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Posted: May 29, 2014 10:00 p.m.

Students to learn to grow, prepare food

Group seeking help to train students to grow and cook organic produce

A pastor, farmer and chef got together one day and decided they were going to revolutionize how local residents think about and consume food. They also want to transform communities while they’re at it.

Local pastor and veteran nonprofit coordinator Bill Hoosen, farmer Andrew Norman and chef Jeff Hinkle are working with the Washington Street Community Center and seeking the community’s help to kick off a program that will teach local students how to grow organic produce, cook that food in healthy ways and share those meals with the residents in their community.

The program, titled Thrive (with the tagline “We grow food to grow kids to grow community”), advances the community garden and locally grown movements taking root in the U.S. and brings them to students, many of whom have never seen food actually growing outside.

While many areas of the country have been termed “food deserts” – areas where affordable, healthy food is hard to get – Hoosen said Newton County actually has a number of area farms that sell fresh produce to residents.

“But people either aren’t aware or the food is too pricey for them, so they go for processed foods that are high in sugar and salt and lead to diabetes, heart problems and obesity,” Hoosen said. “It’s unbelievable, when you look at studies, that kids can’t identify that we get milk from cows or eggs from chickens or bread from wheat.

“We’ll be able to help teach kids the connection of how food sources tie back to the land and how (fresh food) can taste so much better, especially if they can prepare and they can share that with other people and find out why they’re in the health or financial situations they’re in and be able to have a first-hand knowledge that there are people in the community who truly do need help.”

How the program works

Though Hoosen has worked with nonprofits extensively in the past, he didn’t want to set up another 501(c)(3), so he looked for an existing nonprofit to partner with and the Washington Street Community Center stepped up to the plate.
The center already has a commercial kitchen and has land to plant some garden beds.

If the program is successful at the center, Hoosen hopes to expand it to all sorts of other local organizations, like other community centers, churches, veterans groups – anywhere with enough land for a simple garden bed.

Hoosen said it costs about $200 to build a 4-foot by 8-foot garden bed and buy soil and the soil amendments needed to effectively grow vegetables.

The goal of the program is to be able to produce 15 to 25 meals to feed students and others in the community twice a month.

To get there, he estimates the program will need around $3,000 to $4,000 to get started.

Students will be paired with adult mentors and work with local organic farmer Norman to learn how to plant and grow vegetables and fruit.

Then they’ll work with Hinkle, who is the executive chef of Camp Twin Lakes in Rutledge, to learn how to prepare the produce in healthy and tasty ways.

Finally, those students will then take the food and share with it others in the community where they live, spreading the healthy food and knowledge they’ve gained.

For now the focus will be on produce, which reduces the dependence of many meals on meat, but Hoosen said it could expand to include raising chickens and rabbits in the future to provide organic, more easily attainable sources of meat.

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