Dining With Ms. LIl: Just Food is Connecting NYers with Healthy Food

March 20, 2014

Just Foods 6th Annual Tasting BenefitBy LIl Nickelson

Just Food is a non-profit organization that is helping feed healthy food to food insecure New Yorkers across the five boroughs through six (6) programs.  Today’s article will focus on four of those six programs.

Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) in NYC

Since 1995, Just Food has helped start over 100 CSA sites in New York City.  CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture, and they connect local farms, neighborhood groups and individual consumers in urban communities to make fresh, locally grown food accessible to all New York City residents.

City Farms

Just Food’s City Farms programs assist community garden groups to start and run farmers’ markets, trains skilled gardeners to teach their communities to grow food, and coordinate free urban based agriculture workshops in low income communities.

Fresh Food for All

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Just Food assist local pantries make fresh, nutritious, locally grown food available to families and individuals in need.  One of the headlines in the New York Daily News on St. Patrick’s Day stated how 1 in 5 New Yorkers are now forced to use food pantries and soup kitchens.  Not surprising is how it’s not only the homeless and the unemployed who are “food insecure” or “food challenged.”  These two terms are the politically correct terms in the 21st century to describe hunger.  Statistically, 1.4 million New Yorkers rely on assistance from food pantries and soup kitchens.  That represents an increase of 200,000 people in five years.  Nationally 50 million Americans are food insecure, and another 50 million are on the cusp; one third of the 100 million are children.  Malnutrition is now an epidemic here in America.  This surge in need is because it’s so hard for people to find jobs or to find decent paying jobs.

Community Food Education

Just Food runs a community food education program that inspires and empowers New Yorkers to create simple, delicious, and healthy meals.  It trains food pantry personnel and community members from diverse backgrounds to become “Community Chefs.”  Once trained, the Community Chefs present regular 2 hour cooking demonstrations at various farmers’ markets, community gardens, food pantries and community events and are compensated $100 per cooking demonstration.  Often times, they are showing people tasty ways to cook ingredients that they have never used before to expand their horizons.

I recently interviewed Paula Lukats, Just Food’s CSA Program Manager about their Community Chef Program.  In 2013, Community Chefs offered 113 cooking demonstrations to over 6,000 New Yorkers to encourage them to use lesser known fruits and vegetables that are often overlooked or rejected by food pantry and farmers’ market clients because they don’t know how to prepare and enjoy these diverse seasonal produce.

Within the Harlem community 2 food pantries participated in Just Food’s 2013 Community Chefs program: St. Mary’s Episcopal Church on 126th Street (in between Amsterdam Avenue and Old Broadway) and the pantry run by Broadway Community Inc on 114th Street and Broadway.

Bank of America awarded Just Food a $25,000 Critical Needs grant to further their Community Chefs program in the 5 boroughs in 2014, and Just Food will expand the program in Harlem from 2 to 6 pantries from May 3oth through November 21st.  This isn’t the first grant that Just Food has received from Bank of America.  Back in 2010 Bank of America awarded Just Food its Builders award, $200,000 in unrestricted funds for leadership training, and workforce development.  The beefing up of the organization staff and programs in place today are the by products of the funding the group received back then.

I became acquainted with the non-profit organization when I attended Just Foods’ Let Us Eat Local 6th Annual Tasting Benefit held at the Altman Building on October 2nd, 2013.  I had a fabulous time, the food was great, and the atmosphere was perfect for a foodie like me.  I spoke with several Executive Chefs that evening, and all stated they give their time and food because they believe in better food system for their restaurants and in the group’s mission of creating the same for New York City residents.

I pondered that night how I might get involved with Just Food.  After the interview with Paula last month I contacted Angela Davis, Just Foods’ Community Food Education Coordinator (angela@justfood.org) to apply to become a Community Chef.  I love to cook, shopping at farmers’ markets and teaching other people how to cook.  If you are interested in joining me send an email to Ms. Davis ASAP; completed applications must be in by March 28th, 2014.

Or you can join me and other concerned New Yorkers at the 2014 Just Food Conference to be held on Saturday, April 5th and Sunday, April 6th on Columbia University’s Teachers College campus (visit www.justfoodconference.org for conference details).  The conference workshops are categorized by the organization’s six major programs, and tickets are on sale now.  They are geared towards community organizations, restaurants as well as for individuals.  One workshop I am really looking forward to attending is “Transforming Family Health: One Kitchen at a Time.”  Hope to see you there.

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