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Building a bridge for community food security [replay]

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KAYTE YOUNG:  From WFIU in Bloomington, Indiana. I'm Kayte Young and this is Earth Eats.

HEATHER CRAIG:  I had six different people's donation of Basil in my dish yesterday, and that's what made it work, so.

KAYTE YOUNG:  This week, on the show we talk with Heather Craig of the community kitchen about cooking for a crowd everyday, improvising in the face of uncertainty and sourcing ingredients from the community. That's coming up this hour, stay with us.

KAYTE YOUNG:  Thanks for listening to Earth Eats, I'm Kayte Young. People in the mid-west and high plains are used to severe thunderstorms and tornado's. But, there's a weather phenomenon that's becoming a more common part of their vocabulary. Derechos, a year ago, a Derecho swept across the mid west on the plains, bringing widespread damaging winds, tornado's and killing at least five. As Harvest Public media's Katie Peikes reports, scientists are grappling with what the future of Derechos could look like.

KATIE PEIKES:  On December fifteenth last year, it was unusually warm in central Iowa, seventy degrees, when a Derecho blew threw. It hit Matt Thompson's seed and fertilizer application business.

MATT THOMPSON:  There was a building there, you can see the pad, still sitting there, through gravel. That's where one of the buildings was.

KATIE PEIKES:  Lost Grove Ag services near Harcourt, Iowa lost five of its six buildings. Thompson recalls getting to the business early the next morning to survey the damage.

MATT THOMPSON:  And, when the sun came up... we didn't know what we were going to do. It was pretty devastating to see, it was unbelievable. I'll never forget that.

KATIE PEIKES:  Derechos are widespread, long lived windstorms and this Derecho was unique. The first recorded in December anywhere in the US. Wind gusts exceeded eighty miles per hour. The straight line winds and tornado's that accompanied left nearly two billion dollars in damage. Stretching from Kansas to Michigan, Iowa in particular has been caught in the cross hairs of Derechos over the last couple of years. Bill Gallus is a meteorology professor at Iowa State University, he says, Derechos thrive on warm humid air in the atmosphere's lower levels creating thunderstorms, something the mid-west often has.

BILL GALLUS:  Those thunderstorms are able to tap into very strong winds happening higher up in the atmosphere, even up towards the jet stream so that they can bring their strong winds down to the ground. That is what happened in the recent December of 2021 Derecho in the mid-west.

KATIE PEIKES:  There isn't a lot of research on Derechos so scientist say it's hard to know how they'll fair in a warming earth. Gallus says there's more energy in the atmosphere as it warms and that could pave the way for more powerful and more frequent Derechos.

BILL GALLUS:  Since Derechos like warm, humid air, you're probably going to be seeing them in places or at times of the year where you didn't see them before. So, they maybe starting to happen more to the north.

KATIE PEIKES:  But, scientist can't say for sure. And some attribute the uncertainty to the fact that there's no official data base for Derechos, like there is for hurricanes or tornado's where they can look through historic trends. That's something the national weather service is working on. Matthew Elliot is a warning coordination meteorologist based in Norman, Oklahoma. He says Derechos have no formal definition.

MATTHEW ELLIOT:  When you hear the word Derecho, it's got to trigger something, it's got to trigger that this is the worst windstorm that I'm going to see.

KATIE PEIKES:  Once they have a label and better data, Elliot says it'll make forecasting Derechos easier and will give people more warning to get to safety. The national weather service has improved the alert system, that's after a highly destructive Derecho hit Iowa and Illinois back in August 2020, killing four people. Now, in a severe thunderstorm warning is issued with strong winds of at least 80 miles per hour, people get an alert on their phones. But, northern Illinois university atmosphere scientist and disaster geographer Walker Ashely says more should be done with urban planning and building codes.

WALKER ASHLEY:  We build at the bare minimum standards, in this country. And that has all sorts of consequences from heating costs, to damage within extreme damaging wind limits.

KATIE PEIKES:  After all, Ashley says as cities grow and sprawl out, they're putting more people in harms way of extreme weather, like Derechos. I'm Katie Peikes, Harvest Public Media.

KAYTE YOUNG:  Harvest Public Media is a collaboration of public media news rooms in the mid-west and great plains. Find more at

KAYTE YOUNG:  From food banks to food pantry's, to soup kitchens serving hot meals. Non-profit emergency food centers have become an important threat in our nations social safety net. Here, in Bloomington, the community kitchen of Monroe county serves free hot meals, six days a week in their dining room on south Rogers street. And, that's just the tip of the iceberg. They have satellite express locations offering meals to go, a summer meals program for kids and they provide meals for twenty two head start classrooms in the county. The community kitchen also prepares food for other organizations such as shelters, they make meals for homebound seniors and chronically ill individuals. During the school year, they provide food for a few after school programs and send food home with kids through their back pack buddies program.

KAYTE YOUNG:  Suffice it to say, there's a lot of food coming out of that kitchen on south Rogers, nearly everyday of the week. You might have a picture in your mind of the kind of meals served in a soup kitchen. You might be thinking of institutional cafeteria style food, heavy on the brown gravy and overcooked canned green beans. Prepare for that image to be shattered. I recently spent time with Heather Craig, kitchen supervisor at the community kitchen. We talked about the bonds that form around sharing food and the particular struggles they faced during the covid nineteen shut downs. Heather walks us through a typical day of meal planning and cooking for several hundred folks at a time. And shares how she handles uncertainty with improvisation.

HEATHER CRAIG:  My name is Heather Craig and I'm the kitchen supervisor here at the Community Kitchen in Monroe county. I have been working here for about eight years, I took over as kitchen supervisor about two years ago, in the middle of the pandemic from Adan Summer who had been here for 19 years.

KAYTE YOUNG:  Heather had a roundabout path into this work, she's trained as a musician, a Violinist. And, found herself working in food service for her day job.

HEATHER CRAIG:  I love food service, I have worked with several chefs in town and helped open places such as the upland, worked at Lenny's, lots of different places. I had gotten away from food service and said I was never going to do it again. So, I was touring with a band, they decided to stop touring and get married. I was looking for a job and I saw this opening at the community kitchen, and, in the back of my mind I said I can go back into food service for something like this,. So, I came and I started working here part time, cooking and helping with the volunteers which we all take part in doing. And, I just stayed and then Adam decided to leave and become a full time father, so, I took over and supervisor and I love it, it's a very rewarding job.

KAYTE YOUNG:  We, at the community kitchen have several different programs, one the people are probably most familiar with are the dining room and the express location where we serve dinner from four to six pm Monday through Saturday, these services are no questions asked, anonymous people don't have to give us any reason for coming in; it's just no questions asked. We'll feed you. We welcome families, we have a nice family section. We have a broad spectrum of people who use our services. Our location here on south Rogers has a sit down dining room, where they have their hot meals and we also offer cold meals to take home. Our West Eleven Street location offers hot and cold carry out meals, only. We also provide meals for positive links, area ten, agency on aging. We have head start, functions out of here. Right now we're in the midst of our summer lunch programs where we have our truck and a couple of vans that go round to different neighborhoods and park for a certain amount of time, offering food to kids.

KAYTE YOUNG:  We also serve breakfasts and snacks to boys and girls club, girls inc. and the rise. We do back pack buddies as well but there's no cooking involved, that's just packing groceries that we send bags home with children to help their families get through, for meals. We have, in the last couple of years, added a hot food service in Ellisville. We were able to get this amazing food truck, it's not the same kind of food truck that you say we don't cook on it. It's just a way to keep the food hot so it's more of a transport, we've been utilizing that for the Ellisville service and we've been using it in the children's lunch program this summer. The truck goes to three different locations, it ends up at the end of the evening with the library and you can find the times and, the exact locations on our website, or you can call us and ask if you have a question. We're hoping to expand that service to all full six nights right now, it's just Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday in Ellisville.

KAYTE YOUNG:  We're hoping to simmer out to Bloomington, we're finding locations that are harder for people to get here. So, we're looking to expand that, but that's been an amazing addition to our fleet it's going to give us opportunities to get some places that we have not been able to before and Monroe county is a big county, it's not just Bloomington and we're here to serve the county so we're looking at more places we can go. Hopefully we'll be able to reach some more people that we haven't.

HEATHER CRAIG:  Combining all of our programs, we probably serve six to seven hundred meals a day, that's with all the programs. Here in the dining room and west eleven, our dinner service, we probably serve two to two fifty, and the numbers have been going up for many reasons.

KAYTE YOUNG:  So, you said that it's a no questions asked, can you talk about that and just the importance of that.

HEATHER CRAIG:  Well, it's just we don't ask for income, we don't ask why you're here and one of the things that I'd like to emphasize, a lot of people think of the community kitchen as the last resort for food, people will go to mother Hubbard's before they come here. There's so many reasons we have lovely nutritious, we'll get down to what we cook and what we offer later but, we're here to help feed you and if it helps you put gas in your car so you can get to work. If you need help just to get you through a rough time, even if it's just a couple of days a week between paychecks. We are here, it is comfortable, people are pleasant, our volunteers are wonderful. I like to think ti's more of a bridge than a net, I don't want to wait until people have fallen the way through to help get you what you need.

HEATHER CRAIG:  Now, somebody is just like I'm having a bad week, or honestly, you live alone, you're retired and you just don't wanna cook. You can't cook for yourself, there's so many reasons why people come here. I like the fact that we don't require any proof of need. It just allows people, hopefully, to feel a little more comfortable coming in here and no judgment, this is just a nice place with good food and we're just happy to have you.

KAYTE YOUNG:  They have a simple sign in sheet to keep track of how many people they serve, but, you can use their services anonymously and they don't allow photographs in the dining room.

HEATHER CRAIG:  You can grab food and sit at a table and do your own thing. You're not going to be bothered. We do have Sarah who helps our patrons find services, she's a resource specialist and she might come and talk to you and just welcome you or I might welcome you if you look like you want to, but, if you don't want to talk to anyone, you don't have to. Just come in and eat.

KAYTE YOUNG:  And there's no limit on how many times a month you can come in?

HEATHER CRAIG:  No, you can come in everyday and I said you can eat as much as you can, or want to, each evening and no limits on that. We also have cold carry out meals that are re-heatable or, you can eat them cold, not everybody has access to a microwave or an oven. So it'll be like a protein dish, a vegetable and a starch.

KAYTE YOUNG:  Cause I could imagine some people maybe feeling like they would like to get the food but they're not sure about coming in to the environment that they're not sure they want to talk to people, or whatever.

HEATHER CRAIG:  Absolutely, so our location on west eleven street is hot meals, you can get a hot meals and cold meals to go, they're packed up. So, if you don't want to sit down and eat, you can just go in there and get one and leave. Here, we have a family dining area, we've had so many wonderful families, it's a joy when the kids come in, it makes everyone lighter. It's very comfortable, it's not completely isolated from the dining room but it's off in its own corner. People have ideas of what a community kitchen is like and it's family friendly, we want people to feel welcome here but we do enforce our rules. First and foremost, safety for people to feel welcome but also, to feel safe. Some people are surprised when they come in the first time to see that it's a nice, pretty comfortable environment.

KAYTE YOUNG:  Heather says that if someone is having trouble following the guidelines or, causing problems for others, they will be asked to leave. Even then, she sends them off with a meal to go. She wants to make sure everyone gets to eat. Even if they're having a bad day. We're going to take a short break and when we return, we'll hear about how the community kitchen adapted to the sudden and, long lasting restrictions of the covid nineteen pandemic. After that, Heather Craig walks us through the preparations of one of her garden fresh vegetarian entree's for their Rogers street dining room. Stay with us.

KAYTE YOUNG:  Kayte Young here, this is Earth Eats. I'm speaking with Heather Craig of the community kitchen of Monroe county. In March of twenty twenty when restaurants and other businesses were closing and people were asked to stay home as much as possible to prevent the spread of the Covid-19 virus, emergency food services were needed more than ever. I asked Heather to share what things were like at the community kitchen.

HEATHER CRAIG:  I know a lot of people were stuck at home, there were a lot of people who weren't stuck at home who were working and doing things who still needed the services, a lot of people needed those services even more with not having work. We never closed, we went to just carry out only and we had carry out hot meals here, during that time. And, people came in and they got their meals, if they had a place to go, some people sat outside. How, amazing it was to see people just kind of keep an eye out for each other, resilience is not necessarily a positive thing, when I say resilience, but also how a lot of resilient a lot of people are and were. I was amazing, I was out in other places, I worked at another place at the time too and human behavior was not at its finest.

HEATHER CRAIG:  It still may not be, but, people were kind and helping each other and I just think that's my take away, it was very exhausting for everyone I know, it still is, it's not gone. But, that period of time when things were closed down and things were a lot more restrictive, showed me some of the best things that I've ever seen in this community to be honest. I was really really impressed. there are definitely folks who it was very hard when we weren't open for sit down because this is where they get most of their socialization but, people watched out, knew this person or knew that person and tried to at least have some contact, whether it was outside or keep an eye on them. One of the most amazing things to me is how many people come back here after they donate our services just to check in and tell us how they're doing and how much this place meant to them.

HEATHER CRAIG:  We have a handful of seniors that come in that I think is really important for them, for their socialization it's really neat when people come in and check in with us and let us know how they're doing and also, it's really exciting when someone comes and says, I'm probably not going to see you that much, this job's working out or, just different situations things are improving, it's really great to know that being able to be here for people and have a safe comfortable place, and, to feel comfortable enough to tell us what's going on. It's a good thing. and, honestly, the pandemic I feel like I know, other staff members, volunteers and patrons really, I don't want to say become closer but have a better, more stronger, connection because we did.

 We could not have done what we did during the pandemic without our patrons. An then when we were able to have volunteers because our patrons had to sit on the outside, you know for like a year and a half I think we didn't have service, we never closed any days. We stayed open, we fed people but it was tough. Cold, heat and sitting there trying to eat. And everyone really gracious, everybody had a few mask issues but honestly, I think we had less problems than most other commercial grocery stores and things. People, you know, were much more kind and understanding. The first day that we opened up, I just told all the patrons thank you, because people were emotional, this is a place for a lot of people and I told them how appreciative that we'd done this, we made it through together and we couldn't have done it if everyone hadn't been super wonderful, I don't even know how to say it. I mean, gracious is the word.

KAYTE YOUNG:  Could you tell me a little bit about the food that you make and where you source the ingredients.

HEATHER CRAIG:  We offer a hot, nutritious meal. In general, the components of our meal, every night, a hot main dish and we have a vegetarian option. We serve up a side vegetable, salad, fruit, beverages and often dessert. So, that's pretty basic. Now, within that, there's a lot. We have wonderful opportunities for ingredients. We'll have our canned goods, our dry goods, a lot of that's from individuals. I don't think people realize how much comes from individuals. We get amazing fresh produce all year round, from farm to family, and other growers and other groups that bring, I think people's market used to bring it on it's own.

HEATHER CRAIG:  Also, Rosehill farm stop has been bringing their stuff to us too that they're not selling. Our proteins, so we do have some government funding and some grants. Right now, the county fair just happened and, this is amazing, so people bid on the animals and then they donate them to us and we have a grant for rices to process the meat. I think we got five cows and six pigs and two sheep and a goat, which is a lot of meat. That's amazing, that gets our protein a good chunk of the year.

KAYTE YOUNG:  And that's also animals who are really well cared for.

HEATHER CRAIG:  Yeah, this is good meat, again, amazing. I'd say, at any given point, there's probably something in the mail that was locally sourced. I don't want to say a hundred percent of the time but most of the time. Whether it's winter greens, there's usually something in there. Right now, there are two of us who cook most of the time, there's another woman here names Heather. We're serving a lot of pallets, we're also serving people who are maybe getting most of their nutrition and maybe this meal. So, I can't cater to all the things but we try not to make anything too salty, try and make it as healthy and balanced as possible. But, that being said, we do have to stretch a lot of things with some starches. So, there's usually pasta or rice with the main dish. I say there's day that I pick that are comfort food days, there's sometimes once in a while like a fun meal I'm like hey, it's for kids day. Well, actually, cheese is something and great everything else healthy. I try to make it enjoyable, interesting but not too inaccessible. I want people to be able to enjoy it.

HEATHER CRAIG:  I try to make it enjoyable, interesting but not too inaccessible. I want people to be able to enjoy it. On Friday's we do all vegetarian. We had a grant last year for side vegetable because up until last year, except in the peak of summer when we had tons of squash, most of our vegetables were canned. We had a grant that we ended up utilizing to get some frozen vegetables and some fresh vegetables for the side. We have since extended that a little bit on their own so they we have a little more variety cause the canned vegetables are like you know, pea's, corn, carrots everybody get tired of those. And, today, I'll probably use one of our frozen options it's vegetable medley and that's been nice. And, any day now, I expect the doorbell to start ringing and the zucchini, tomatoes and the cucumber will be flooding the doors and that doesn't mean they'll bring them, we'll use them, we love them. But, then, we'll be able to do some of those things which is salad and fruit, and I guess I should say the other big chunk of our fresh food, beside the farm to family and local growers is, through the Hosier Hills food bank.

HEATHER CRAIG:  If people aren't aware, they have trucks that go around to all the grocery stores in town and get things that they can't sell. They're perfectly good. So, three times a week, big truck pulls up, me and my co-worker get on and we basically grocery shop and see what's on there that we can use and that's where we get a lot of our fruit and salad makings that aren't locally grown, and things to cook with. So it's very fun, we really don't know what we're going to make ninety percent of the time.

KAYTE YOUNG:  So, that's a skill that you have to have is being able to think on the fly and cook with what you've got and, not having everything planned meticulously ahead of time.

HEATHER CRAIG:  Yes, and often when we get new staff, especially people who've worked art restaurants for a long time with fixed menu's and meals, sometimes it takes an adjustment, the people who stay love it. It's improvisational to say, third times just even people think we have all the spices and seasonings, that's a huge donation I think. Everyone who's been bringing us seasonings and spices because that makes our food a lot more interesting. But, we may not have like the basic things that people think you would have in your kitchen, so, when people come in from a well stocked professional kitchen, we did pretty good but I've made chili a lot of times without onions and it's fine. But, you just have to break yourself of that I must have this ingredient to make it.

KAYTE YOUNG:  And, how do you respond to that is that something you enjoy doing, do you find it fun?

HEATHER CRAIG:  Yeah, most of the time. In fact, almost all the time. I remember when I first started cooking it was a little harder to break myself of the concept of I had an idea of how the integrity of the dish, or I wanted it to be only squash. And sometimes, you have to make at least fifteen to eighteen gallons of the main dish for our hot service. Yeah, you have to just keep making it big enough so, sometimes you have to add things that aren't exactly what you intended but still good. So, I enjoy.

KAYTE YOUNG:  You said the zucchini and tomatoes will start coming in themselves, is that something so can just individuals donate food from their garden?

HEATHER CRAIG:  Yes they can, locally grown food.

KAYTE YOUNG:  And, even if it's not enough for the whole meal, it's still okay, you might find a use for it?

HEATHER CRAIG:  Absolutely, small amounts add up, you have the vegetarian dish that we make it smaller, sometimes it's just a little bit adds up, I think people feel like oh that's not very much. It's the old story of the stone soup, no stones involved I promise but that's kind of how it does is like people often say oh this probably isn't enough, but believe me, it's worth it. I had six different people's donation of basil in my dish yesterday and that's what made it work, so.

KAYTE YOUNG:  That's really good to know, I think a lot of our listeners do grow food in their backyards and sometimes, you just have more than you need and you might want to know that this is a great place to bring it.

KAYTE YOUNG:  To demonstrate the improvisation skills required to cook at the community kitchen, Heather Craig let me join her in the kitchen to see for myself. We'll get to that after a quick break, stay with us.

KAYTE YOUNG:  Kayte Young here, this is Earth Eats and I'm talking with Heather Craig at the community kitchen of Monroe County here in Bloomington, Indiana. She's walking me through the steps of preparing a hot meal to serve in their dining room. We start off in the pantry which is a good sized room lined with shelving, organized into clearly labels categories and complete with a flow chart for sorting donations. There are sections for fruit, beans, baking supplies, peanut butter and bins for things like onions and potatoes.

HEATHER CRAIG:  So, our other Heather just got here, my job today is cooking the main dish and Heather and here volunteers will be in charge of the side dish. I had a little rough idea what I was going to make. So, yesterday, I had made pasta, so I know I'm not making pasta today. I'd made a creamy chicken, basil, egg noodle, summer squash. So we know what the protein, we've pulled that out of the freezer, I want to do what I call like un-stuffed cabbage, that is just like ground beef and will be some rice and some vegetables, peppers and cabbage. When I'm thinking and I'm giving an idea, do I have rice. And, we're not very high on rice, I've got one bag of rice. We're really low on tomato products.

KAYTE YOUNG:  We grabbed the dry goods and moved into the kitchen.

HEATHER CRAIG:  So, this is the kitchen, we have the giant tilt skillet which has been amazing. We got that about two years after I started, before that, we used these pans, these giant rectangular metal pans and we had another stove and the heat was crazy, so this has been wonderful.

KAYTE YOUNG:  Next, Heather led me into the walk in cooler.

HEATHER CRAIG:  And this is where we keep our protein. So, I have thirty pounds of ground beef and our meat allowance is thirty pounds a day. So, I'm going to throw the meat in to start browning and then we will start on the vegetarian dish. So, I'm heating up my tilt skillet, it's like a giant square, stainless steel contraption and it has hydraulics that lift it up and down so I can dump food in and out and it's like a big skillet, you just cook in it. But they're very neat cooking big batches. .

HEATHER CRAIG:  Throw this ground beef in so it's getting started, these are big ten pound, what they call chubs of meat, I don't like that term but that's what they call it. And with this main dish, I will brown the ground beef, I will add some onions, some chopped sweet peppers, I will chop up some cabbage that was local cabbage and some seasonings and then I'll cook rice so it'll be like basically you're components of a stuffed cabbage but un-stuffed. And, it's a gloves on and I'm going to break it all up with my gloved hand. Works better than anything else

KAYTE YOUNG:  While the thirty pounds of ground beef was browning in the tilt skillet, Heather got started on the vegetarian dish for the day.

HEATHER CRAIG:  So, one of the things our volunteers help us do is get things topped up. We have from eleven to one thirty to cook all our food, so, anything that can be chopped up ahead of time can be really helpful.

HEATHER CRAIG:  So this is one of the things Farm to Family brings us are these amazing mushrooms which I'm sure people have seen at the farmers market. While the meat is browning for the main dish, I'm going to work on my vegetarian side dish. Which, in my mind is going to be some sort of creole kind of vegetarian thing since I've got mushrooms, okra, onions, peppers oh and probably a little bit of tomatoes. Either we'll serve that with rice or if I get the hootspa, I will make some cheesy grits, which is super fun which I may just do. So it is nice that I'll have some of my things prepped. I have a nice large skillet.

KAYTE YOUNG:  Covers about four burners.

HEATHER CRAIG:  We'll get some oil int here, and, I believe I have some chopped garlic. This is where you go, maybe I have celery, maybe I don't.

KAYTE YOUNG:  She didn't have celery, but, she found some swiss chard from a farmers market.

HEATHER CRAIG:  Not necessarily the same profile, flavor wise but I'll get some nice crunchy stems off of that, give it some color. Then we'll add the greens, seems good right. And this is how it is, it's like yep, what have we got. Very fun, especially when we have things around like this.

KAYTE YOUNG:  Yeah, I guess this time of year is good.

HEATHER CRAIG:  So, I'll take some of these onions. I will measure some when I go to make the rice, I will actually measure but it's just really, it's like cooking my feel for sure. You could be, I'm sure, approach this differently, all of us who cook approach cooking a little differently. I've cooked like this at home anyway I kind of wing it. We put compost here, we have a local company that comes and gets all the compost, some of it goes to pigs, they'll eat it. I'm just going to chop up some of these rainbow chard stems, this lovely pink and yellow and orange. This is already beautiful. Some garlic scapes which I think would be fun, give a little more flavor. We have so many. I'm going to chop them up pretty small. They're so fun but they're very unruly. This is, again, just some of the fun. You can see how it can be very enjoyable to come in and just see some of this produce and figure out how to utilize it.

KAYTE YOUNG:  Now, are you somebody who tastes as you go, or do you get towards the end and do you try to find out, okay is this flavorful enough, how's this doing.

HEATHER CRAIG:  I definitely taste, the two things I really have to watch out for here, is we can't make anything too spicy and the salt, we don't put too salty. So, as an individual kind of a low salter, the heat is pretty easy to avoid but it's hard like I'm making something I might wanna make spicy. One of the most appreciated donations by the patrons is bottles of hot sauce, cause then the people who like it usually a bottle of hot sauce goes in like a day. I think to taste things, usually have a coworker taste it as well. Somebody else for that salt factor, does it need a little bit more. The other thing is the I wish I had that would make it amazing.

HEATHER CRAIG:  It would better if I had a load of fresh tomatoes right now instead of canned stuff, that would be super cool. Working on these mushrooms, chopped these up and this is my question, do I keep it vegan, maybe making cheesy grits so we're already kind of veering away from vegan. I'm thinking a little butter because I've got these gorgeous mushrooms, right, so I'll go get a bit of butter if I have it. Throw the rest of these in here. Am going to see if there's any butter.

KAYTE YOUNG:  And, she found one pound of butter in the cooler.

HEATHER CRAIG:  It's mine, yeah, I think that's going to take it to the next level. Yeah, who doesn't want butter in there. And, even though I said we do make vegan, we don't have that many people who are restricted. We have a few allergies, I try and pay attention when people tell me what they're allergic to so I can tell them not to eat something. Now, I'm going to start adding some seasoning. I have the garlic scapes now I'm kind of torn with that nice garlic flavor being over powered by this pre chopped garlic. So, I'm going to grab a spoon.

KAYTE YOUNG:  Smells amazing, just with all those vegetables, it smells incredible.

HEATHER CRAIG:  If I had fresh corn on the cob right now, this would be perfect. And without salt already, it can add garlic, it's very nice right now. With stuff that is this fresh, I use my weight to solve it, I like to taste through flavor of the vegetables before, I know something that's nice to salt right off the bat but now if a good time to add a little layer of kosher salt. So this is one of those days, we don't have any ground pepper. For this dish, it's okay right but for the big dish, it's going to be a lot of grinding. At least I have some. But, I do have some white pepper which will go with this as well. Little black pepper will do, paprika, I'm a big fan of coriander.

KAYTE YOUNG:  It smells so good already.

HEATHER CRAIG:  I am a big fan of a little bit of nutmeg or all spice or cinnamon or whatever in the food, I think that that, in most dishes, adds a nice dab. Not enough to necessarily taste it but always there. I'm a cinnamon in my chili kind of person. Alright,t hat is looking great.

KAYTE YOUNG:  With the vegetables and seasoning simmering, Heather ducked into the pantry for some cans of tomatoes and beans to round up this vegetarian main dish. Unlike in a restaurant where they use large umber ten cans, most of what's donated to the community kitchen is in the small, household sized cans. Luckily, they have an industrial, motorized can open for fifty to one hundred cans that they often need to open to complete a meal. I'm so glad to see that cause I was worried about all those cans.

HEATHER CRAIG:  So these are crazy, motorized can opener, amazing, right. This is some volunteers favorite tool. We don't use a lot of meat substitutes, no, given that yesterday I had a whole bunch of vegan meatballs from the hosier room and I made like a terriyaki meat ball thing, so sometimes we have but really it's a lot of beans. Of course we don't get a lot of the meat substitute, but also, I think it's healthier. That's what I prefer to eat.

KAYTE YOUNG:  It was time to give the dish another taste.

HEATHER CRAIG:  I think it needs more, there's enough roast vegetables, I almost like it just kind of clean like that. I think maybe some garlic.

KAYTE YOUNG:  I almost like it kind of clean like that. I don't think it would hurt to add some garlic. I was afraid it wasn't going to be salty enough. It could use a little salt but it's not completely bland. I love how saucy it's already gotten just from all those veggies.

HEATHER CRAIG:  The butter, I was thinking about adding some veggie broth but I think I might just let it be with it's own..

KAYTE YOUNG:  It's making its own veggie broth.

HEATHER CRAIG:  It is and it's way better. I think I'm going to do the cheesy grits.

KAYTE YOUNG:  I love the mushrooms and the okra.

HEATHER CRAIG:  I do that like farmers market stir fry at home, like okra, wax beans, green beans, corn off the cob and fresh tomatoes and, next time I got to market I'll buy some of those mushrooms so I can do that at home. Alright, so that's that.

KAYTE YOUNG:  Okay, so you made a vegetarian dish in what, five minutes.

HEATHER CRAIG:  But honestly, it helps that I had some stuff cut up, but, thank you. Thank you for helping me taste it.

KAYTE YOUNG:  Thank you so much for letting me tag along while you did all this.

KAYTE YOUNG:  That was Heather Craig, kitchen supervisor of the community kitchen of Monroe county. For more information on their programs and to see some photo's of Heather in action, go to our website, The community kitchen has an interesting annual fund raiser called the Chef's Challenge. I spoke with assistant director Tim Clower for the details on this event.

TIM CLOWER:  So, we're bringing back the Chefs Challenge after a couple of years of hiatus due to the pandemic, and basically, as it's worked in the past we'll have three chefs that will be competing, they'll have an hour to create a dish from a pantry of ingredients and they are judged on not only what they create but their incorporation of a local, secret ingredient which will be announced right before they begin. The three chefs this year are Eric Bueno from Feast Market. Allan Bouse from Mettawood retirement community and Bob Atkins from Truffles restaurant. In addition to the competition we'll have a bunch of appetizers from local restaurants as well as the BCT will be serving beverages throughout the event. We're kind of looking at this event as a celebration of the local food industry and thee restaurants along with us.

TIM CLOWER:  Every place has really struggled over the past few years and we're actually reaching out to them to purchase and support them by getting appetizers and including them in this event as a celebration. so, little bit different twist this year, normally we've had bistro seating for folks to sit and enjoy what the chef's create, in this case, we're just going to have the food created for the judges, we won't have the bistro seating, so that part will be slightly scaled down, but the competition, the food and the fun will all be back once again this year.

KAYTE YOUNG:  Do they know ahead of time what they're going to be making or are they just kind of cooking on the fly?

TIM CLOWER:  They know mostly will have to choose from to incorporate it into their dish, that isn't real helpful, it is to have a game plan because it's going to be a fruit or a vegetable. Could be a protein perhaps.

KAYTE YOUNG:  So you're talking about the secret ingredient.

TIM CLOWER:  The secret ingredient, yeah, so, there will be a pantry of I think it's over two hundred different items, a lot of stuff we'll get at the local farmers markets as well as things that get donated through some of our food distributors but, we basically try to outfit the pantry with everything from a variety of broths and oils and spices, cheeses all of those types of things. So, the one thing that they don't know is what the secret ingredient will be and, over the years I've seen chefs prepare and think for sure they know it's going to be peaches and then they bring dry ice and they're going to make some crazy dessert and then boom, it's garlic. So, it's good for them to have a game plan for a variety of different things. We've done this thirteen times, so I don't plan to duplicate any of the secret ingredients that we've used, they've all been local things you can get at the market and we try to highlight a particular farmer so, we've done corn, sweet potatoes, eggs, peppers, mushrooms, apples, garlic.

KAYTE YOUNG:  Okay, here's the question, so, do they have to just use it in the dish or does it need to be highlighted.

TIM CLOWER:  Yeah, they do need to, they get judged on that and it's a pretty big part of the judging, so, the more they incorporate that secret ingredient the better. There are some things like if it was onions for example, that are in a lot of different dishes but the skill comes from really highlighting that particular item and kind of building around it, so, yeah, it'll be interesting.

KAYTE YOUNG:  Sounds like a really fun event.

TIM CLOWER:  Yeah, should be a lot of fun, ti's one of our, besides the brunches that we do as fund raisers, it's one of the big events for us and it's again, its always been a celebration for industry folks, we're offering discounted tickets for folks that work in restaurants, the event is on a Saturday, so understandably a lot of them will be working, but we are trying to kind of give a little boost back to them, they've always been and by they, I mean folks in the industry have always been very supportive of us, often times we have had industry restaurant folks here volunteering on the one day a week that they have off. Just a very giving group of individuals and so, it's a way for us to give back and also kind of put the focus on them a little bit.

KAYTE YOUNG:  Thank you so much, I appreciate it. That was Time Clower, assistant director of the community kitchen Monroe County. This story originally aired in July of twenty twenty two, this years chef's challenge has already happened and the secret ingredient was basil. The winner of the golden spatula was Eric Bueno of Feast Market and seller. Find more information on our website,

KAYTE YOUNG:  I'm Kayte Young, and that's it for our show. Thanks for listening, we'll see you next time.

DANIELLA RICHARDSON:  Earth Eats is produced and edited by Kayte Young with help from Eoban Binder, Alex Chambers, Mark Chilla, Toby Foster, Samantha Gee, Abraham Hill, Peyton Whaley, Harvest Public Media and me, Daniella Richardson.

KAYTE YOUNG:  Special thanks this week to Heather Craig, Tim Clower and everyone at the community kitchen.

DANIELLA RICHARDSON:  Our theme music is composed by Erin Tobey and performed by Erin and Matt Tobey. Additional music on the show comes to us from the artist at universal production music, our executive producer is John Bailey.

Heather Craig in apron and surgical mask chopping green vegetables in a commercial kitchen with bins of yellow mushrooms, leafy greens and chopped red and yellow peppers on the countertop

Kitchen Supervisor Heather Craig chops curly garlic scapes for a Creole-style vegetarian dish to be served over cheesy grits for dining room service at the Community Kitchen on South Rogers (Kayte Young/WFIU)

“I had six different people’s donation of basil in my dish yesterday, and that’s what made it work.” 

This week on the show, we talk with Heather Craig of the Community Kitchen of Monroe County about cooking for a crowd everyday, improvising in the face of uncertainty, and sourcing ingredients from the community. 

Plus, a story from Harvest Public Media about an extreme weather event that is becoming more common across the midwest and great plains. 

Cooking-By-Feel, With Community Sourced Ingredients

You might have a picture in your mind of the kinds of meals served in a soup kitchen. Maybe you're thinking of institutional, cafeteria-style food--heavy on the brown gravy and over cooked canned green beans. 

Prepare for that image to be shattered!

I recently spent time with Heather Craig, Kitchen Supervisor at the Community Kitchen. We talked about the bonds that form around sharing food and the particular struggles they faced during the COVID 19 shutdowns. 

Heather Craig standing in room lined with shelves full of dry goods, with labels at top of shelves and a big diagram near where she is standing.
When she starts preparing a meal, Heather Craig heads into the pantry room at the Community Kitchen to gather ingredients from the dry goods that have been donated (Kayte Young/WFIU)

Heather walks us through a typical day of meal planning and cooking for several hundred folks at a time, and shares how she handles uncertainty with improvisation. 

Tim Clougher, the Assistant Director at the Community Kitchen, talks about the return of their annual fundraiser, Chef's Challenge--where chefs compete live on stage using a "secret ingredient," revealed on the night of the event. This year is a special celebration of folks in the restaurant industry. Tim talks about the struggles the industry has faced during the pandemic and honors the generosity of those who have volunteered with the community kitchen, often on their only day off from restaurant work. 

Music on this Episode

The Earth Eats theme music is composed by Erin Tobey and performed by Erin and Matt Tobey.

Additional music on this episode from Universal Production Music.

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