Cooking Up Change At Main Street Project

Rocky Casillas news

Main Street Project has reimagined the traditional cooking club, incorporating unique approaches to harvesting, preparing and planning meals and encouraging a different mindset altogether around food and diet. The club will cover practical nutrition information, hands-on demonstrations, food budgeting and shopping, and engagement in food production at Main Street Project’s research and development farm.

The program serves to break down barriers around healthy food consumption, provide resources for better choices, and, eventually, change the way area neighborhoods eat and approach farming by introducing Main Street Project’s highly efficient small-scale farm.

Building Like-minded Partnerships

The idea for this adult cooking club, Cocina Y Campo, spurred from conversations with local Latino community members about their concerns of obesity and related complications in Faribault’s Latino community. Responding to these conversations, Main Street Project forged an official partnership with local nonprofit Growing Up Healthy, which serves to address the social factors influencing the health of young families in Rice County.

Main Street Project has integrated the cooking club into its Sharing Our Roots community-outreach program, which aims to improve access to healthy foods among low-income households and strengthen community connectedness, particularly for the growing rural Latino community in the region.

Cooking Club Details

Support from an Allina Health grant will enable Main Street Project and Growing Up Healthy to partner together to host the adult cooking club in Faribault twice a month.

  • Every other Tuesday, beginning on May 1 and lasting until November 20, sessions will be held from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m.
  • Held at Faribault Middle School (May and September–November) and on Main Street Project’s farm (June–August)

Performed in Spanish, the program is focused on the needs of the local Latino community, but Main Street Project’s hope is that after a successful pilot year, they’re able to expand cooking club programming into the greater community.

“It’s important to provide resources to the community that help instill better choices without giving up participants’ culinary heritage,” says Rocky Casillas, who works on community outreach and extending education for Main Street Project. “That’s our goal with this. We want to show how simple things like replacing an ingredient or switching a preparation technique can make a positive difference in people’s health.”

Unique Teaching Methods

The adult cooking club programming focuses on three different teaching methods:

  • Bringing in guest experts, such as nutritionists, restaurant owners and chefs, to discuss healthy food preparation techniques and the importance of a balanced diet and healthier choices.
  • Emphasizing the importance of teamwork. During cooking days, club members will work collaboratively to prepare meals, dividing up the tasks amongst the group. From washing and chopping produce to cooking and baking, everyone will have a role during each activity to ensure all participants feel they are contributing.
  • Participant-led instruction. Cooking club members will have the opportunity to take over a class to teach the rest of their group something of their choice, generally in the form of a cooking demonstration.

A Holistic Approach

The cooking club offers a holistic approach to overall health and aligns with Main Street Project’s mission to deliver wholesome, nutritious food that benefits the farmers, reverses environmental damage and builds rural prosperity.

Participants will begin each session by stretching or practicing mindful meditation. Additionally, when the cooking club sessions are held on Main Street Project’s farm during the summer months, participants will take part in physical activities – weeding, walking and helping to harvest the produce that they will eventually turn into meals.

“Being on the farm will allow for a special spiritual connection to the land,” says Casillas. “We believe that working the land and harvesting food will serve the spiritual and mental health of participants.”

Additionally, by providing participants with interactive activity tracking tools and meal diary resources, Main Street Project’s hope is that at the end of the cooking club program participants are able to see the direct, positive impact that a healthier diet has on their energy levels.

Nourishing the Cycle

Casillas believes that the cyclical nature of the cooking club program is part of what makes it unique and impactful. “When parents learn healthy habits, they can pass the information onto younger family members and so forth,” he says. “Improving the nutritional decisions of individual families will result in healthier neighborhoods.”

The cyclical nature of the food program doesn’t stop there. “After we harvest the food and cook it, we’ll be able to compost leftover scraps into the earth,” Casillas adds. “Participants will come away with a true connection to their food and the land it comes from.”

About Main Street Project

Since 2010, Main Street Project has been developing and testing a poultry-centered regenerative agriculture system capable of producing economic, ecological and social benefits to allow rural communities everywhere to prosper. Its programs rebuild the local food system while moving underemployed residents to economic stability.

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