On a sunny Saturday morning, underneath the shade from a tent in the corner of a parking lot, a breeze spreads the aroma of cooking broccoli throughout the crowd. Bowls of green onions and mushrooms are on the counter. Potatoes are boiling in one pot and cauliflower is cooking in another.
Sitting on metal folding chairs and sipping sweet tea, Tucsonans gathered to learn how to cook healthy meals at the Garden Kitchen.
Partnered with the UA College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, the Pima County Cooperative Extension and the city of South Tucson, the Garden Kitchen seeks to educate people on how to live and eat healthy through its seed-to-table program.
The program receives most of its funding from a federal grant aimed at battling obesity and offers demonstrations and hands-on classes as well as free gardening and cooking classes every Saturday morning.
Louisa O’Meara, a first-year public health graduate student, taught Saturday’s cooking class on classic comfort foods.
As O’Meara cooked three different dishes — twice baked potato casserole, spinach squares and macaroni and cheese — she offered cooking tips and answered questions. She said the secret to combatting the carbohydrate-heavy dishes is to fill them with vegetables.
O’Meara said although she sees new faces in the crowd every week, there are also many regulars who rarely miss a class. They tell her about how the classes have changed their lives, inspiring them to eat better, feel healthier and lose weight, O’Meara said.
“That’s what you’re going for: getting people inspired to care about food and take an active role,” O’Meara said. “Food is the best preventative medicine.”
Tucson resident Melva Garzelloni, 62, has been attending the class every week since it began in fall 2012. A vegetarian for years, Garzelloni said she loves learning the reasons why food needs to be handled a certain way or the chemistry behind why certain foods are beneficial.
“It’s my favorite thing I do every week,” Garzelloni said.
Cheralyn Schmidt, a program coordinator at the Cooperative Extension, said she hopes to encourage people to get more involved with their diet and health by demonstrating the entire food process from gardening to cooking.
“The goal is to get people to take their own health into their own hands,” Schmidt said.
Though its offices were originally located at Roger Road and Campbell Avenue, Garden Kitchen relocated to South Tucson in order to be more accessible to people who didn’t have the resources to get there. Schmidt said collaborators want the Garden Kitchen to become a culinary service and resource for the community and that they hope to expand their class offerings by installing five
small kitchen units that would allow more hands-on classes.
The goal is to establish an outdoor classroom to accommodate larger crowds. Schmidt said she also hopes to start community gardens in vacant lots nearby to encourage more members of the neighborhood to get involved.
“We want people to come in, get their hands dirty and learn about food,” Schmidt said.