Boyne Falls Public Schools cafeteria

Strategic micro-grants increase health and expand the local food economy

July 6, 2021 | |

Groundwork recently launched Building Resilient Communities (BRC), a program designed to increase the amount of nutritious, locally grown food served in community-focused sites throughout northwest Michigan. BRC aims to increase community health while building capacity, expanding the market for local food, and bolstering farm economic stability. BRC is based on the principle that a small investment in infrastructure, coupled with support and strategic planning, can have an outsized impact on building food security in our region. 
 
Eligible sites for this program include schools, food pantries, community centers, farms, and even farm markets and concessions. In close collaboration with community members, Groundwork staff help sites identify the best ways to use their stipend and strengthen existing or new infrastructure to ensure the changes endure.
 
Though BRC is still in its pilot phase, Groundwork has already seen proof of the program’s success with its first site: The Depot Teen Center in East Jordan. With support from Groundwork consultants, The Depot developed strategies to increase healthy food consumption among their participants. These include: 

  • Providing cooking lessons
  • Supplying ingredients to cook at home
  • Visiting farms
  • Adopting commitments, like always providing water, fruits, and vegetables; limiting unhealthy food and drinks; asking volunteers to model healthy eating; and communicating with families about healthy choices

Depot volunteers received training by Groundwork’s former FoodCorps AmeriCorps service member and current contractor, Casey Haggerty. Instructors learned how to teach knife skills, handle food safely, and divide longer recipes into teen-friendly tasks. With the stipend, the Depot purchased induction burners, pans, mixing bowls, and other cooking utensils that will allow instructors to lead teens in lessons.
 
            The first Depot class was a success. The chicken stir-fry recipe allowed the participants to practice a variety of skills, like chopping, handling meat, cooking rice, and sautéing vegetables. The recipe also introduced nutritional concepts, like including multiple food groups and colors of vegetables in one dish. Dessert was no-sugar-added cookies made with oats and bananas, and the beverage was water infused with raspberries. When asked when the next cooking class should be, an eighth grader exclaimed, “Tomorrow!” 
 
At the East Jordan farmers market days later, Depot volunteer Carrie Zoulek ran into some teens who participated in the class. They expressed how much they enjoyed it and how they planned to come back for the next one. Carrie says, “Get ready, I am sure we will have many more [classes]!” 
 
            Beyond being fun community-building activities, The Depot’s cooking classes help teens develop lifelong skills that empower them to cook good, healthy food for themselves and their families. This has positive, long-term community health implications. 
 
The Depot’s story is only a glimpse of BRC’s potential, as Groundwork intends to have at least 20 sites participate this year—and Groundwork is actively recruiting! Interested organizations or individuals are invited to fill out a brief form on Groundwork’s website. Additional questions can be directed to Jessyca Stoepker at [email protected] or 269.908.8563.

Casey Haggerty is a Groundwork Food & Farming contractor. [email protected]

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