Cooking from the Garden

The following story is written by IFFS garden and Cooking Matters volunteer Kevin McDonough. Kevin is currently volunteering in a Cooking Matters for Teens class at the Durham Teen Center. Before class, Kevin frequently walks with the teens down to the IFFS West End Neighborhood Community Garden to harvest greens and herbs to use in class. A lot of what the Food Shuttle accomplishes happens in brief moments or almost-unnoticeable exchanges.  Something is shared, something is learned or realized, a connection is made.  It is these immeasurable events that make our work powerful and meaningful.

One such event happened just before a recent Cooking Matters class at the Durham Teen Center.  As the garden contact for the class, I walk with some of the teens to the nearby IFFS community garden to harvest greens.  A supervisor at the Teen Center, Mr. Q, joined us on this walk.  As we meandered our way through the streets of the West End Neighborhood, Mr. Q spoke to me about the lack of opportunity in the neighborhood and how a lot of kids just grow up in this neighborhood without ever being exposed to anything different.  A lot of what he said was not new to me but, in this particular instance, there was a certain depth and reality to it that I had never experienced before.  To discuss these issues in a meeting or classroom is one thing, but to walk the streets where this is reality and to be with the youth who are living that reality is totally different.  I think the teens (who weren’t paying attention to us), Mr. Q, and myself, were all, to different degrees, unaware of what his message was communicating in that moment.  In looking back on it, however, I think that moment gave me a glimpse into the lives of these youth that I had not had before.  It was a sort of shift in perspective that is hard to re-create or explain.

When we reached the garden, it was Mr. Q who would have his own shift in perspective.  With a little bit of encouragement from myself and one of the braver teens, the whole group tried tasting mustards greens, broccoli, arugula, and cilantro.  Some thought it was disgusting and some liked what they tried.  There was a mixture of excitement and nervousness as we walked around the garden beds.  For Mr. Q, it seemed to be a sort of revelation.  He made such exclamations as: “you can eat that?!” and “this tastes just like mustard!” (referring to mustard greens).  His enthusiasm about trying things and excitement about these plants actually being edible seemed to charge the teens and make them more willing to try things themselves.  His excitement grew to the point that he felt he had to call his wife and tell her what had happened.  In his conversation with her, he told her that they were going to plant their own garden at their house.

As we made our way back to the Teen Center, Mr. Q and I talked about growing food as something that nourishes and empowers people.  He was so receptive and enthusiastic about all these ideas and seemed to be making all sorts of connections about the garden and food and the meaning of community gardening.

Later that day, after the cooking class, I was reflecting about what had happened in our visit to the garden. The thought just dawned on me: “this is exactly what community gardening is about!” I laughed a bit and said to myself: “that was it!”

Learn more about Cooking Matters, IFFS Nutrition Education programs,  Community Gardens, and volunteer opportunities at our website.