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Passion for Produce demonstration takes a fresh approach to food

Posted: Friday, Jul 26th, 2013

AmeriCorps member Jake Harder of the Second Harvest Food Bank gives a demonstration on how to make a nutritious salad Tuesday at Inner Light Ministries in Aptos as part of the Passion for Produce program. (Photo by Tarmo Hannula/Register-Pajaronian)

SOQUEL — In the recreation hall of Inner Light Ministries on Soquel Drive in Soquel on Tuesday, a "healthy food" demonstration is taking place.

On the menu is cactus salad, better known to about half the people watching from the audience as ensalada de nopales. Leading the demonstration is Jake Harder, an AmeriCorps member who has been working at Watsonville-based Second Harvest Food Bank for the past year, and this is Passion for Produce.

Conducting the demonstration in both English and Spanish, Oregonian Harder is a natural presenter. Afterwards he said his year working at the food bank has improved his Spanish, but the easy way he interacts with the folks who come to the nutrition class and food distribution that follows goes beyond language skills — Harder has made a connection.

And that connection is important. After samples of the cactus salad are distributed, Harder asks for volunteers to take turns reading aloud from a list of salad ingredients that’s been provided to them. Fresh cactus leaves, purple onion, radishes, the juice of two lemons — the ingredients are fresh, mostly raw and packed full of nutrients.

As the class goes over the salad's nutritional benefits, one lady from the group speaks up, clearly surprised: "I didn't know it had all these things."


Eating our fruits and veggies

The increased consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables is touted by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) as a way to “reduce the risk of cancer and other chronic diseases,” while providing “essential vitamins and minerals, fiber and other substances that are important for good health.” There is also information on the CDC website on how consuming fruits and vegetables can help with weight loss.

Looking at fruit and vegetable consumption as part of preventative health care has gained traction over the years. A nationwide program recently made headlines in New York as doctors began issuing prescriptions for patients to purchase fruits and vegetables at their local farmers markets.

Teresa Moran, the food bank’s director of community programs, was already well aware of the health benefits of fruits and vegetables when she began volunteering at the Second Harvest Food Bank as an AmeriCorps member.

One of the founders of Passion for Produce, Moran said the food bank was in a unique position to offer nutrition education.

“We are already giving them fruits and vegetables; now we need to show them what to do with it and what are the health benefits,” she said.

Plus, Moran said, people were already enquiring about nutrition during food distribution days.

Moran said most people know about “five a day” – the suggested daily intake of fruit and vegetable servings promoted by governments around the world, including the U.S. – and how to cook. Where Passion for Produce comes in is bringing home that message in a way that is interactive and fosters community (hence the reading out loud), easy to understand and relevant to the way people live and eat.

That means that at the 28 food distribution sites around the county where Passion for Produce operates, short, half-hour lessons split in two components across two separate food distribution days. The first lesson is devoted to a particular nutrition topic and is followed up by a second lesson that reaffirms the lessons relayed in the first and includes a healthy food demonstration using readily available, inexpensive ingredients.

“People may know how to cook but not healthy,” said Moran. “We are teaching them how to create healthy meals.”

And the initiative appears to be working. According to survey results provided by the food bank, 96 percent of Passion for Produce participants stated that they have increased their consumption of fruits and vegetables, and 94 percent stated they have adopted healthier cooking habits, such as cooking with less oil since attending the classes.

On Tuesday at Inner Light Ministries, food bank volunteer and client Lois Smith said she’s lost 30 pounds by eating the fruits and vegetables provided by the food bank and adopting new ways of preparing her meals.

“When you are raised country-style it’s hard to make changes,” said Smith. But by going to the nutrition classes, she has “learned how to eat different.”

That includes eating fresh produce instead of canned, using less salt in her meals and limiting fried foods.

Instead of potato chips, Smith now makes kale chips. “I can have my chips and eat it, too,” she said, smiling.

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