Community Starts in the Kitchen

by Meredith Grace
They say the kitchen is the heart of the home. In Pawtucket, Rhode Island, however, it's the heart of the community. 
Harvest Kitchen is an impassioned project focused on bringing fresh food, nutrition, and life skills to the at-risk youth of Rhode Island’s lower income neighborhoods. A project backed by non-profit Farm Fresh Rhode Island, Harvest Kitchen has been around since 2010, where it operated as a part of the RI Training School—a juvenile detention center in Cranston. Each year, the program hosts an average of 40 youths, teaching them culinary skills, nutritional values, understanding and participation in local farm systems, as well as an erudition of food marketing and sales. This year, they are expanding to open a new kitchen in Pawtucket.

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Rhode Island has emerged as a foodie city over the past 10 years, largely due to the esteemed Johnson and Wales University College of the Culinary Arts in Providence. New restaurants and food trucks mingle with the staple Italian restaurants throughout the city's many diverse neighborhoods. It's only fitting that Pawtucket, a bordering city of Providence, should foster the next generation of chefs and foodies.
“It’s almost like we didn’t choose Pawtucket, they chose us,” says Claudia Espaillat, Program Coordination & Retail Sales Manager of Harvest Kitchen. In what can only be described as fate, a mixed-use community building was recently initiated in Pawtucket and sought out Harvest Kitchen to make use of the kitchen and retail space. Around that same timeframe, Harvest Kitchen had outgrown their former location and were in need of a space to sell finished food products. Match, made.
At Harvest Kitchen, the youth in training are engaged in an intensive 20-week course, where they learn the culinary career path and become intimate with local food systems. The select trainees accepted into the program are often referrals from DCYF and the Rhode Island Juvenile Corrections Department. Through afterschool classes, averaging about 20 hours per week, the students are taught the necessary cooking skills to jumpstart a career in the kitchen.

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The new space in Pawtucket will not only expand the program’s reach and space for continued education, but will introduce new opportunities for participants to learn skills such as the preparation and cooking of meals for the retail portion of the location. “Not only do we make our own products,” says Espaillat, “we have co-packing and private labels.” 

Get Involved 

Early this past June, the program set out to raise $10,000 by the end of the summer, hoping to cover the expenses of outfitting the space with the necessary equipment as well as to fund additional programming and courses. As of July 23rd, they had only raised about ¼ of their goal, but are hopeful that the continued generosity of the community and an increased awareness around the state will sustain the project in the future.
Beyond monetary donations, community members are welcom to get involved by volunteering in the kitchen alongside the youth, helping prep food or washing dishes. “We wouldn’t be able to do the work without the volunteers, and extra hands to help out are always appreciated,” says Espaillat. 

If you can’t make it to the new location, Harvest Kitchen always appreciates your generosity shared through their Crowdrise Campaign or through a donation designated for Harvest Kitchen on the Farm Fresh RI website.

WATCH on Z Living

Family Food Challenge: Tune in weekly to watch as celebrity chefs help families let go of their unhealthy eating habits and teach them new cooking techniques to make foods that are quick, healthy and tasty. 

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