Trip Recap 11/13:Planting the Seeds for “Grow.Cook.Dine.”

For those of you who followed our 2009 trip to the Gulf Coast, you may remember our incredible day of service in Ocean Springs, Mississippi entitled Grow.Cook.Dine. A signature “seed to plate” program developed and written by CulinaryCorps in partnership with Real Food Gulf Coast, it is a 10-week after school cooking and gardening curriculum. The hands-on cooking experience ties in the bounty of local farms, shores, and fields with the produce students can grow in their own backyard and forage from the world around them.

(Exploring new tastes and flavors with our 2009 volunteer team. Photo credit CulinaryCorps.)

During our  2009 CulinaryCorps trip, the team created a program launch to much fanfare at the Mary C O’Keefe Center for the Arts.  A crowd of over 75 third grade students came out to learn about how seeds are planted, harvested, and eaten through a series of hands-on cooking stations that followed the Grow.Cook.Dine. lesson plans. They loved it! So with the program in motion, Real Food Gulf Coast set about finding the funding to initiate the classes in neighboring coastal communities. They have been working hard since our departure to get the curriculum up and running.

(Always use the “bear claw” for safety. Photo credit CulinaryCorps.)

With our return to the area, CulinaryCorps asked if there was a need for a follow-up activity to support Grow.Cook.Dine and its development. As we learned, our timing was perfect! In 2012, Real Food Gulf Coast  is aiming to launch the program in the soon-to-be-completed Audobon Center in Moss Point, a tight-knit low-income community of approximately 12,000 residents that is at this time classified as a food desert. They asked if we could come out to help reboot the curriculum to fit their current needs as well as test the recipes and sample them to community supporters to generate funding interest. Of course, we said yes. Absolutely.

So once again, we jumped in our vans and followed the coast west to Moss Point. When we arrived at the Pascagoula Audobon Center the tall grass, perched squab, stark trees, and glistening water of the Pascagoula River were waiting for us. It was stunning.

(Blowing in the wind. Photo credit Allie Carroll Photography.)

To start the day, our team embarked on a foraging expedition with Dr. Mark LaSalle of the Pascagoula River Audobon Center. Armed with a bucket and a fish net we harvested fragrant wild bay, starchy cattails, and a huge haul of small but tasty mullet. We came away with a new perspective and a tremendous appreciation for the wild foods of the area.

(Gathering under the pecan tree. Photo credit Allie Carroll Photography.)

(Catch of the day. Photo credit Allie Carroll Photography.)

After getting our hands dirty pulling leaves and roots, we set out for the supermarket to learn what foods are available on the shelves. Our team spent the next hour studying the aisles of the town’s only grocery store, Piggly Wiggly, getting a sense of what ingredients would be available to incorporate into our recipes. In fact, we were pleasantly surprised at what we found. Whole grains, legumes, fresh fruits, and low-fat dairy were all readily available. Seems “The Pig” has more healthy potential then even some residents realized.

(Ready for “The Pig.” Photo credit Allie Carroll Photography.)

When we returned back to the Audobon Center, Real Food Gulf Coast cooked up wonderful goat sausage sandwiches with local tomatoes as we set about testing each and every recipe in the Grow.Cook.Dine. curriculum. Homemade butter was the first team effort as we each took turns shaking the jars. It was then turned into a fragrant herbed topper for fresh popcorn as well as a simple sauce for pan-fried chicken with spinach and black-eyed peas.

(Sauteed chicken with homemade herbed butter. Photo credit CulinaryCorps.)

The tested recipes came out looking beautiful! And tasted just as good.

(Pretty local veggies with homemade ranch dressing. Photo credit CulinaryCorps.)

Once settled around the communal table, CulinaryCorps chefs and local community members–including seafood expert and food writer Julian Blunt–embarked on a group taste test and panel discussion about the program and its recipes. Several changes were made and through our collective brainstorming, we all learned a lot about the how and why of building a hands-on cooking curriculum for kids. Plus, we got to eat really well.


(Fruit salad sundaes with a cherry on top. Photo credit CulinaryCorps.)

As one team member said this week, CulinaryCorps is about many things but fundamentally, it is about “cooking it forward.” We use our skills in the kitchen and love of food to create “wow!” moments that not only provide great food but have the potential to engage, educate, and inspire. It is our hope that after we depart, the momentum we create urges others in the community to cook it forward too. From the kind messages we received from our community panel since our departure, our day at the Audobon Center with Real Food Gulf Coast did just that!

(We’ll be back! Photo credit Allie Carroll Photography)

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