Montrose Cooks

— Sue Eull, RN, Crow River Food Council Member

An inspiring part of working with the Crow River Food Council is facilitating impactful programs within the area of the Crow River Basin. One such program is Montrose Cooks.

Montrose Cooks is in it’s second session serving and educating participants about food. There is a class community effort to slice, dice, grate, chop, sauté, and more to create delicious sweet and savory dishes. All while keeping fingers intact! Just ask Andrew Doherty, UM Extension class facilitator.

Andrew Doherty works with participants to prepare a meal.

Andrew Doherty works with participants to prepare a meal.

Montrose Cooks came to realization through a collaborative effort that arose from the Crow River Food Council. The idea was to create a class around the concept of offering cooking skills to individuals using crockpots.

The crockpot idea reached Grace Place in Montrose. Grace Place proved to be a perfect landing spot for the idea to become a reality. Pastor Kimberly, Executive Director and Founder of Grace Place, was approached about the concept of cooking classes featuring crockpot meals. She fully embraced the idea and felt it would be a great fit for the Montrose Community she has come to advocate for and know well. Even though it doesn’t have a full kitchen, the building which houses Grace Place proved to provide the perfect space to conduct classes.

Pastor Kimberly wrote for and received generous grant funding to cover the cost of the crockpots, Cooking Matters curriculum, and grocery items. That allowed the Montrose Cooks committee to move forward to create an actionable plan.

Participants work together to recreate the class dish.

Participants of all ages recreate the class dish together.

After a meeting involving Pastor Kimberly, Andrew Doherty, and myself, a plan was formed to move forward. Andrew came to the meeting well prepared with a specific curriculum, Cooking Matters, which offers an easy to use format with recipes to smoothly and skillfully conduct classes. We discussed what to name the classes and thought to keep it simple – Montrose Cooks.

Montrose Cooks first class was held this past summer on June 5th, 2017. The class was formatted to be offered for up to 15 individuals per class. We have four to five class facilitators present per class, offering a variety of support to allow the classes to run smoothly. The very first class hosted 13 students. Their ages ranged from 16 yrs. old to 83 yrs. old with both males and females in attendance. There were beginners to seasoned cooks present who were eager to learn more about food and how to cook in a crockpot.

Learning about the nutritional value of food as it relates to food choices was focused on with the Cooking Matters curriculum. Each student took home their very own Cooking Matters guide at the end of the six-week session. Crockpots were gifted to each class participant after the first class. Each class participant received a grocery shopping bag at the end of each class filled with all the whole food ingredients to make the featured dish made in class at home.

Guest chefs expertly demonstrate knife and other skills as they teach each recipe.

Guest chefs expertly demonstrate knife and other skills as they teach each recipe.

Montrose Cooks is running smoothly in it’s second 6-week session this fall. The classes have welcomed a delightful guest chef, José Madariaga. José brings a sense of humor to everyone as he demonstrates how to prepare the dishes, step by step, before the class breaks into groups to try their hands at preparing and cooking the recipe of the day. José also brings a wider perspective culturally surrounding food as he encourages the participants to not worry about making mistakes with seasonings. As he shares, don’t be afraid to try new spices and a variety of combinations.

Montrose Cooks, as a committee, will continue to explore additional opportunities to expand it’s presence and support within the community; in addition to the cooking classes. A special thank you goes out to Pastor Kimberly for the preparation of her delicious recipes cooked in her crockpot at home to feed everyone at each class.

I started with the word inspiring to write this post. Here is my viewpoint of the inspirational impact of using food to support an individual and a community.

MONTROSE COOKS

  • Teaches nutrition based in whole food nutritional concepts
  • Teaches basic food prep skills
  • Teaches a variety of cooking techniques
  • Promotes confidence in the kitchen
  • Promotes creativity and new perspectives
    • Have you ever tried oatmeal with soy sauce and green onions?
  • Teaches food budgeting tips
    • Planovers – plan to have leftovers so as to cook once and eat twice.
  • Teaches food safety
After prepping the evening's recipe in class, participants receive all of the ingredients to recreate the dish at home.

After prepping the evening’s recipe in class, participants receive all of the ingredients to recreate the dish at home.

The above list features very measurable outcomes. The things that are not as measurable but equally as inspiring are as follows …

  • Laughter
  • Hugs
  • Sharing of tips, advice, concern, and food likes
  • Building a sense of community around food
  • Watching an individual eagerly learn
  • Watching a father and daughter learn to cook together
  • Learning the very first class graduates wish they had another class to attend as they had so much fun and miss each other

Who knew food could inspire all of the above!

— Andrew Doherty, RDN, Crow River Food Council Member

March is National Nutrition Month, this year the theme for the month is “Put Your Best Fork Forward.” To me this phrase means that we should be taking our best attempts to make the healthy food choices when available. The best food choice can vary widely from person to person based on available personal budget, foods, and time. However, these situations that life throws at us shouldn’t be deterrents to “putting our best fork forward.”

The goals of putting your best fork forward are:

  • Creating an eating style of healthful choices that you enjoy
  • Intentionally cooking from home more often, and utilizing healthier ingredients
  • Eating mindfully to encourage proper amounts of food and nutrients
  • Be physically active most days of the week in a way that you enjoy

Here are a few tips to help put your best fork forward;

The first is to create an eating style that includes a variety of your favorite, nutritional foods. This can be accomplished in a number of ways. There are no strict rules for what foods to eat or not eat, but by following the MyPlate guidelines you can find the best way to make healthy eating fit into your life. These guidelines include making half of your plate fruit and vegetables. Fruits or vegetables can come in any form, fresh, frozen, or canned without added salt or sugars. When it comes to eating grain foods, try to incorporate whole grains as much as possible for the added fiber and nutrients they provide. Choosing lean protein and dairy options into your diet can also help to balance energy levels. By following these guidelines it should lead you down the right path for eating a healthy eating pattern.

One of the simplest steps towards putting your best fork forward is to prepare more meals at home. Cooking at home is a cost saving way to eat healthier foods. Preparing ingredients ahead of time can be a great timesaver throughout the week, and ensures that any fruits and vegetables you’re planning on serving are ready to go. If you are running low on time, using a slow-cooker can be a great tool for preparing a large amount of food with relatively little prep. This is also a great way to use of any meats or vegetables before they go bad.

Eating mindfully means making a conscious decision with food choices and amounts. Mindful eating comes down to listening to your body’s natural hunger and fullness signals. Most people tend to overeat, retraining your body to recognize their fullness signal can be a tricky process. A simple first step is to slow down when eating. Many of us eat so fast that we will continue eating right past a feeling of being satisfied and into a state of fullness. A good trick to slowing down while eating is to put your spoon or fork down between bites.

By picking up these simple steps for eating healthier, you’ll be well on your way to putting your best fork forward!

— Jeff Aldrich, Crow River Food Council Member

Did you know that local farmers have been growing vegetables in the Wright Technical Center greenhouse in Buffalo for the past eight months? And that much of what they have grown has made its way to the plates and gardens of local community members? Sarah Lindblom of Solar Fresh Produce CSA, Dana Bahr, a veteran watermelon grower, and Jeff Aldrich and Mary Sue Stevens of Mana Gardens moved into the greenhouse early last December and have collectively grown several hundred pounds of produce and several thousand plant starts since that time.

Sarah planting

Sarah Lindblom with Solar Fresh Produce CSA prepares the soil for seeds. Photo by Mary Sue Stevens.

Long-time Wright Technical Center horticulture and landscaping instructor Greg Dickerman retired two years ago, and the WTC had been facing some challenges finding someone to replace him. Consequently, the greenhouse had been sitting empty and was falling into disrepair. Local Roots Food Co-op President Connie Carlson and Jeff Aldrich met with the WTC Director last November and proposed using the greenhouse for winter food production. WTC welcomed the opportunity to have the greenhouse used and maintained, an agreement was reached, and seeding began December 3, 2015.

Sarah Lindblom used the opportunity to experiment with growing cucumbers and a variety of greens during the winter months, and in the early spring she was able to get a head start on the transplants for her CSA.

Jeff watering

Jeff Aldrich waters trays of microgreens. Photo by Mary Sue Stevens.

Dana Bahr, a Buffalo resident whose watermelon farm is in Otter Tail County, experimented successfully with starting an abundance of sweet potato slips, germinated avocados and was picking summer squash in February. In late March he began starting the several hundred watermelon, cantaloupe and squash that have now been transplanted at his farm.

Mana Gardens experimented with growing ginger, turmeric and microgreens, and conducted a 10-week “winter greens” CSA with ten local families. They also sold fresh greens and root crops through Local Roots Food Co-op and Twin Cities Local Food during the winter months, and have been selling locally-grown cucumbers, tomatoes and plant starts through those channels and at the Buffalo Farmers’ Market since early May. A portion of their produce was also donated to the Buffalo Food Shelf. During the last month of the school year, Jeff and Mary Sue welcomed the students from the Cornerstone Program into the greenhouse. The students tasted vegetables, learned about organic growing, helped with transplanting, and took home their own pots filled with vegetable plants on the last day of school.

Part of the role of the Crow River Food Council is to help identify resources that might be used to help strengthen our local food system, whether they be commercial kitchens, land that might be used to grow food, surplus food, or unused greenhouse space. Connecting people and resources is a key part of improving the quality of and accessibility to fresh, healthy food. The WTC greenhouse story is a good example of how both local farmers and local eaters can benefit when these connections are made. If you are aware of any under-utilized resources of any kind that may have the potential to help members of our region eat better, please reach out and let us know.