In a small room inside the Caldcleugh Multicultural Arts Center near downtown Greensboro, a group of food lovers sits in rapt attention as a chef demonstrates ways to cook using kohlrabi — a member of the cabbage family — and rutabagas.

The class is part of the Caldcleugh Organic Outreach Garden’s programming, which includes regular sessions for local youth as well as these seasonal cooking workshops for adults. The free classes are designed to introduce attendees to new foods and ways to prepare them at home.

“We created this program with the idea of, ‘You can grow this food in your yard,’” says Todd Fisher, city arts coordinator. “We want to show people different healthy ways to grow and eat produce.”

The adult cooking class program started about two years ago, and ramped up when Fisher — who has a history in local restaurants — came onboard at Caldcleugh. The classes highlight produce in season from the Caldcleugh garden and local farmers markets.

“I’m a big proponent of farmers markets and supporting local farmers and buying from local farmers as much as possible,” Fisher says.

Local chefs such as Jay Pierce (formerly of Lucky 32 and The Traveled Farmer, now executive chef at Mozelle’s in Winston-Salem), Doug Boxley (of Natty Greene’s) and various members of the 1618 team have taught the classes.

“It’s very casual — the chefs only do one or two dishes, and people can ask questions,” Fisher says. “Then there’s a tour of the garden.”

All the recipes are vegetable-based and designed to work even for those with food allergies or restrictions.

“It’s always been vegetarian, so no matter what your dietary restrictions, you can still come out and try something,” Fisher says.

The classes draw a diverse crowd — a mix of neighborhood residents, fans of the visiting chef and those interested in the vegetable(s) du jour.

The sessions demonstrate not only cooking techniques, but also preservation methods. Fisher says the objective is to show attendees that fresh produce can be used long after its harvest.

“The classes show people what to do if you buy too much produce or you have a ton of tomatoes on your plants in July — you can make tomato sauce, dehydrate things or ferment things — we show you how to make things last,” he says.

Fisher recognizes obstacles that prevent many in the communities Caldcleugh serves from regularly eating fresh, healthy foods. He wants these classes to demonstrate that it’s possible to eat healthy, even when the budget is tight.

“We’ve lost a generation of people cooking,” he says. “It’s almost cheaper for people who are lower-to-middle income to go out when you factor in the cost of the time it takes to buy ingredients and cook them for just one meal. But when you show people how they can get more than one meal out of this work, it makes sense from a financial standpoint, as well as a health one. Then they’re buying more fresh food than prepared food, and hopefully that will make people healthier.”

Contact Jennifer Bringle at jenniferbringle@gmail.com.

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