Waco helping clean up dining adventures

By Ferrell Foster

Fifteen months into my life as a Waco resident, I’ve discovered something new — local restaurant food inspection scores. It’s on the City of Waco website.

KWTX channel 10 reports area restaurant inspection scores.

I ran across this when I saw a story about the scores on KWTX channel 10’s website. I do not totally understand why the scores in the KWTX report do not match up with scores on the city site for the same restaurant; I suspect it has something to do with the reporting day.

When it comes to restaurant scores, lower is better. On the city site there are many zeros (hooray!) and the vast majority have scores in the single digits (more subdued celebration).

The channel 10 report highlighted two Greater Waco scores of 90. Yikes! And the losers are: Burger King #3714 at 103 East Loop 340 in Lacy Lakeview and Cracker Barrel #166 at 4275 North IH-35 in Lacy Lakeview.

Wouldn’t it be nice if restaurants had to to post, in 12-inch lettering on their doors, their most recent score. You’re walking up to your favorite place, which has always in the past had a big “0” on its door, to find a “75.” Whoa! Better think before you open the door and spend your money. Thoughts: There is a new manager. Last time I was here the mashed potatoes didn’t seem right.

Well, restaurants do not have to post their numbers, but we can look them up online, so that’s pretty cool. (Of course, some people do not have Internet access, so they are at a disadvantage in getting this info. Inequities are real.)

I liked that channel 10, after outing the bad players, presented this week’s Clean Plate Award winner — Mamaka Bowls at 215 South University Parks Dr. in Waco, “which obviously got a perfect food inspection score.”

Mamaka’s has endless combinations, the TV station reports. “There are specialty ingredients such as almond butter, cacao nibs, coconut shreds, and spirulina, which is basically blue-green algae. Of course, if you like it plain and simple, items like The Mac with mango, strawberry, pineapple, orange juice, topped with the fruit and a little homemade granola could treat your taste buds right.”

Publicly posted restaurant inspection scores protect all of us from bad players and helps us find the good ones. There simply is no go way for consumers to know what’s going on in the kitchen without such scores. You can get some clues about the cleanliness of a restaurant from how it cares for it’s dining area and, especially, its restrooms. (I have a desire to visit a restroom before I order. Sometimes I regret I went after eating.)

Food is important. A big tip of the hat to the many, many restaurants who are working hard to keep it clean. We need to honor them with our dollars. There are options; we don’t have to do business with dirty eateries. Of course, I wish they would all earn a zero. That would be better for everyone.

Ferrell Foster is acting executive director of Act Locally Waco and senior content specialist for care and communication with Prosper Waco.

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email Ferrell Foster at [email protected].

Local restaurant owners harvesting hope

By Maddie McNamee

If you’ve ever been asked about the best brunch spot in Waco, odds are you’ve probably recommended a local treasure called Harvest on 25th. The restaurant, which was born out of a passion for wholesome food and a desire to host good community and culture didn’t exactly start off as a restaurant. In fact, it started off with Juanita Barrientos selling food out of a small kitchen using the produce from Toby Tull’s family farm. 

Toby Tull and Juanita Barrientos

These future business partners had no idea they would soon open a wildly popular restaurant when they first made this arrangement, but when Tull tried some of the food that Barrientos was creating, the idea for Harvest on 25th was born. 

In November 2018 Harvest on 25th opened its doors, and this nutritious and delicious restaurant has been a go-to for Wacoans ever since. Cozy on the inside and sleek on the outside, the restaurant itself matches the food they serve —traditional breakfast and lunch staples with a healthy and unique spin. 

The eatery has been popular among Baylor students and locals alike for a little over three years now, with people like Emily Hoppie, a recent Baylor graduate, praising her favorite brunch spot, saying: “I love the atmosphere at Harvest on 25th. The people are so kind, the food is always amazing, and the restaurant itself is adorable.” 

It was Emily and the many like her that felt the devastation right along with the owners and employees of Harvest on 25th after learning the news of an electrical fire that broke out at the end of April, destroying the kitchen and entryway. 

In the immediate aftermath, the future of the little restaurant that was loved by so many looked unclear. Co-owner Juanita Barrientos said: “The first thought for me was my employees and the devastation they were feeling. Our team is very much a family. We have all worked tremendously hard just to see it in flames. It was tragic. Especially coming out of the pandemic.”

In an effort to keep her and co-owner Tull’s dream going, the pair started a GoFundMe in hopes of raising enough money to cover the cost of damages. What they didn’t expect was to immediately raise $20,000 — a testament to the support locals have to the place serving food not only good for the body, but good for the soul. 

Barrientos touched on her overwhelming appreciation, stating: “The response to the GoFundMe was an amazing surprise. I underestimated how special Harvest on 25th is to this community, and what a positive impact it makes on people’s lives. The love and support was overwhelming and humbling. We are incredibly thankful.” 

On top of the financial support from the community, other local businesses around Waco stepped up to support in other ways. An outpouring of messages flooded the comments section of the post that announced the fire on Instagram. 

Businesses such as Fabled Bookshop, Milk Bottle Cookies, Oh My Juice, and the Sweet Station were just a few that shared their sympathy and well wishes with the restaurant. Restaurants such as Revival Eastside Eatery, Milo, Dichotomy, Sloanes, Pinewood, Waco Axe, and Southern Roots Brewing Co. have even been so generous, with a few offering space for pop-up dinners and some even dedicating a portion of their sales to raise money for the business. 

Currently, Harvest on 25th is operating out of a commissary kitchen that generously offered the space to serve food out of. Barrientos and Tull are grateful to be able to keep their business running and keep their staff employed, but with the end of the pandemic in sight, convincing people to order take out has proven difficult. 

Barrientos humbly touched on this challenge, stating: “The only difficulty has been that we are a little off the beaten path for most people, so it’s easy to forget where we are. Also, people are dining more these days, so it’s a little difficult to promote takeout while the momentum is in the opposite direction after the pandemic — and understandably so!” 

Despite these difficulties, the future of Harvest on 25th is bright, with plans to reopen at the end of July. These owners are so grateful to Waco for their support and are ready to be back serving the community in a little over a month. 

In the meantime, those who are missing those delicious pancakes or mouthwatering breakfast tacos, don’t fret! Wednesday through Sunday from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. you can still pick up all of your favorites at 1523 Herring Ave. if you order online, and you can even attend a farm to table dinner at Milo June 22. Thank you, Wacotown for supporting local businesses.

Maddie McNamee is a creative writing intern with Act Locally Waco. She is a student-athlete at Baylor University and is pursuing a major in Professional Writing and Rhetoric. 

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email Ferrell Foster at [email protected].

Vegetable of the month: Bell Peppers

By Lindsey Breunig-Rodriguez

It has been several months since I last wrote an article for Act Locally Waco. I am happy to be back and ready to continue featuring different fruits and vegetables each month. 

Bell peppers might be one of my favorite vegetables (be warned I will say this for four or five other veggies) due to their versatility, bright colors, and packed flavors.  If you enjoy gardening, bell peppers are at the start of their season, (summer and fall) so be on the lookout for great deals at the grocery store or farmers market because buying vegetables in-season results in a fresher, tastier, and a lowest cost product. 

Nutrition: 

Per USDA dietary guidelines it is recommended we consume 3 cups of vegetables daily. Vegetables may be fresh, canned, frozen, or dried, and may be whole, cut-up, or pureed; it all counts. For bell peppers (all colors), a 1 cup serving is equal to 1 cup of chopped, raw, or cooked pepper or 1 large pepper (3″ diameter, 3¾” long). One small pepper is equal to ½ cup. 

Bell peppers are a great source of Vitamin C, which keeps our immune system strong and helps our bodies heal quickly. Red bell peppers are higher in both Vitamin C and A compared to green bell peppers. Additionally, bell peppers are fat free, saturated-fat free, sodium free, cholesterol free, and low in calories. 

Shopping, Storage, and Preparation: 

In the summer we might see deals on fresh bell peppers, but we can also enjoy them in other forms like frozen and canned for good nutrition and convenience. If selecting fresh, choose firm, brightly colored peppers with tight skin that are heavy for their size. Avoid dull, shriveled, or bumpy peppers. Store fresh in the refrigerator for up to five days. 

The skin of a bell pepper is fairly soft so little pressure is needed when cutting. This may be a great veggie to cut with children who want to work on knife skills; however, the shape can be intimidating. University of Maryland’s Extension program created a quick video on how to buy, store, and prepare bell peppers, watch here

Enjoy: 

Bell peppers are a staple in a variety of ethnic cuisines, including Asian (Chinese, Japanese, Korean), African, Latino, and Mediterranean. Enjoy bell peppers in a variety of different ways:

  • Raw: A tasty addition for a veggie tray and are delicious with many kinds of dip or for extra crunch add to sandwiches and wraps. 
  • Grilled/Roasted/Sauteed: Indoor or outdoor, peppers will taste great with simply some oil and salt or other seasoning. A great addition to pasta sauce, a pizza topping, breakfast eggs, soups, or chili. 
  • Stuffed: Stuff with whatever you have available at home. A mixture of beans/meat, brown rice/grains, veggies, and spices can go such a long way and has endless combinations. Stuff the pepper and bake! 
  • Added to salads and casseroles. 

Check out these other tasty recipes too: Simple Stuffed Peppers (a household favorite!), BBQ Chicken Pizza, and Mac and Beans Medley

I hope you enjoy!

USDA is an equal opportunity provider and employer. This material was funded by USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — SNAP. To learn more about the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) or to apply for benefits, visit www.yourtexasbenefits.com.

Lindsey Breunig-Rodriguez is an Extension Agent for the Better Living for Texans program with the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service. She is originally from Grapevine but now calls Waco home. A graduate from Baylor University, she loves to venture out to Cameron Park, visit the local Farmers Market, and try out the awesome eateries in Waco. If you see her and hear a loud bark, that’s her pup Lucy Ann just saying hello.

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email Ferrell Foster at [email protected].

Waffle Chic’s Evans: ‘Waco is a wonderful, awesome community of outstanding people.’

In honor of Black History Month, we are featuring interviews with local Black community leaders. These pieces were written by Baylor University students from the Department of Journalism, Public Relations, and New Media. The students asked questions about what the leaders love about Waco, and we are excited to share their responses with you this month.

By Skylla Mumana

For many new to the area, and even some long-term residents, navigating the city may prove difficult and finding things to do may seem even harder. However, local figures such as 38-year-old Shamica Evans are proving that the city has so much to offer. 

Shamica Evans

Evans is founder of Waffle Chic, a local food truck. There, she works to deliver classic Southern comfort food for the Waco public to enjoy. Her goal is to create community, which she continuously strives for by serving up fresh, mindful ingredients with a smile. She came up with the idea of her truck from her own personal experiences with single-motherhood.

“The name Waffle Chic originates from me being a single-parent with my kids,” she said. “The waffle is kind of like the mom, and the chicken is the chicks, my little chicks.” 

By selling chicken and waffles, Evans wanted to bring a fresh, new perspective to the food truck scene in Waco and expose the public to good, Southern cooking on the go. Inclusivity is a staple in her kitchen, and she strives to accommodate the needs of her customers every chance she gets.

“It’s healthier for those that are healthier, it’s still Southern for those that like Southern because I’m still using all the Southern spices. Kids can eat it, and older people can eat it, too,” Evans said. 

To Evans, Waco is a booming city that has room for both big and small businesses. She also thinks Waco continuously fosters a wholesome sense of community that rivals small towns. Growth and connection are two factors that help drive the Waco community and lead to what she describes as outstanding community building. 

“I don’t feel like we’re in competition. I just feel like we’re all growing with each other,” she said. “We’re a village here in Waco, and we’ve got plenty of giants who are willing to build empires and kingdoms with each other.” 

Evans is heavily involved in programs and organizations within the Waco area, such as Cen-Tex African American Chamber of Commerce, Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, and Hewitt Chamber of Commerce. All of these organizations were instrumental in helping Waffle Chic get its start. Not only that, but Evans is also known to actively help out the homeless. Fueled by her faith and background, she hopes to give back to a community that gave so much to her. 

“They’re really the ones experiencing hardship,” Evans said. “I just see them as family as well, and still to this day each of them will come to my truck, and they’ll come to just say hello.” 

When it comes to describing how special Waco is, Evans had her own acronym to share.

“I could give Waco four words or phrases just by using the letters in its own name,” she said. “Waco is a wonderful, awesome community of outstanding people.”

By connecting food and community, Evans proves that not only does Waco have a variety of eateries to choose from, but it also is a city that is filled with people who inspire and prosper. 

“I’ve lived here in Waco my whole life,” Evans said. “I don’t see myself living anywhere else.”

Skylla Mumana is a freshman journalism major at Baylor University from San Antonio. 

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email Ferrell Foster at [email protected].

‘Blasian’ family brings Cambodian food to Waco


In honor of Black History Month, we are featuring interviews with local Black community leaders. These pieces were written by Baylor University students from the Department of Journalism, Public Relations, and New Media. The students asked questions about what the leaders love about Waco, and we are excited to share their responses with you this month.

By Gi’erra Cottingham

Time does not always permit us to book a flight, pack a bag, and travel to experience foods around the world, but sometimes it comes to us. Two community leaders have brought Cambodian food to the heart of Waco. In 2016, Chevy and Mike DuBose introduced The Blasian Asian, an authentic Cambodian cuisine, in Union Hall. 

Mike and Chevy DuBose (right), with their, daughter Arianna, are with two of their employees, Aaron and Geneva.

“The menu is 100% Cambodian food,” Mike said. The word Blasian comes from the combination of their race and ethnicity. Mike is Black, and Chevy is Cambodian. “Our baby is a combination of Black and Asian,” DuBose said — Blasian.

“Mrs. DuBose and I lived in Seattle for about 20 years where I was an aeronautical engineer, and she did aerospace repair. I accepted a job promotion in Waco, but when we got here, she was really craving Cambodian food,” Mike said. “Eventually, she started cooking for me. I’d share the food with my staff, and they highly encouraged her to invest in a food truck. Our business took off from there. We’ve now migrated from the food trailer of three years to a restaurant in Union Hall that we began in March” last year.

The couple’s determination to fulfill their mission in sharing what they love with the Waco community is appreciated among local Waconians. The Blasian Asian was voted “Best Food Truck 2019” and “Best Asian Food 2020.”

“My personal favorite dish is the garlic fried rice. There are two popular dishes on our menu: the garlic fried rice and the Blasian itself,” Mike said. “The Blasian has a large variety that includes chicken, beef, pork, noodles, and egg rolls, while the garlic fried rice has been voted the best in Waco. Most customers have commented that they were obligated to use soy sauce at other restaurants to increase the flavor and didn’t need it for ours.”

Due to the couple’s community involvement and leadership duties, Chevy’s availability to consistently cook in the kitchen is slim. She oversees the quality of the food as she’s the only one who knows each Cambodian dish intimately, but most of her time is spent preparing and making sure the food meets her expectations, while The Blasian Asian’s employees are trained to cook and present the dishes. 

“Since we moved to Waco, my wife and I have been a part of community tasks. We are active members of the NAACP Waco chapter where we participate in meetings, functions, and events. We are also members of the African American Chamber of Commerce and the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce,” Mike said. 

The Blasian Asian’s owners have persevered during COVID-19 and are hopeful that other small businesses do the same. The couple began their dream from simply sharing Cambodian food with friends and has made it thus far despite setbacks. 

“The advice I would give to small businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic is to keep on. This is temporary,” Mike said. “We have a lot of support from the community during this time, but the most important thing to remember is to not give up and find ways to reduce costs without shutting down.”

Gi’erra Cottingham is a freshman at Baylor University, majoring in broadcast journalism. She was born and raised in Houston where she attended Carnegie Vanguard High School. Her hobbies include being outdoors, spending time with family, and writing. 

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email Ferrell Foster at [email protected].

The Act Locally Waco Thanksgiving Cookbook

Happy Thanksgiving, Waco! A few weeks ago, I put out a call in The Whole Enchilada, asking for people’s favorite Thanksgiving recipes. I wanted to create a blog post that could serve as a community cookbook for Waco. And, boy, did you deliver some fantastic recipes! Read on for three great recipes from your Waco neighbors: a show stopping side, a fun and easy dessert, and a unique twist on Thanksgiving leftovers! Then, click here for a special Act Locally Thanksgiving recipe card you can print off and use to keep these recipes for years to come!

The Recipe: Hasselback Butternut Squash (Adapted from Bon Appetit Magazine)

This recipe was submitted by Rachel, who has lived in Waco on and off for the past 10 years, and whose favorite Waco spot is Lula Jane’s porch! Rachel made this recipe while celebrating Thanksgiving in the UK and added the serrano pepper and sorghum syrup for a little Southern flair once she returned to Waco.

Ingredients:

1 large butternut squash

1 tablespoon olive oil

Kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper

1 serrano chile, thinly sliced

¼ cup pure sorghum syrup

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

6–8 dried bay leaves

Directions:

Place a rack in the upper third of oven; preheat oven to 425°F. Halve squash lengthwise and scoop out seeds with a large spoon. Using a peeler, remove skin and white flesh below (you should reach the deep orange flesh). Rub all over with oil; season with salt and pepper. Roast in a baking dish just large enough to hold halves side by side until beginning to soften (a paring knife should easily slip in only about ¼”), 15–18 minutes.

Meanwhile, bring chile, sorghum syrup, butter, and vinegar to a simmer in a small saucepan over medium-high, stirring occasionally and removing chile as soon as desired heat level is reached (set aside for serving), until just thick enough to coat spoon, 6–8 minutes. Reduce heat to very low and keep glaze warm.

Transfer squash to a cutting board and let cool slightly. Using a sharp knife, score rounded sides of squash halves crosswise, going as deep as possible but without cutting all the way through. Return squash to baking dish, scored sides up, and tuck bay leaves between a few of the slices; season with salt and pepper.

Roast squash, basting with glaze every 10 minutes or so and using pastry brush to lift off any glaze in the dish that is browning too much, until tender and glaze forms a rich brown coating, 45–60 minutes. Serve topped with reserved chiles.

The Recipe: Cinnamon Walnut Pecan Pie Bites (From the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service)

This recipe was submitted by Lindsey, who has lived in Waco for 5 years and loves walks along the Brazos River! This recipe can be easily doubled, tripled, or even halved, depending on how big or small your Thanksgiving crowd is!

Ingredients:

15 mini phyllo shells, frozen

1/4 cup liquid egg substitute

3 tablespoon dark brown sugar

1/2 tablespoon room temperature butter

1/8 teaspoon cinnamon

1 drop vanilla extract

1/8 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoon chopped walnuts

2 tablespoon chopped pecans

Directions:

Preheat oven to 375°F. Spray a baking sheet with nonstick spray or line with parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, combine egg substitute, brown sugar, butter, vanilla extract, cinnamon and salt. Mix well.

Stir in 1 tablespoon chopped pecans and 1 tablespoon chopped walnuts into mixture. Arrange phyllo shells on baking sheet and distribute the mixture evenly among the shells. Combine remaining nuts and sprinkle them on the top of the shells.

Bake in the oven until edges are crisp, 15-18 minutes. Allow to cool slightly before serving. If you like, top each piece with a squirt of fat free whipped cream topping. Enjoy!

The Recipe: Thanksgiving Leftovers Lasagna

This recipe was submitted by an anonymous Act Locally reader, who has lived in Waco for 49 years and whose favorite Waco spots include Cameron Park and the River Walk at the Waco Suspension Bridge! This recipe is a great way to use up leftovers; feel free to swap any ingredients based on whatever leftovers are in your fridge!

Ingredients:

3 cups leftover cornbread stuffing

1 (14-oz.) can whole berry cranberry sauce

1 ¼ lbs cooked turkey breast, sliced into ¼ inch slices

3 cups cooked mashed potatoes

2 cups green beans, corn, or mixed vegetables

6 oz sharp white Cheddar cheese, shredded (about 1 ½ cups)

Gravy, for serving

Directions:

Preheat oven to 400°F. Lightly grease a square baking dish with cooking spray.

Spread half of the stuffing in a layer in bottom of prepared baking dish. Spread half of the cranberry sauce in an even layer over stuffing. Layer half of turkey slices on top of cranberry sauce, then half of vegetable of choice, then spread half of the mashed potatoes on top of vegetables. Sprinkle half of the shredded cheese on top of potatoes. Repeat layers once. Bake in preheated oven until lasagna is warmed through, about 20 minutes. Increase heat to broil, and broil until cheese is golden, about 2 minutes.

Remove from oven and let stand 5 minutes before cutting into squares. Spoon gravy over each square to serve.

Becca Muncy is an Act Locally intern from Dallas. She is studying professional writing at Baylor University and is completing her senior year.

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email [email protected]for more information.

East Waco Voices: Da Shack Farmer’s Market

By Khristian Howard

East Waco is a source of rich, proud history. Just a mention of revered figures like World War II hero Doris Miller or of Paul Quinn College, the oldest historically black college in Texas, reminds us of the national significance of this part of the Waco community.

What does East Waco have to offer now? There are several gems in the community that continue to sustain the residents, preserve its culture, inspire change, and fuel its heartbeat… but you may have to look for them. One such gem is Da Shack Farmer’s Market. Located in a quaint and quiet part of the neighborhood at 925 Houston Street, “Da Shack” (like the name implies) may not impress you from the outside. However, once you walk through the doors and enter the green oasis that is their garden, you realize it is a hub for nutritious food, education, beauty, and serenity.

Donna Nickerson, a licensed psychotherapist and owner of Da Shack, sat down for a brief interview.  She shared about how the farmer’s market began, and talked about her dreams for benefiting the community.

First, how did they come up with the name?  “I wanted something that was catchy, something that was different. As far as the name, ‘Da Shack’ is not a place where it’s fancy…it’s just simple.” she explained.  “We try to implement simple things – even with gardening. We try to utilize our resources and try to communicate that with the community as well. That way they know you can use what you have. You don’t have to be fancy with things, just use what’s available.”

What should a visitor expect from Da Shack?  For Donna, the most important thing is for customers to leave with an education, even if they do not buy anything. “When they come here, they are going to learn about healthy eating, organic growing, gardening. Our goal is not to just provide healthy organic fruits, vegetables, and herbs…but also to educate them on how to grow and start gardening.” Da Shack is a place where there is something for every potential gardener. For folks who do not want to grow their vegetables from the ground, Donna and the others at Da Shack can give advice and guidance on how to start with pots, vegetable cans, or even in water.

Donna’s passion for educating people on how to improve their health shares roots with her profession as a clinical social worker and psychotherapist. Da Shack provides an avenue for addressing both physical and mental health.  In fact, Da Shack is now offering mental health services to the community. Donna is registered with most insurance agencies and is also providing sliding scale and pro-bono sessions for visitors to learn about behavioral health, managing stress, and more. When asked about why she chose to connect therapy to the farmer’s market, she stated, “Behavioral health is a barrier for a lot of people. If it is not addressed, it creates walls for individuals. Healthy people understand stress and how to cope with it…If you are in good condition physically, you’ll be in good condition emotionally, and vice versa because they work hand-in-hand…not a lot of psychotherapy services are present [in East Waco] and it is a big need.” Furthermore, she wanted “people in the community to come to a place where there is serenity, relaxation, warmth, and resources.”

In recent years, Waco has been a hub for social and economic transformation. Businesses are seeing a new promising market, families are finding supportive communities for their children, and students continue to flood to one of the oldest, most respected universities in the South. The work that Da Shack does in the community could be done downtown or in Woodway or Hewitt, so…why East Waco? When approached with this question, Donna gives a nod to the importance of managing perceptions about the neighborhood. She sees promise in East Waco, she says, and wants Da Shack’s location to be a catalyst for collective impact around healthier living there. “…As long as people continue to develop, as long as people continue to have a positive outlook, there’s really a lot of potential here, it’s just going to take a lot of collaboration. A lot of the key people that are willing to do something really need to be connected.”

Da Shack is a special place for East Wacoans, and for the rest of the city as well. They offer organic products that range from houseplants and outdoor plants, to vegetables and herbs, to instructional sessions about plant benefits and growing.

Beginning February 2nd, they will be accepting SNAP as a way to eliminate any financial barriers for the community – though their products are already priced at a fair rate to ensure affordability. In addition to this, they will soon be implementing smoothies for those who would rather drink their veggies, greenhouse classes and tours for students and non-profits, and monthly donations to families in need in East Waco.

Da Shack Farmer’s Market has taken a creative approach to marrying hobbies with service, nutrition with mental health, and the public sphere with privately-owned business. Ventures like these build on the historic positive energy of East Waco and move the whole community of Waco toward a healthy future.


Khristian Howard is an Atlanta native and a recent graduate of Georgia State University where she earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work. She has a passion for empowering communities through service, and seeks to connect advocacy to creativity. Currently, she is serving as the AmeriCorps VISTA for Texas Hunger Initiative Waco, where her work focuses on fostering collective impact to improve health and eating habits in East Waco. When she is not working, you may find her sharpening her culinary skills or exploring new poetic and artistic pathways.  

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email [email protected] for more information.

2018 Greatest Hits #10: Want to have a great time in Waco? There’s an app for that!

(During these last few weeks of December we will be reprising the Top 10 Most Opened Blog Posts for 2018 from the Act Locally Waco blog. I couldn’t possibly pick my favorites – so I used the simple (cop out?)  approach of pulling up the 10 blog posts that got the most “opens” according to our Google Analytics.  It is an intriguing collection that gives at least a little insight into the interests and concerns of Act Locally Waco readers. I hope this “Top 10” idea inspires you to go back and re-read your personal favorites.  There have been so many terrific ones… If you would like to see the Top 10 according to Google Analytics, here’s the link: Top 10 Most Opened Blog Posts of 2018.  Merry Christmas! — ABT) 

By Karen Rios

I became a Wacoan in January. Before that I literally only knew the Fazoli’s off of 35. I excitedly used my phone to explore my new home. However, I quickly got frustrated at all the articles and blogs that popped up on my search. Most revolved around Magnolia Market, and I knew that Waco had more than just the Market.

I really want people to know about an app that helped me learn about my new town. It’s called Waco & The Heart of Texas, and it’s free for Apple and Android. The Waco Convention & Visitors Bureau put together it together mostly for tourists, but I decided to give it a try anyway.

Savor

I love food! So, the first area I explored was the “savor” category. The app lists 141 food options. Through this, I discovered World Cup Cafe & Fair Trade Market, a locally owned business where you can eat with a purpose. I love their club sandwich. It’s a double decker with ham, turkey, bacon, American cheese, lettuce, tomatoes and your choice of condiments. Did I mention it comes with fries?

Next, the app’s food list led me to Butter My Biscuit. If you see day old biscuits still available, just go ahead and buy them. They sell out fast! The two main biscuits to choose from are Buttermilk and Texas, which has jalapeño and cheddar cheese. They also offer the biscuit “of the day”, which was Rosemary when I went. Every day is something different. You can’t go wrong with these biscuits!

Finally, I enjoyed Moroso’s options for Neapolitan wood-fired pizza and other Italian dishes. A good margarita pizza is hard to come by, but Moroso’s hits the mark. The crust is crunchy and light. They put the right amount of sauce and cheese, and the basil tastes like they just picked it from the garden. It’s a good size pizza, most people share, but I think it’s a perfect personal size. I normally go during lunch to take advantage of their margarita pizza special. My mouth is watering just thinking about all this food.

Waco offers a variety of food options with Wacoan pride. As a local you may already know of the restaurants listed, but it’s always good to have something to reference in case you forget or need to share with friends or family from out of town. The app provides all the information you need. The hard part– deciding where to eat.

Other categories to explore

Perhaps you want something other than food. The app offers 15 different categories to help you show off Waco.

In the “See” category I discovered Cameron Park Zoo. My niece and I watched the lioness chase her cub around trying to bathe her. It looked like the scene from “Lion King” when Simba was trying to get out of his “bath time.”

One of their unique exhibits includes The Brazos River Country.  The exhibit shows you the journey of the early Spanish explorers who searched for gold along the Brazos. Throughout the exhibit you see different species that they could have encountered along the River. My niece enjoyed it because the river runs through Waco and we even walked around to see if she spotted anything.

Another of my go to categories is “Events.” You can see what events happen around Waco. For instance, on May 4th I saw First Friday Waco. That is an event on the first Friday of every month, where business in downtown offer discounts, live music and extended hours. I even learned the Dr. Pepper Museum has free admission on First Friday.

There are at least 300 listings, you just pick a category and go through the options. The app provides a brief description of the place, their website, other media outlet platforms, a contact number, and the address. If you come across an event you like you can add that event to your Google Calendar or iCal. The app is easy to navigate.  They did all the work for us, so all we Wacoans have to do is plan out the day.

Specials

I love being able to save money anytime I can, but I absolutely hate having to give my email address in exchange for coupons! I liked that Waco & The Heart of Texas didn’t make me input my email address to get their Specials. On their app they provide at least 54 different coupons that Wacoans can use. (Side note:  If you prefer paper coupons, you can find them at the Visitors Center at the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame Museum, or at the Convention Center.

When my niece and I went to Cameron Park Zoo we used the coupon at least twice. The coupon gives you a free child admission with a purchase of an adult admission. I saved $7 dollars. You can keep using the coupons until December 31, 2018. Sure, it’s meant for tourists, but Wacoans can save money too.

Why should tourists have all the fun?

Wacoans can all benefit from this media platform. It provides a lot of options that you may know but not necessarily remember. You can plan a family outing and even save money. You can go on new bike trails. You can discover Waco history. You can provide more options to your friends and family. You can explore Waco in a different way. You can take advantage of the bus routes. You can try going to a winery. With over 300 listings, you are bound to find at least one new activity. Waco & The Heart of Texas might have been created for tourists, but Wacoans will know how to use it better!  (Free for Apple OR Android )


Karen Rios is a new Wacoan. She is currently attending MCC studying Digital Media. Although she is new to Waco, she is not new to the “small town” living. She loves exploring new towns and cities. She’s a sucker for hole-in-the-wall eateries. “Every day I discover something new about Waco, I realize how much beauty is here,” she says. “I like to brag about the scenery to all my city friends and family. I’m loving every minute of being a Wacoan.”

Dine on 3: Healthy Holiday Meals

By Meilana Charles

(Note: This post is a part of “Dine on 3,” a new initiative through Prairie View A&M University Cooperative Extension Program. Dine on 3 will use social media outlets to encourage family units to prepare and share home cooked meals more regularly. The initiative’s objectives are to encourage home cooked family meal consumption more frequently and to communicate family life balance ideas and easy recipes monthly primarily through social media outlets. For more information contact Meilana Charles, Extension Agent-McLennan County, Prairie View A&M University-Cooperative Extension Program at 254.757.5180 or [email protected]. )

The winter holiday season is in full swing, but with the average person gaining one pound during this time of the year it’s important to stick to normal eating habits. This may be difficult with all of the seasonal foods prepared during this time of the year. Here are some tips to staying healthy during the holidays:

To achieve healthy cooking during the holidays, modifying recipes may be necessary. To reduce fats consumption prepare meat dishes by grilling or roasting instead of frying. To add, cut visible fat and drain additional fat from meat after preparing. Also, skim fat from drippings used to prepare gravies and sauces. When preparing baked goods, use fruit purees such as applesauce instead of oil. Also prepare those baked good with 100% whole wheat flour instead of enriched flour or purchase baked good made from 100% whole grain ingredients. Lastly, use low-sodium broths when preparing dressing and stuffing.

Now that the meal is prepared and ready to be eaten try to prepare your plate similarly to the USDA’s MyPlate food group recommendations. Use a smaller plate and eat slowly. Consume fried foods, sauces, gravies, creamy dips and sweets in moderation. To avoid second helpings move away from the table or food area when done eating.

Many people attending holiday parties find it difficult to stay on their regular health plans but it is doable. At parties, make the primary objective socializing. Try consuming small portions and limit second helpings. If this seems difficult avoid hovering around the food area. Also consider eating a light snack two hours prior to arriving or volunteer to bring a healthy dish.

In all, remember that winter holidays are an opportunity to celebrate year-end accomplishments and interact with friends and families, not a reason to overeat. Avoid emphasizing food during celebrations. Even if that may be difficult to achieve, having modified, healthy food options can benefit all in attendance and go a long way toward starting a new year healthy and happy.


Meilana CharlesThis Act Locally Waco blog post was written by Meilana Charles. Meilana is a Family and Consumer Sciences Extension Agent at Cooperative Extension Program at Prairie View A&M University. Meilana’s priority areas for providing educational resources to McLennan County are general nutrition, money management and parenting. She has a M.S. in Child Development from Texas Woman’s University and is a certified Human Development and Family Studies professional through American Association of Family and Consumer Sciences.

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email [email protected] for more information.

 

The Veggie Van is coming!

By Matt Hess

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The areas marked green have low income and low access to food according to the USDA Food Access Research Atlas.

Have you ever thought about how difficult it is to get nutritious food if you don’t have a car? The USDA defines a “food desert” as a geographic area where affordable and nutritious food is difficult to obtain, particularly for those without access to an automobile. Research links food deserts to diet-related health problems like diabetes, obesity and heart disease. 57,983 people in Waco live in USDA-declared “Food Desert” tracts; that is 46.5% of our total population. This issue received quite a bit of attention recently when two HEB stores merged into one and a third HEB closed its doors – creating even greater distances between affordable, healthy food and some of the people who need it. Unfortunately, it seems like many of the areas where people most need access to fresh fruits and vegetables are not the most practical, from a business point of view, for a food retailer to set up shop.

veggie logoWith all that in mind, World Hunger Relief, Inc. (WHRI) is launching a new program called the “Veggie Van.” The Veggie Van, a mobile vegetable stand, will allow us to sell vegetables for short periods of time when large crowds gather, i.e. at the end of the school day or after a church service. This will allow us to keep our costs low while providing vegetables in a way that is convenient to families.

The Veggie Van idea is the result of study, careful thought, conversation, experimentation and collaboration around the subject of nutrition in Waco. In the last several years there have been numerous assessments and community input meetings conducted about this issue. The WHRI staff and I attended as many of these meetings as possible.

school gardenTen years ago WHRI completed an assessment of food issues in our area. This assessment led us to pursue school gardening as a way to address a need expressed by the community and to develop relationships for future efforts at improving the nutrition of those in Waco. School gardens are still an important part of our strategy, this year there are 5 schools that are visited weekly by our interns. In these programs I have seen students eagerly trying new vegetables as they develop skills in gardening and food production. As students’ interest in healthy eating increased, we became more aware of food deserts in our community. We encourage students to eat healthily but the environment in their neighborhoods and lack of access to fresh produce makes it difficult for their families to change their eating habits.

watermelon eaterThrough the Act Locally Waco book club I read the book Switch by Chip and Dan Heath. My short synopsis of the book is that to make personal or group changes three things need to be in place: (1) knowledge of why the change needs to be made, (2) motivation to change, and (3) an environment that allows for this change. Our work with the school garden clubs touches on the first two — we have seen an increase in knowledge and motivation about eating healthy foods. We are also working with many partners who provide education about good nutrition, cooking skills and how to stretch food dollars. Building an environment that allows for change is more challenging, we think the Veggie Van will be a good way to begin to address that issue.

Starting, January 14, 2015, the Veggie Van will be selling vegetables with the congregation of St. Luke AME church on the corner of Elm St. at Church St. near the Paul Quinn Campus. At WHRI we hold tightly to the value of working with and supporting other organizations. One of the most exciting things about the Veggie Van is that it will let us add value to work St. Luke and other churches and organizations are already doing in Waco. St. Luke has a great proactive food ministry including a community garden and an outreach program that helps people sign up for SNAP benefits (food stamps) right at the church. The Veggie Van will be a natural supplement to these existing programs. As we look for other locations we are hoping to work with other organizations who are already doing good work in the area of food and nutrition.

We would love to include you in our holistic food ministry. I hope you come and visit us at the van and pick up some great locally grown food for your family. We will be looking for volunteers to help on the van and to help spread the word throughout the community. If you are interested in helping, or if you are just curious, give us a call (254-799-5611), drop us an e-mail ([email protected]) or come see us at one of these opening week events:

  • January 14th – 3:00 PM – the Veggie Van opens for business for the first time at St. Luke AME.
  • January 14th – 6:00 PM – the Veggie Van blessing ceremony at St. Luke AME.
  • January 17th – 11:00 AM – ribbon cutting at the Waco Downtown Farmers Market.
  • January 19th – 11:00-2:00 – The van will visit all of the gardens participating in the MLK Day Day of service the around Waco. We will have more details on our Facebook soon.

beautiful veggiesFor more information about the Veggie Van Project and how you can get involved, please take a moment to visit the website: worldhungerrelief.org/veggie-van, or follow us on social media (Facebook: facebook.com/whriwaco. Twitter:@whriwaco). If you are interested in hosting the van at your church, organization, or other location please fill out the application here. If you would like to contribute financially, we would sure appreciate it. Here’s the link: Donate.


Matt HessToday’s Act Locally Waco blog post was written by Matt Hess. Matt grew up in Boulder, CO. He came to Waco to attend Baylor where he received a Bachelors of Science in Education in History. Afterwards, he stayed in Waco and taught at a school for troubled youth. As a teacher, he saw the difference that working with animals and gardens made on his students, and he began volunteering at WHRI partially with the intention of developing more skills in agriculture and community development. Matt joined WHRI as the Education Director in 2006 years and 6 years later transitioned to his role as Executive Director.

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email [email protected] for more information.