Cook Together Wants Healthy Meals in Food Deserts



A cooking demonstration station at the Bradenton Farmers Market could soon expand into an opportunity for chefs in the region to mentor young cuisiniers. Realize Bradenton, in its fundraising drive for the upcoming Giving Challenge, looks to boost the Cook Together Bradenton initiative in an effort to increase access to healthy ingredients.

Catherine Ferrer, Realize Bradenton’s community engagement coordinator, says the organization is already working with with Arte Caffé owners Remo and Meredith Mambelli. The chef and baker duo participated in a sort of pilot program for the initiative with a youth-focused demonstration at the market. “We are hoping to raise money in the Giving Challenge to also bring in more local independent restaurants,” Ferrer says. 

“What made it really fun was that we put kids in the driver's seat, with a chef mentoring children at the event,” Ferrer adds. “And it was a such a neat dynamic watching the older children start to help younger children.”

The focus on teaching children to prepare healthy meals comes from Health Department studies that show a lack of access to healthy ingredients in many neighborhoods, dubbed food deserts. “I think it’s a remarkable opportunity to respond to a community need,” says Realize Bradenton Executive Director Johnette Isham. “Last year the Department of Health in Manatee County surveyed neighborhood residents in ‘food deserts,’ and one of their priority items was healthy cooking and meal planning classes. Since Realize Bradenton believes that Downtown Bradenton is everyone’s neighborhood, the Farmers Market and local chefs’ restaurants provide places for people to connect with neighbors.”

The new effort was driven by Millennials, Ferrer says, many of whom were also part of successful initiatives like Pop-Ups for a Purpose. Realize Bradenton officials also see the campaign as a way engage this new generation of philanthropists and community leaders. The fundraising drive is being done in conjunction with Florida Blue and Mosaic. The Giving Challenge begins at noon on September 20 and runs through noon September 21.

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