that was no problem.

Elderberries are quite tart–meaning very little sugar content–and they are very hard when dried.  So, I did more than just put them in some finished water kefir.

Here are the details:

Elderberry Water Kefir

  • 2 tablespoons Dried Elderberries
  • 1/2 cup very hot chlorine-free water
  • 3 tablespoons fresh, frozen or dried Blueberries (Concord Grapes and/or Thompson Raisins work well, too)
  • 2 cups Water Kefir (without the grains/SCOBY)

Place the elderberries in a mug and pour over the hot water.  Allow to sit for 3-4 hours, then pour into a pint or quart-sized glass jar. Add the blueberries or grapes and pour in the water kefir.  Cap tightly and allow to sit for 12-24 hours at room temperature for a second fermentation cycle (the first being when the water kefir was created from sugar water, as described in my book, The Funky Kitchen.)  Strain and consider enjoying an ounce or two each day.  May be stored in the refrigerator until complete, to slow the second fermentation process.

Up close shot of dried elderberries

Up close shot of dried elderberries

Elderberries and blueberries fermenting in water kefir

Elderberries and blueberries fermenting in water kefir


Kombucha Pickles!

Kombucha Pickles!

Kombucha Pickles!

I’ve been chatting a lot lately about ways to keep the flavors of summer going once the days grow shorter and the nights grow colder.  Pickling has been a favorite preservation method for more generations than we can count–naturally-fermented veggies can be a great way to hold onto some of a season’s harvest while also benefiting our bodies’ needs for good bacteria in our diet.  So, it struck me to bring together a couple of favorite items–cucumbers and kombucha–and see what happens.

We tend to have on hand more kombucha in our home than we have the time or inclination to drink (our favorite home-fermented quaff is water kefir, which we go through daily), so I’m always thinking of different ways we can put it to use.  This little recipe was what I came up with one day.

While this showcases cucumbers, you can certainly use this method on other produce–I’ve been very happy with the results doing something very similar with peppers, garlic and onions.

And, the age-old question–“What should I do with all these extra kombucha SCOBYs?”–finds an answer here, too.  Fun stuff–and the resultant pickles are VERY tasty!

I’m starting this recipe from the point of already having your kombucha ready to go.  If this isn’t something you know how to do yet, here is a QUICK tutorial where I share the basics.

Finally, this is a very short ferment cycle, and is really a hybrid of lacto-fermentation pickling and vinegar-brine pickling.  Because the acetic acids are so developed in the well-aged kombucha in the recipe (our kombucha “brews” on the countertop for at least 2 weeks–I don’t want any sugariness remaining in the flavor), it has the vinegar-brine qualities to it, allowing for a quick return on your time, whilst still having living, probiotic enhancing qualities from the vital kombucha.

Kombucha Pickles

  • 2-3 Large, Organic Cucumbers (enough to fill a quart-sized jar, rather tightly), cut into spears
  • 2 Cloves Organic Garlic, finely minced
  • 1 teaspoon Organic Black Tea Leaves (keeps the pickles from being mushy)
  • 1 teaspoon Himalayan or Celtic Salt
  • 1 quart Plain Kombucha that has been fermented through any sugary flavor and is tart, including a SCOBY that fits the dimensions of the mouth of the size jar you are using

Place the cucumber spears into a quart-sized glass jar, incorporating the garlic, tea leaves and salt as well.  Pour the kombucha over all of it, cap the mixture and shake well to incorporate.  Remove the cap and place the SCOBY over the top of the mixture, then drape a paper towel or coffee filter over the top of the jar and secure with a paper towel.  Leave at room temperature for 3-4 days, or until the cucumbers have softened to “pickle” texture.  Remove and discard the SCOBY, cap the jar and refrigerate.  Stores indefinitely and the brine makes a delicious addition to salad dressings.

Kombucha--the dark coloration at the top is the loose leaf tea I use in its preparation

Kombucha–the dark coloration at the top is the loose leaf tea I use in its preparation


Fresh, sweet cucumbers from the farmer's market

Fresh, sweet cucumbers from the farmer’s market


SCOBY being used as a fermentation topper--Reduce, Reuse, Recycle!

SCOBY being used as a fermentation topper–Reduce, Reuse, Recycle!

Roasted and Dehydrated End-of-Summer Chilies

Organic, fresh-from-the-farmers’ market roasted chilies going into the dehydrator!

One of the benefits of living in the desert southwest is the food local to the area.  Squash, tomatoes, chilies and peppers are but a few of our seasonal treats in the warm, long days of summer. And, as the summer comes to a close, the perfume of roasted peppers and chilies fills the air outside grocery stores and farmers’ markets. It is a scent that captivates, and you can’t help but follow your nose to its source!

The chilies are roasted and slightly charred, and this brings out a delightful depth of flavor that is a fantastic addition to fresh salsa, eggs, casseroles, crock pot dishes–just about anything savory! But the moist, fresh quality of the peppers begs for quick use, or freezing. I’ve done both for years, but last weekend I had the thought to bring them to my dehydrator for long-keeping into the fall and winter–and I’m so glad I did!

Freezing has worked OK in the past, as long as I’ve kept the freezer burn at bay. And I love eating them fresh, but there are only so many roasted chilies one can eat at a time! So, the dehydrator was a great solution to both concerns.

And it couldn’t be more simple!  Here are the directions:

  • Slice the chilies length-wise down the middle and pour off any excess liquid–Careful!  The heat on some of these chilies can really burn the skin and eyes–don’t get too much of the liquid on your skin, and rinse your hands immediately following–you might also consider wearing gloves.
  • Flatten each out, inside up, and give a little space around each for even drying
  • Place trays in the dehydrator and set to 145 degrees Fahrenheit (since these have essentially been cooked by the roasting, we’re not concerned with enzyme preservation)
  • Leave for at least 6 hours at this temperature, or until the chilies are completely dried out and leathery–you don’t want mold forming down the line from moisture
  • Place in an airtight container, releasing as much additional air as you can, and store in the refrigerator; if you have a vacuum sealer, you can place the peppers in a jar, vacuum seal and store in the pantry

The texture of these dehydrated, roasted chilies is dry and somewhat chewy–and the naturally occurring sugars will be concentrated in the flesh of the fruit.  This combination makes them impossible to not eat as-is, kind of like jerky (you could enhance the flavor even more by giving them a sprinkle of sea salt before dehydrating.)  They should keep through the fall and winter months, as long as no mold forms from rehydration in the atmosphere of the refrigerator.  Chop and add to sauces, or add to warm water to rehydrate and add to eggs, sauteed meat and vegetable dishes, or to cooking grains or beans.  This method will allow you to enjoy some of the fruits of summer in the short, cold days of winter!

Warm and dehydrated chilies

Into a jar they go, ready for cool-weather meals this fall

A Smorgasbord of Cultured Yumminess!!

Carrots directly from Tonopah Rob's All-Natural Farm

Beautiful carrots from the farmer’s market


I was so pleasantly surprised to see not just one, but two, posts on Facebook today about one of my favorite foods…salad!  Clearly, my friends and I are like birds of a feather, because as I looked at the wonderful deliciousness of the grilled summer squash salad from my Canadian compadre, and the farmer’s market melange by way of my Austin, Texas ami, it was very clear we could have made one another’s salads–no problem!

Humble beginnings to a homemade kraut Photo courtesy of Vera Almann

Humble beginnings to a homemade kraut

And then, to come to my email Inbox today and find another mention of salad, this by one of my favorite companies, Cultures for Health, well, it just felt like the salad days of summer!  No doubt about it–this summer has delivered on a bumper crop of great produce all over the country, and folks are making the most of it.

Veggies on top of chopped tomatoes, ready to blend it all together!

Veggies on top of chopped tomatoes, ready to blend it all together for a fermented salsa!

So, if you have your own wonderful produce you’re wishing to toss in a bowl and create something wonderful, then do check out this article from Cultures for Health…it is FULL of great recipes of cultured foods you can make at home that are a GREAT addition to your salad fix’ins, which will elevate your salad experience to a whole new level!  And for good measure, here’s one of my old favorite recipes, Avocado and Papaya Salad–yum!!

Papaya, avocado, pumpkin seeds and cayenne topping fresh greens from our spring garden.  Absolutely heavenly drizzled with walnut oil and fresh lime juice.  Home-brewed kombucha or raw apple cider vinegar would work great, too!

Papaya, avocado, pumpkin seeds and cayenne topping fresh greens from our spring garden. Absolutely heavenly drizzled with walnut oil and fresh lime juice. Home-brewed kombucha or raw apple cider vinegar would work great, too!



Homemade Sauerkraut with Sarica and Faith from LifewiseTV!

Homemade sauerkraut comes together with a little elbow grease…see how easy it is to create the kraut of your dreams with the techniques I share here with Faith on LifewiseTV!

How to Make Kombucha with Sarica Cernohous

Here is a quick video we created for you on LifewiseTV, showing you how simple and INEXPENSIVE it is to make your own probiotic-rich kombucha at home!

Study on the Effect of Sourdough Fermentation on…Gluten!

OK, friends, get ready to nerd-out with me…this gluten and sourdough study demonstrates what I have been extrapolating simply from the basics of understanding what fermentation does…it cleaves out the more complex to the simpler, taking complex protein structures and delivering on simpler peptides and amino acids (and even smaller bits), and breaks down complex carbs into simpler sugars.

And, since gluten is a protein structure, why is it that long fermentation couldn’t break that troublesome substance down to smaller, easier-to-manage components?

The dough rising in my 36-hour fermented Water Kefir Bread recipe

The dough rising in my 36-hour fermented Water Kefir Bread recipe

Well, this little study demonstrates that what I THOUGHT was happening (and is bore out by the positive response many have had to my water kefir bread recipe, when they can’t handle organic, whole wheat or even sprouted breads from the grocery) is happening–

But don’t throw caution to the wind and go hog-wild if you’ve been diagnosed with Celiac, or have found you have a significant sensitivity to gluten–each person is different, and there may be bigger issues that fermentation won’t iron out for each of us.  But this is a VERY promising study on helping people bring more “forbidden” foods into their diets–this is what I teach in my course, Fresh, Fun and Flavorful in The Funky Kitchen, which is always available for learning when you’re ready!