With a mission of “providing access to healthy food for all by cooking and eating together,” Our Community Kitchen has an innovative twist to an age-old idea of serving good food and bringing people together. Our Community Kitchen is not your ordinary church kitchen venue, nor is there the standard food fare menu of scrambled eggs and cereal. With an emphasis on providing locally sourced, healthy, home-made foods, Our Community Kitchen has a breakfast menu that rivals that of an upscale bistro. Served every Tuesday and Thursday from 7-10 am at the Ascension Episcopal Church in Stillwater, the breakfast is donation supported. Those who can afford to give are asked to give whatever amount they see fit; everyone in the community is strongly urged to come have breakfast regardless of their financial ability. No one is ever turned away and the crowd is growing- serving an average of 80 people per week. "I love the variety of foods and the ability to try new foods I have never before experienced," said attendee, Barb Christopherson. Preschoolers from the nearby Head Start program are invited to come have breakfast each week, broadening their food-tasting experiences which could help pave the way for healthier food choices far into the future. The children are fed “family style” with plates of food set in the middle of the table to encourage peer support as well as aid the children with having more personal power and responsibility over what they choose to eat.
Nearly one year old, the project was conceived with the idea of connecting people and providing tasty and nutritious home-made food sourced from local farms, gardens, and area grocers such as the River Market Co-op. The Washington County Department of Public Health and Environment, in partnership with the State Health Improvement Program (SHIP) provided seed monies to help launch the pilot. “The SHIP initiative to reduce obesity and increase access to fruits and vegetables was the driving force behind support of Our Community Kitchen, " explained Pat Galligher, Washington County Senior Community Health Specialist, MPH, RD, LN. “We were immediately impressed with the dedicated volunteers and the quality, high-nutrient dense food.” Ann DeLaVergne founder of ecoEnvelopes, who has recently refocused to work locally on community projects, won't let funding issues slow down the momentum of this great initiative. Armed with a knack for connecting community resources and an army of dynamic volunteers, many of whom are self-proclaimed “foodies,” DeLaVergne has secured additional funding from Bayport’s Hugh J. Andersen Foundation and is plowing ahead.
Our Community Kitchen volunteers plan for and prepare breakfast consisting of steel-cut oats, french toast, quiche with spinach and sun-dried tomatoes, homemade bread, and apple butter. The volunteers are likely to be community leaders who are also part of the local food production scene such as Jeffrey and Kristin Klemestrud, former chef-owners of Savories, Sara Hayden, baker and owner of Rustic Pies of Stillwater, or Sara Morrison (pictured left), owner of The Backyard Grocery, which provides garden design services as well as fresh herbs and vegetables. “I believe access to healthy food is a right that all people should enjoy and that eating good food with friends, old and new, is a great way to create community, “ said Morrison. Other volunteers include area-school students, and staff from Canvas Health and State Farm Insurance. Our Community Kitchen has taken seed and now many other positive outcomes are taking root. A group of Lake Elmo teens began the Cimarron Youth Garden project and the Kitchen purchases vegetables from them which are then used in the community meals. The breakfast has also become a central point to discuss all things food. “We support economic development through projects in and around the kitchen like Harmony Learning Center Garden and the Landfall Gardens. We also look at how to support micro businesses around food and cooking related products,” remarked DeLaVergne. Growers and food artisans are able to connect and benefit, which in turn is strengthening the physical, mental, spiritual, and financial health of the Washington County community. Ready to enjoy a good meal consisting of wholesome and local ingredients while connecting with other like-minded people? Breakfast available every Tuesday and Thursday from 7-10 am at Ascension Episcopal Church, 214 North Third Street, Stillwater.Interested in volunteering in this healthy food, healthy community movement? Volunteers are needed for a variety of tasks such as: helping pick up and sort produce, meal planning, and food preparation. Donations are also welcome- contact volunteer coordinator, Diane Rollie at 651-428-0300 or community organizer, Ann DeLaVergne 651-329-0125 for more details.
Leigh Ann Ahmad was dragged kicking and screaming to the Cities by her husband; having been born and bred in Cleveland, Ohio, she just could not fathom how colder could be better. Now, five years and two kids later, she cannot imagine a better place to play and thrive. She’s a reformed carb-aholic, wannabe writer, social justice advocate, book-club geek, veggie grower and local foods connoisseur. Her last article for SGT was, Discovering my roots.