Saturday, June 26, 2010

Helping hands

During my time in Charlotte, NC I was lucky enough to stumble across one of the most successful -- and inspiring -- collaborative models for food outreach I have ever come across. It all started with an offhand suggestion in an e mail from my college friend Mark (whose hectic work schedule prevented us, alas, from meeting up in person while I was in town, but whose local food and farm recommendations have for the most part been stellar)....

Okay, I know I've gushed about a few programs over the past 16 months since I started the blog, but seriously the innovative partnership between Friendship Trays (a meals on wheels-style nonprofit based in Charlotte), The Community Culinary School of Charlotte (CCSC), and the local Slow Food chapter is something I simply have not come across before. I taught in the public education system and have worked in a few nonprofits that paid lip service to (and in a few instances actually worked toward) "collaboration," and I am telling you that it can be quite a challenge to pull off a true collaboration successfully, to be able to tap into each person's (or organization's) interests and talents and networks. Here, friends, is a model for how to bring food to those without access (physically and/or financially), empower and employ those without jobs, and educate folks about how to grow healthy food and communities in an urban setting.

I spent last Thursday afternoon -- no, not two days ago, I mean last week, and, yes, this blog post is more belated than intended, but there's been a lot to process in the ibtibrain -- at the weekly Friendship Garden open volunteer day. My friend Laura tagged along and we helped harvest beans and squash, added compost and water to some of the beds, snipped the buds off of the basil, and chatted with other volunteers. As we were finishing up, Lani -- the volunteer coordinator at nearby Friendship Trays -- stopped by and gave us a tour and a bit of history on the green space. The garden, we learned, was made possible with the hard labor of (and some funding from) folks over at Slow Food Charlotte. It was meant as a demonstration garden, so that people from around the city could come and learn how to create similar community gardens in their area. And Lani told us that funding has been secured to build 4 more gardens within the next year.

Oh, but there's more. The produce from the garden -- including beans, potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, and a whole mess of fresh herbs -- is often harvested and used by students at the Community Culinary School of Charlotte right next door. Well, a culinary school that is connected to seasonal produce sounds right up my alley. Lani apparently thought so, too, and promptly introduced me to CCSC's gregarious director, Chef Ron, who gave me an overview of his program that trains and helps place unemployed community members in the food industry. There are some income-generating aspects to the 12-15 week program, including corporate cooking classes and the student-and-alumni-run catering business, but the general idea is to help empower folks (who for one reason or another have a hard time finding work) with the skills and experience necessary to find decent, gainful employment in food.

Wait, wait, you're probably wondering what the connection to Friendship Trays is beyond simply being next door. Get this: instead of paying tuition, students in the culinary school are required to log a certain number of hours cooking with Friendship Trays, which cranks out roughly 700 meals each day for delivery in the Charlotte metro area. So along with the 85 volunteers who help pack and deliver these meals, there are real chefs (and chefs-in-training) feeding their communities. I was so intrigued that I made my way back over to Friendship Trays the following morning for the 8-11am food packing shift. It's all true. And apparently the webmaster happened to stop in with his camera while I was adorned in hairnet and plastic apron. I chatted with him a bit afterwards and was tickled to find a piece on my little project on the website a few days later. (For the record, I had *no* idea he was using the mega-zoom feature. Tell me, is my nose *really* that enormous? Actually, don't answer that.)

Interestingly, I learned from Amy (one of CCSC's administrators) that the program is closely modeled on the DC Central Kitchen in my very own beloved Washington, DC. (You'd better believe I mean to check out the work going on there when I get back. Oooh, I'm getting excited just *thinking* about it!) I would love to be involved with a similar food justice collaboration back home.

Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

1 comment:

  1. I met you at Sarah and Jamie's potluck tonight and am utterly fascinated by your project! Way to make a difference! I can't wait to spend some time reading about your adventures in your past blog entries. Good luck with the rest of your adventure as it draws to a close!


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