I love it when a dream becomes reality! When the Wesley Foundation received a grant for Environmental Justice work we knew we wanted to share it with our local community. We knew we wanted to involve students in something they cared deeply about. And we knew that there were many needs in our area.
Where we live in the Central Valley is largely an agricultural area. How crops are grown and harvested affects those who live here not only at the dinner table, but also in the air we breathe, the water we have access to and the working conditions of our neighbors and family members. There are a few farmers lifting up the importance of sustainable agriculture, many through organic farming.
T&D Willey Farms in Madera is one of those voices. They are a family farm that grows delicious produce. My family has enjoyed being part of their CSA for the past four years. However, I know that not every family has access to local organic produce or the information that would lead them to choose this for themselves. So, Wesley Foundation partnered with a local food pantry, Good Neighbor Food Pantry, to provide a bag of fresh produce with the bags of groceries the clients typically receive once a month.
Then came the next challenge: sharing knowledge about how to make healthy, nutritious and delicious meals using the typical ingredients in the food pantry bag and the fresh produce. To do this, we brought in the experts. Students from the Merced College Nutrition Department, lead by Professor Michelle Pechennino. Using the ingredients given to food pantry clients they created recipes and then demonstrated how to cook them. Sometimes, the bag from the food pantry is like the box of ingredients on the television show, "Chopped." Some of the ingredients are great mysteries. And for some who have been living on processed foods most of their lives, vegetables like spinach, leeks, parsnips or kale are mysterious as well.
The interaction with those learning was dynamic and helpful. The room was full of people and enthusiasm for two different demonstrations. Many ideas were shared back and forth for how to use the ingredients. Samples, hugs and tips about finding produce at our local farmers market were shared at the end.