Cooking classes assist pantry users participating in CSA program

MSU Extension is providing hand-on nutrition and cooking classes to support Kent County CSA to Pantry program.

A lesson of life that I have always believed in is that the best way to learn is to be one of the least experienced people in the room. This requires the humility to accept that someone may know more than you about a specific topic, and the courage to ask questions, showing that you may not be an expert. It is this belief that makes me eager to be part of the Farm to Pantry Program at North Kent Connect. This program, developed and managed by Access of West Michigan, helps increase food access by providing local produce in the form of Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) shares to food pantry users. Michigan State University Extension provided assistance in the development of this program in 2015 - 2016 and will be continuing to support the program this summer by providing nutrition instructors for a four-part cooking series.

The cooking class series was created in order to help CSA share recipients understand what to do with their items after they bring them home. Topics include, but are not limited to, the various benefits of CSA, safely preserving these foods and building weekly meal menus (including quick snack ideas). Often times, community members want to participate in these programs and support their local farmers, but do not know how to properly handle or cook the produce. These classes intend to show participants how to store, handle and prepare these specific foods with various recipes they can do at home, so they can be more comfortable using the abundance of fresh vegetables they will receive each week. This program is specifically targeted at the low-income and food insecure population served by North Kent Connect, however lack of cooking skills is often cited as a barrier to CSA participation across all income levels.

The specific farm that this produce is coming from is Plainsong Farms and Ministry in Rockford, Michigan. The co-founders, Mike and Bethany Edwardson, opened the farm in support of the Christian Food Movement. They believe the best way to utilize the land that they were blessed with is to share its growth with the community.

An important aspect of CSA participation is the opportunity to build “community” around a farm and between the shareholders. This program provides a space for participants from all backgrounds to come and share traditional cooking knowledge and get to know their fellow peers who are also receiving shares. The key to succeeding in this program, though, is to provide information to others on the topics you are knowledgeable in, and allowing others to provide information to you on the topics you are not. Everyone will benefit in group discussion if there are those asking questions and those willing to provide answers. After the seminars, participants are then able to go to Plainsong Farms and receive their share.

The Farm to Pantry Program in Kent County will begin the first Wednesday in July at the North Kent Connect office in Rockford. If you have any additional information please contact either myself at MSU Extension or Chérie Elahl, North Kent Connect program director. 

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