Monika Woolsey from Hip Veggies on Haboob Busters, Muertos with Cell Phones, and Nopales

Categories: Now Growing

Photos from Monika Woolsey.
Monika Woolsey of Hip Veggies.
We love growing things to eat, and there are lots of great growers here in Phoenix. But you might not know Monika Woolsey. She's a dietitian and head of Hip Veggies, an educational collaboration between artists and food professionals that aims to promote locally grown produce, support local artists, and raise awareness of and support local hunger-relief organizations. She's a forager, gardener, and fearless leader.

Hip Veggies is probably best known for partnering with local artists to create awesome bags, perfect for transporting your produce. We were lucky enough to interview Woolsey, and she divulged the lineup of bag artists in 2014.

See also: The Joy Bus Brings Quality Meals to Cancer Patients

You've been at the reins of Hip Veggies for about a year now. Any takeaways from the first year?

Two big ones. One: Keep it simple, keep it visual. The Food Network has intimidated a lot of people out of cooking. The best food is often simple, but that doesn't make exciting TV. We stay basic, like suggesting trying a switch of chard into a favorite kale recipe. Or reminding fans that you can make pesto or hummus out of practically anything.

Two: With our Latino audience, we have seen successes bringing back foods known from visits to Grandma but rarely made at home. I am learning that sometimes foods like nopales and verdolagas (purslane) are associated with tough times and thus avoided. We focus on the family stories, and on modernizing those foods for a positive reframe. Nopales are on the menu at Bragg's Factory Diner and you will find verdolagas at True Foods. When foods cross cultures like that, they are on their way to being mainstream . . . which is important because those foods are powerful agents against diseases like diabetes, prevalent in Latinos.

Engaging artists as nutrition spokespeople was a great call. They all love food and market it way better than nutrition professionals often do!

There must be funny stories to share?

Courtesy of Monika Woolsey
This muerto has a call to make.

Recently, I was talking about native food with someone, whose face lit up and they said, "Oh, I've eaten Napolitanos!" I looked at them for clarification and they said, "You know, Napolitanos, the cactus pads!" (They meant nopales.) I was most excited to know they had tried them but now any mention of our former governor conjures up such a funny visual!

Also, last year, artists Rafael Navarro and Susan Lundgren came to Cesar E. Chavez Community School with me. Rafael had designed a fun exercise with apples that we turned into sugar skulls for Día de Los Muertos. We let a class of second-graders decorate them with a variety of fruits and vegetables. One of the students called me over to check out her Muerto, which had a large leaf of purple cabbage, draped over one side.

"Do you know what that is?" she asked.

I shook my head.

"That's the cell phone."

I had to ask. "So, who is your muerto talking to?"

Big sigh and "adults are so stupid" eye roll. "Dead people!"

Any surprises so far?

I have been so surprised at how many people have stepped up to help make this work. Recently we had a media blitz for the Haboob Buster.

Media blitz for the Haboob Buster
Beckett graciously donated four of his sweet tea lemon meringue pies, but the logistical issue was getting four pies to survive trips across town on a 110-degree weather. It took three drivers. And every single Haboob Buster (five of them) came to the shoot, meaning we had eight people (and a baby!) team up to make that day happen. Hip Veggies exists because of the warm hearted community that hosts it. I am extremely grateful to everyone who has helped!

Location Info

Bragg's Factory Diner

1301 Grand Ave., Phoenix, AZ

Category: Restaurant

True Food Kitchen

2502 E. Camelback Road, Phoenix, AZ

Category: Restaurant

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