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Reflections from a TFP Youth

Eli (top right) with DIRT Crew in 2012
Eli (top right) with DIRT Crew in 2012
The following blog was written by Food Project intern Eli Shanks. Eli participated in The Food Project's Summer Youth Program in 2011, and went on to participate in the Academic Year Program and Internship Program.


My name is Eli Shanks. I'm 18, and I've worked at The Food Project since the summer of 2011.

Climbing through the different levels of the youth programs at The Food Project, I have watched other youth and myself grow more adept at sharing what we know with other people. We learn a lot about the food system and social issues, and we learn tools and ways to share our knowledge with other people. We learn lots of skills from the program coordinators and also from each other. If I don't know how to chop kale, formulate a sentence without "but" in it, or hoe a row of carrots with a collinear hoe, then there is always someone nearby to show me what to do. I feel empowered to take what I have learned out of The Food Project and into my community as well.

Since I started at The Food Project, people I know have become more conscious of what is in their food and where their food comes from, just because I have. I talk about the food system every time it comes up, and a lot of people have heard me. People at my school are interested in where their food comes from. I teach a bread making class and my house fills up with people from my school who want to learn how to make bread.

I started making bread three years ago, and I started teaching classes last year. At The Food Project, it is ok for youth to teach things to other people, so I decided it should be ok elsewhere too.

I would love to teach you how to make bread, but a bread recipe has little to do with how the bread turns out. I have to show people the different stages of bread making, what the dough feels like, how to shape and score the loaves, and how to tell when they are done baking. Instead, I will share a recipe I made for a non-alcoholic drink called ginger beer. It tastes like summer and is best served cold.


Ginger Beer Recipe

(This recipe makes a little over a gallon, takes about 45 minutes, and is well worth it.)

This is a non-alcoholic soda. It is an old Jamaican and European tradition, and it is great cold on a hot summer day. Yeast is used for flavor and for carbonation. The fermentation of the yeast makes the drink mildly alcoholic, though the alcohol content is less than that of non-alcoholic beer. It has a delicious gingery kick to it, and it is nothing like ginger ale you may have tried. It is a delicious beverage to enjoy with passing townsfolk and cherubs.



  • 100-140 grams of ginger (100 will be weak, and 140 will be quite strong.  I like it strong but suit yourself.)
  • 2.4 lbs of sugar (all granulated or half white and half brown)
  • 1 gallon of water
  • 1/2 tablespoon bread yeast

Optional Ingredients:

  • Lemon juice or any other citrus juice (to taste, highly recommended)



Set the water to boil. Measure out the gallon of water in a gallon jug. Empty the water into a stock pot, but save the jug. Cap the pot tightly.

Juice the ginger. There are a few ways the ginger can be juiced. If you have a fruit juicer, use that. If not, use the larger side of a cheese grater to grate the ginger to fine pieces. These pieces can then either be pressed through a sieve into juice, or simply added to the boiling water. Now would be a good time to add the lemon juice if you’d like.

Proof the yeast. Add the yeast to about half of a cup of lukewarm water. Add a small spoon of extra sugar if you’d like. The yeast likes to have something to eat when it wakes up. Let this concoction sit while the water boils.  It should bubble and begin to smell a bit like beer or bread. If this does not happen after a while the yeast is not active and cannot be used.

Add the sugar. Stir well until all of the sugar is dissolved.

Remove the pot from the stove. If you are using juiced ginger, the pot can be removed at any convenient time. If you are using minced ginger, the longer the contents boil, the more delicious ginger flavor will be extracted. About 20 minutes of boiling is usually good.

Cool off the pot. This can be done in a sink full of cool water, ice, or winter snow. When the ginger beer is warm to the touch, but not hot, add the proofed yeast and stir.

Strain it back into the gallon jug. A cheesecloth, regular towel, or coffee filter will work. Let it sit in the jug for about 10 minutes or so.

Pour it into the containers it will be stored in. These can be empty 33-ounce water bottles or 2 liter soda bottles. Any empty plastic bottles will work. They should be pretty sturdy, because they will need to withstand a large amount of pressure from within. Be sure to leave a good amount of space at the top for expansion. About 3-4 inches will suffice, depending on the size of the bottle.

Cap them off. I like to squeeze the air out before I put the cap on so that they start out a little deformed, but have more room to expand.

Age to perfection. Put the bottles in a warm environment. Leave them for 1-3 days, or until the bottle is too hard to squeeze. Explosions are not unheard of, but it has never happened to me.

Put the bottles in the fridge. When you determine that they are about done, putting the bottles in the fridge will halt the fermentation. The unopened bottles will keep indefinitely, but once they are opened, they should and will be drunk within the next few days.

Enjoy chilled.

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