A Culinary Adventure, From Gardens and Markets to Restaurants and Home Kitchens
May 31, 2012
11:58 AM
Local Flavor

Community Growing

Community Growing

Walking around the farmers’ markets, it’s easy to take for granted the abundance of affordable, fresh produce we have available. Just last week, I picked up a bunch of asparagus and a bag of tender spinach to supplement my own garden’s meager bounty. But many families in Madison do not have access to fresh grown vegetables and fruit.

Kathy Utley, food resources manager at the Goodman Community Center, or GCC, is working to change that. She has one main goal: to provide food security for low-income families, and in particular to offer the Goodman Center’s Fritz Food Pantry customers fresh, local produce and healthy snack options such as fresh fruit year round.

In order to serve the 150–200 households that come for food each week, and reach her goal of offering at least thirty percent fresh food, Utley reaches out to her community for help. On Earth Day, the Eastside Pantry Brigade, led by Joe Mingle, built ten garden beds at Union Corners (East Washington Avenue and Milwaukee Street). Except for the beds that are now bursting with fresh greens and herbs, the lot is desolate. (Its proximity to one of the greatest beer pubs in Madison, The Malt House, makes up for what it lacks. But that’s another story.) A team of teens that gains work experience and school credit through GCC programs will help tend the garden; the produce will go to the Fritz Food Pantry.

Aside from working with Mingle, Utley also partners with Dane County Food Coalition, which coordinates various organizations to help bring more locally sourced foods into local food economy, food pantries included. Also, gardeners using the Atwood Community Gardens donate homegrown produce to the Fritz Food Pantry, and even host an end-of-season farmers’ market at GCC so the pantry customers can meet the growers who have donated their produce.

With support from another local organization, Community Action Coalition, individuals are encouraged to “Plant a Row for the Hungry” in their own gardens, and businesses can plant a pantry garden. Utley says they also receive “random” donations from individuals—you know that box of CSA vegetables that you just can’t seem to use up? GCC will take them off your hands!

In the near future Utley aims to offer fresh produce year round, thanks to a grant written by GCC executive director Becky Steinhoff, that will help set up a canning and preservation program.

Utley is always looking for more donations. Food pantry customers love a variety of leafy greens as well as fresh fruit for healthy snacks for families. Other high-demand items include celery, potatoes, carrots and eggs. Of course, monetary donations are always welcome. Inch by inch, row by row, we can help our community grow.

For more info or to help, contact Kathy Utley at the Goodman Center Fritz Food Pantry at 241.1574 x249 or kathy@goodmancenter.org; Joe Mingle at the East Side Pantry Brigade at 332.1493 or jwmingle@tds.net; or Chris Brockel at the Community Action Coalition at 246-4730 x206 or chrisb@cacscw.org.

Photo by Otehlia Cassidy.

About This Blog

Writing has always provided an anchor for my passions, which focus deeply on food, dance, environmental conservation and culture. I grew up “helping” my dad cultivate a prolific garden that produced too many radishes and watching my mom make almost all of our food from scratch, including horehound candy. Meanwhile I took my first African dance class in high school, which ignited my continuing quest to travel to West Africa, via Europe and South America, to study dance.

Through my travels, I learned that we are all connected by food, and our basic need to eat. Since moving to Madison in 1998 to pursue degrees in conservation biology and dance, I have developed an appreciation for the richness of our local food community, and a great desire to share it with others. What started as a personal food blog, A World of Flavors, has since grown into a business teaching cooking classes and leading local and international food tours.

I look forward to sharing culinary adventures with you through my Madison Magazine blog Local Flavor and monthly Dining In recipe column.

  – Otehlia Cassidy
Follow Otehlia on Twitter @madisoneats

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