Family mealtime could be a key ingredient for raising healthier kids. Tilth Alliance’s Community Kitchen events not only promote family togetherness, but gathering with friends and neighbors as well, all in the spirit of healthy food education, community building, and celebrating cuisines from Puget Sound’s diverse cultures.
Each month, Community Kitchen meals are held at Rainier Beach Urban Farm & Wetlands. Local residents join the Tilth Alliance staff and a professional guest chef in the facility’s kitchen and together they create a delicious meal using fresh, seasonal food — much of it grown on-site at the farm.
For the past year, Marcus Henderson and his partner Stephanie, operators of Black Star Farmers, have brought their toddler to Community Kitchen events.
“We’ve had a wonderful time introducing our baby to lovingly cooked cuisines from all over the world,” said Stephanie. “Kindred — with their two teeth at the time — worked their way through the roasted beets, candied carrots, and wild rice at the Taste the Rainbow event last June. They even had their first taste of sweet, since mama couldn’t resist sharing a bite of Daniella’s blue corn cake with vegan buttercream chamoy frosting!
“Most memorable for mama was the Korean chef in July, who brought shaved ice with the best toppings. This hit so close to home for me as a Chinese person who loves 刨冰 (bào bīng) — and was perfect in the sweltering heat of summer,” Stephanie added.
Themed and diverse menus
Community Kitchen menus center around a theme, and while all are educational, sustainable, and nutritious, they’re also meant to be celebratory. Lunar New Year, Soul Food, Ramadan, and Pride-themed “Taste the Rainbow” dinners have all been served at the farm. Foods from diverse cultures feature prominently; past events have featured Filipino, Korean, and Indian cuisines and cultures. It’s all part of the organization’s effort to educate individuals and families about seasonal eating, food sustainability, food equity, and nutrition.
The benefits of participating in shared food experiences go beyond a full belly – they support physical and mental well-being, too. According to research conducted by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, children who ate with their families most frequently were less likely to drink alcohol, smoke cigarettes, or use marijuana.
Better health outcomes
Hospitals around the country, including Seattle Children’s, encourage families to dine together regularly to promote better health outcomes.
Massachusetts General Hospital’s Family Dinner Project is one of the best known family mealtime programs in the nation and advocates there offer tips for parents about everything from navigating family dinners, to sports nutrition for kids, to family-friendly recipes. Seattle Children’s Spring 2022 issue of Good Growing also pointed out: “Family meals offer a natural way to practice life skills like responsibility and teamwork — from helping with meal planning, grocery shopping and preparation to setting the table and cleaning up afterward.”
Getting away from unhealthy trends
According to Tilth Alliance Community Education Director Chris Hoffer, Community Kitchen meals offer families a chance to slow down, learn, and work together in the kitchen. And it allows them to get away from damaging eating trends for at least one meal a month.
“Unfortunately, we live in a larger society that is dominated by fast, cheap, and highly processed food that exploits the earth, the people growing the food, and the people consuming the food,” Hoffer says. “This has led to an epidemic of chronic disease and disconnect from nourishing food cultures.”
A chance to come together in the kitchen
Hoffer recognizes finding opportunities to move into the kitchen together can be challenging for families.
“There really aren’t that many opportunities these days for folks to cook and eat together, so Community Kitchen meals are unique in providing those spaces,” Hoffer says. “Whether for the cooks or the people enjoying the meals, it creates a space to share food stories and traditions and build community through that. We hope to offer a welcoming space where neighbors can meet other neighbors, with intergenerational learning opportunities that embrace the rich food cultures of Rainier Beach.”
During a typical event, people arrive early to prepare the meal. Throughout the day, there are family-friendly activities such as arts and crafts, gardening activities, and cultural performances. After the meal is served, volunteers help with cleanup.
Encompassing the Tilth Alliance mission
Community Kitchen relies on the Alliance’s farm-to-table and market programs, which have extensive networks with local farmers. The organization is committed to using foods grown in ways that are respectful of the earth, farmers, and farmworkers. Whenever possible, they use what’s growing seasonally at Rainier Beach Urban Farm and augment with ingredients grown by local BIPOC farmers.
“When we use the term ‘community kitchen,’ we’re simply referring to any place or program where community members gather to cook, eat, and share the experience of food together,” Hoffer added.
“Really, it’s about nourishing the community through growing, cooking, sharing, and eating food together in Rainier Beach.”
Space fills quickly, so sign your family up early to attend Tilth Alliance’s FREE Community Kitchen events or to volunteer for an event.
Beyond Community Kitchen meals, families are welcome to visit the 10-acre Rainier Beach Urban Farm & Wetlands, which is owned by Seattle Parks and Recreation and managed by Tilth Alliance in collaboration with Friends of Rainier Beach. Pick produce from the free designated U-Pick areas, or purchase produce from the pay-what-you-can farmstand year-round.