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Community Kitchens Gets Creative With Eating Local

To practice “eating locally” is to embrace the creativity and abundance of the foods and producers all around our communities. We can choose ingredients that come from nearby sources, and like the guest chefs at our May Community Kitchen event, we can go deeper by learning about and using ingredients indigenous to our region.

A Celebration of the PNW Growing Season

On May 26, Tilth Alliance held an event at Rainier Beach Urban Farm & Wetlands to celebrate the beginning of the Pacific Northwest’s growing season and sustainable cuisine. The event was hosted by guest chefs Hector Ayala and Khalil Griffith of Diaspora Seattle, a plant medicine company that specializes in yaupon espresso drinks. They worked alongside Maggie Rickman, Community Kitchens Project Manager. In an exploration of food waste reduction, the trio focused on sourcing as many ingredients as possible from nearby farms and gardens and planned the meal to be in alignment with the spring season.

The Benefits of Eating Local

Eating locally is an essential strategy for a sustainable diet that reduces wasted food. However, food waste shows up in all levels of the food system, not just in our homes and schools. Fresh foods like meat, dairy, and produce are sensitive to spoiling and must be handled carefully throughout their lifecycle, including during production, processing, and shipping. According to the EPA, approximately 7-15% of food waste happens during transport alone. Eating foods from local producers reduces the opportunity for waste during transport by drastically cutting down the distance the product travels from start to finish. It also encourages us to be flexible and adaptable with our cooking and shopping habits to go along with the changing availability of foods.

An Indigenous-Inspired Menu

Our guest chefs curated a menu that blends the comfort foods from their families like fresh salad, tortilla soup, and cornbread with local, in-season produce swaps for traditional ingredients like adding in foraged edible flowers. Their menu included many crops that were domesticated by the Indigenous people of the Americas like avocados, beans, corn, chili peppers, tomatoes, and yaupon, of course. In addition, they utilized kale, radishes, garlic, spring onions, lovage, and cilantro from local producers like the Beacon Food Forest, DeGoede Farms, Hayshaker Farm, Local Color Farm, and Pink Moon Farm. 

The Yaupon Affogato: A Memorable Finale

At the end of the meal, guests were treated to a special creation: a yaupon affogato. Hector and Khalil pulled espresso-style shots of their finely ground yaupon blend and poured them onto scoops of creamy vanilla ice cream.

An attendee at the event remarked, “It was super lovely, and I’m not just saying that. The yaupon had the lovely, delicate flavor of a good black tea, but the robust body of coffee. It was indeed like coffee and tea met to create something that had some of the best parts of both while being easy of the body. I’m from Georgia – it was so wonderful to drink something that grows and reminds me of back home.” 

Community Reflections on Local Food

Community members at the dinner contributed to the conversation around local food, sharing the following ways they interact with their local food system:

The History of Yaupon

A bit more about Diaspora Seattle’s main product: “Yaupon Holly is a tree native to the Southeastern United States whose leaves were used for thousands of years by southeastern native tribes as a stimulating beverage, medicinal plant, and ceremonial drink. Little is known for certain about yaupon’s history due to the displacement of first people across its native range, but we do know a few things. It was brewed strong and dark and enjoyed in community. It offers an alternative to the troubling state of the coffee industry where profits are extracted from struggling farmers. It provides all-day energy without the heartburn about its effect on your health or the environment.” 

Exploring Your Local Food System

If this information has you inspired to explore the bounty of your community, check out these tips and resources:

  • Make the recipes from the May Community Kitchen Dinner.
  • Learn about what foods are grown in your area, both now and historically.
  • Retain and share seeds of your crops within your community.
  • Shop at markets that sell products from local producers like farmers markets and food co-ops.
    • Search for Washington-based markets, u-pick farms, CSAs, and more through Eat Local First’s WA Food & Farm Finder.
  • Share your garden abundance with your neighbors and food banks.
  • Visit and volunteer farm and garden projects that focus on biodiversity and sustainable growing practices like Rainier Beach Urban Farm & Wetlands and Beacon Food Forest.
  • Sign up for bags of local produce through Tilth Alliance’s Good Food Bag program.

This material is funded through a Public Participation Grant from the Washington State Department of Ecology. Ecology reviewed the content for grant consistency but does not necessarily endorse it. 

About Community Kitchens Meals 

Tilth Alliance’s Community Kitchen Meals program is based at Rainier Beach Urban Farm & Wetlands in South Seattle and celebrates the diversity of food and food cultures in our neighborhood. Each month we partner with local home cooks and chefs to host an educational, cross-cultural event centered around a nutritious, delicious, and locally sourced meal.