Above: Registered dietitian Nina Fearon instructs class attendees on roasting fruits and vegetables, like celeriac, in the Petoskey Crooked Tree Arts Center kitchen.
What started out as three 45-minute hands-on cooking classes could mean something big for the health of our northern Michigan community. Groundwork staff are perpetually knee-deep in this kind of work—the kind that starts as one or two conversations in a coffee shop, then grows into a regional program, and then onto a statewide initiative (see: 10 Cents a Meal!), or a feel-good story about a child who changed her or his mind from despising vegetables to loving them. As if weren’t enough for our farm to school project at Pellston Public Schools to convert skeptical students into bonafide turnip-lovers, one student told me she recently began using recipes from school at home with her family! In a county with higher than average rates of chronic diet-related diseases, like diabetes, this kind of cultural change—to an embrace of healthy eating—is of paramount importance.
Spinach leaves await a roasted root topping and an oil-and-vinegar dressing.
“Prescription for Produce” is one such pilot program that aims to bring about healthier eating habits. It provides health education, nutrition information, cooking techniques, and local produce to qualified participants. Patients of Bay View OB/GYN, who have been referred by pilot-participating doctors, and others referred through the Health Department of Northwest Michigan were invited to attend three 45-minute classes in the fall of 2018; many sessions were held during farmers market hours to give easy access to local food shopping. Classes took place at the Crooked Tree Arts Center (CTAC) kitchen in Petoskey, and were taught by local health advocate and Registered Dietitian Nina Fearon.
With assistance from community volunteers and Retired and Senior Volunteer Program members, the first class saw attendees prepare carrots with fresh thyme, and learn steaming and sautéing techniques. “In class two, we sampled roasted acorn squash and apple, and prepared roasted broccoli with red cabbage,” says Fearon. “We did a demo of squash cutting, tomato skinning and prepping broccoli stem, julienne style, for broccoli slaw.” Using fresh, local ingredients, participants prepared lentil soup and fennel salad with apple. Nutrition was a thread of discussion throughout the three-class series, alongside the benefits of eating a plant-filled diet. As Fearon likes to tell her clients, “Eating a rainbow” provides vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, fiber benefits, and multiple anti-oxidants—“cell protection, cell protection, cell protection,” emphasizes Fearon while chopping purple carrots.
Roasted beets, carrots, radishes and apples. Eating a rainbow has many health benefits.
Positive statements from participants have come in and give hope to the future of the class series. One attendee stated, “Now that I know how to cut vegetables properly, I can make a salad in five minutes instead of 20!” Another participant shared her excitement in making homemade stock and serving her family a soup dinner. “She was thrilled that she could do it, thrilled they ate it! And she said they loved it. This was great news!” Fearon says. The classes are fun, yes, but also we know that if more people are cooking using whole fruits and vegetables—not from a box—they are taking control of their sodium, sugar, and fat intake, which will increase their health dramatically.
Participants also took home tools that will help them prepare healthful meals at home, including vegetable peelers, scrubbers, and knives. After each class, participants also received $16 in vouchers to spend at the CTAC Artisans and Farmers Market, on food items like carrots, potatoes, rutabaga, cabbage and other seasonal products. Several of the attendees stated they hadn't been using fresh produce at home because they didn't know how to prepare fresh food—the Prescription for Produce program aims to change that.
Inspired by Groundwork Center for Resilient Communities’ 2017 Culinary Medicine Conference and with assistance from Groundwork Center, the Emmet County collaborative, including McLaren Northern Michigan, Health Department of Northwest Michigan, Bliss Gardens Farm and Community Kitchen, the Crooked Tree Art Center Artisans and Farmers Market, Bay View OB/GYN, and YMCA of Northern Michigan, planned this pilot for the Petoskey community with funding through the Petoskey-Harbor Springs Area Community Foundation. McLaren facilitated the voucher system at the market to reimburse the vendors, and acts as the pilot’s fiduciary.
To learn more about the program, contact the program coordinator, Amy Socolovitch, Community Health Outreach Specialist at McLaren Northern Michigan, 231-487-4633, Amy.Socolovitch@mclaren.org.
The cooking class series is made possible by the Petoskey-Harbor Springs Area Community Foundation. Thanks also to Fresh Baby and Fustini’s Oils and Vinegars for support.
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