Simple, Effective and Healthy Cooking on a Budget
Erin Jolley is the coordinator of Cooking Matters, a non-profit organization under Share our Strength, a national program working to end childhood hunger. Share our Strength uses state partnerships through Cooking Matters and No Kid Hungry to further its mission. “Cooking Matters accomplishes this mission by providing low income families with information and skills they need to cook healthy on a limited budget,” said Jolley.
Jolley organizes cooking classes and grocery store tours, guides at-risk families to food and nutrition assistance, and provides culinary education to at-risk schools. Jolley also works with subsidized housing and nutrition assistance organizations to make sure that families get the information that they need.
A core part of Jolley’s work is Cooking Matters’ education courses. She finds culinary professionals in town who can help the program. “I scout out who is passionate about not just cooking, but community,” said Jolley. “I find people who want to take their talents beyond their own kitchen.”
Jolley then trains the chefs to teach their skills to a diverse audience. “I slow them down enough to making it simple and delicious,” said Jolley. “We try to make cooking fun.”
Jolley also scours the county area to find volunteers, provide training and showcase demonstrations. Two years ago, an opportunity arose in the form of Durango Cooks, a local cooking show. Louisa Drouet, the host of the cooking show and outreach coordinator for Nature’s Oasis, offered the chance to collaborate with the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southwest Colorado program and Ryan Lowe at the Ore House Restaurant. The idea was to spotlight Cooking Matters on the show, utilizing Lowe to teach the participants of Big Brothers Big Sisters. “This was an opportunity to create a good relationship with mentors and eat healthy,” said Jolley. “Ryan shared very simple but effective techniques to make food taste good, using fresh, local ingredients while having fun in the kitchen.”
When Jolley first approached Lowe, he was intrigued by her idea and won over by her enthusiasm. “The thing that most appealed to me was the community aspect, showing people that local food is available,” said Lowe. “Local food isn’t all about fine dining.”
The six weeks began with a garden tour of Twin Buttes, where the children were able to pick fresh vegetables, which was also an exciting event for Lowe. “I just wanted to pull raw vegetables out of the ground and eat them,” said Lowe. “There’s video from Durango TV of little kids eating beets fresh out of the ground.”
The volunteers for Cooking Matters benefited as well from the partnership with the Ore House. At the end of 2013, the Ore House hosted a volunteer appreciation party for all the volunteers of Cooking Matters in the tri-county area. The party brought together 50 out of the 120 culinary and nutrition volunteers in the area. “There are a lot of people in this community who care,” said Jolley.
Lowe cooked a large spread for the volunteers, who also enjoyed a slideshow of the year in review. “It was a big treat for Cooking Matters and all the volunteers to go to such a quality restaurant such as the Ore House,” said Jolley. “It meant a lot to the volunteers and to me.”
Cooking Matters fits in very well with the Ore House’s mission to not only prepare local, organic and sustainable food, but to support local growers and volunteers as well. “It’s been a natural partnership. Ryan has the skills and vision and we have a captive audience that can benefit from what the Ore House has to offer,” said Jolley. “There are other very generous chefs and business owners, but the Ore House sets a prime example for how businesses can work with nonprofits and educational initiatives.”
Originally posted on the Ore House’s website during March 2014.