Manna Food Project (Manna) held its sixth regional Crock-Pot cooking class at the Moms & Tots Center in Ellsworth, Mich., on Thursday, Dec. 14. Twenty-five food pantry clients living in the area learned about planning healthy meals, the importance of eating more fresh vegetables, and supporting local growers.
Often food pantry clients are unaware of the importance of fruits and vegetables in their own diet and for the healthy development of their growing children. In addition, many pantry clients suffer from diet-related illnesses such as obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. Home-cooked, healthful meals are an effective way to combat these chronic diseases.
Class participants learned about the preparation and storage of fresh vegetables, safe knife skills, and how to customize a recipe to their personal tastes. Each attendee brought home fresh ingredients and spices to prepare a vegetable chili, a new Crock-Pot, a three-piece kitchen knife set, vegetable peeler, cutting board, measuring cups, healthy eating tips, and several slow-cooker recipes.
Manna held six cooking classes this holiday season: two each in Antrim, Charlevoix, and Emmet counties. Previous classes were held at First Presbyterian Church in Boyne City, New Hope Church in Levering, Mancelona United Methodist, Petoskey United Methodist Church, and First Congregational Church in Charlevoix. Twenty-five pantry clients attended each site, reaching 150 households in total.
The classes, which stressed the importance of fresh ingredients for a healthy diet, were led by MSU Extension instructor Denise Aungst and Health Department of Northwest Michigan instructors Lynne DeMoor and Judi Marlin. Traverse City-based Groundwork Center for Resilience Communities, FoodCorps, and a “Sustainable Living” course intern from North Central Michigan College in Petoskey supported the effort.
DeMoor observed that “participants moved from being intimidated using a chef’s knife, to an improved comfort level, to a boost in confidence when they became creative in slicing their carrots and green peppers and prepping their fresh garlic.”
One attendee offered, “I need to learn these skills so I can pass them on to my children.”
“It was really great to see the similarity between how we educate adults in our community and the way I’m working with students in our local schools, as a FoodCorps service member,” said Lindsay Hall, a FoodCorps service member hosted by Groundwork. “There is the same high-level interest and eagerness to cook with fresh, healthy ingredients across all age groups. A few attendees knew about my ‘farm to school’ efforts which made everything come full circle for me.”
Manna’s Crock-Pot classes were part of a larger initiative called "Produce for People,” which provides locally sourced fresh fruits and vegetables to its partner food pantries in Antrim, Charlevoix, and Emmet counties. The project received financial support from the Health Department of Northwest Michigan, Groundwork, Char-Em United Way, Charlevoix County Community Foundation, and Petoskey Harbor Springs Area Community Foundation.
Manna, a nonprofit food bank in Harbor Springs celebrating its 30th anniversary, serves 24 partner food pantries and 21 community kitchens in Antrim, Charlevoix and Emmet counties. Together, they provide supplemental food each year to over 45,000 struggling households in Northern Michigan.
“The classes were the culmination of a year-long initiative to improve the quality, appearance, and nutritional value of the fruits and vegetables that were available for food pantry clients and their families in Northwest Michigan,” said Kim Baker, executive director of Manna. “It was a community effort involving our community foundations, local growers, and our partner food pantries. The most important outcome was the educational component, which encouraged pantry clients to add more fresh fruits and vegetables to their dinner tables—an essential part of a healthy diet.”
To learn more about Manna Food Project, to volunteer, or lend your financial support, call 231-347-8852 or visit www.mannafoodproject.org.
Jennifer Schaap is the local food policy specialist who coordinates Groundwork's food and farming program in the Northern Farms Foodshed of Antrim, Charlevoix and Emmet counties. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.