Meet Your Maker: Joe Frazen


“I know people did this in the past, I know it’s possible, and I don’t want to be cheated out of my heritage.”

How did you get started as a maker?

I grew up in a small town in Pennsylvania and even when we lived in town, we raised ducks on a ¼ acre plot. When my mom remarried, we moved to a farm. Although the family business was in small construction, we raised cattle, chickens, ducks, and hay.

Recently, it’s become my way of making a connection to the past. For example, I decided to make sauerkraut because my family has crocks that no one used anymore. I’d ask whose it was and get stories about how they were passed down. By not knowing how to use them, I felt cheated out of my heritage. Once I taught myself, I designed 4 custom crocks, had them made by Mennonite potters, gave them as Christmas gifts to my family, and then taught them how to pack sauerkraut. So I was able to share and connect my family to our heritage.

What are some of your philosophies and
techniques with gardening?

I grow as much as I can, but I give away a lot. I like to share and it’s important to me that visitors feel comfortable to reach out and pick something. Stuff wants to grow, and my job is to help it grow as healthy as it can be. That’s why I think of myself as a gardener, not a farmer. I do succession planting because no bare spots means no weeds. Everything is organized and color-coded: red is one year, blue is two year, and yellow is three year. Every year I try something new, and if it grows well, I add it to my repertoire.

Is there anything you can’t seem to grow?

I can’t grow an eggplant to save my life. It’s a good thing that my mom and stepdad are good at growing it, but can’t grow potatoes. We swap whenever I visit them.

Do you experience any frustrations as
an urban homesteader?

Besides having drifting herbicide kill my garden, I get frustrated with the stereotype that if you grow your own food, you must be a hippy, or you must be growing pot. You’re going to tell me that my great grandfather, a stocky 225-pound fireman who grew his own food and made his own wine, was a hippy? I want to break that cultural norm.

How do you incorporate all these experiences
into your curriculum?

I designed my own course for Fern Creek High School called “Global Issues” that focuses on the relationship between food, energy, and populations. I also work with the JCPS Nutritional Center to design healthy public school lunches, and through a grant with the Centers for Disease Control, I’ve created 26 food gardens that are all in food deserts. I have a partnership with the 21st Century Parks and set up internships with Breaking New Grounds. I also created a cooking club at Fern Creek.

Would you elaborate on the cooking club?

My goal is to try to make our lives a closed loop circle. Let’s start with school lunches and composting. By introducing small-scale composting to the kids, and then taking them on a tour of Breaking New Grounds’ industrial scale composting, we are able to set up our own industrial scale composting because they can relate to it. Next, we use the compost that we generate to grow our own food in the school food gardens. Finally we cook the food that we grow: it’s not just food that they can eat, but it’s food that they’re happy to eat. We’ve got bread experts and kimchi and sauerkraut “sours” experts. There was also an iron chef competition between two classes and we made a turkey last year.

I’m also very proud of my recycling program. It’s every Friday and works with kids in the Functionally Mentally Disabled (FMD) program. There were a few days last year when I wasn’t able to be present to supervise, but the kids went out and kicked ass!

Through all these programs, I’ve instructed a quarter of the kids at Fern Creek, but I’ve interacted with all of them whenever I ‘beg’ for food scraps during lunchtime for composting. And I’ve learned that there are so many taboos around food trash. It ranges from ‘it’s my trash’ to ‘that’s nasty,’ and a lot of what I do is about breaking through these cultural norms and taboos.

What are your thoughts on the relationship between
teaching and urban homesteading?

I studied anthropology in college and teaching is integral to building community. Today kids interact primarily through digital means and I fear that there isn’t much depth in their daily relationships. So when they find a genuine relationship in flour, in red wriggler worms, or in a specific plant, they want more. As a teacher, I try to help them discover these genuine relationships.

Bio:

Urban Homesteader. Gardener. Educator.

Title:

Environmental Studies Teacher, Fern Creek High School

Age:

27

Location:

Germantown

2011 growing
Season:

Chickens
Turkeys
Grapes
Rye
Garlic
Potatoes
Gourds
Squash
Asparagus
Peanuts
Cucumber
Tomato
Beans, multiple varieties
Comfrey
Cattails (harvested pollen for bread to give it nutty flavor, yellow color)
Jerusalem artichokes
Hops
Cabbage
Chocolate mint
Horseradish
Popcorn
Leeks
Southernwood (natural insect repellent)
Wormwood
Lemon Basil
Tobacco
Basil
Kale

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