A generous helping of neighborliness!

What do you get when you blend Pathways for Better Health of the Lakeshore and Community Health Workers, Hackley Community Care, Mercy Health, MSU Extension’s Cooking Matters, Community enCompass’ McLaughlin Grows Farm and medical patients residing in the core city neighborhoods?  

You get a mix of people who met together for 12 weeks to try to make life a little better by eating healthy foods and learning new things like:

  • How to cut with a large knife

  • What a raw beet tastes like

  • How to get the most food for your money

  • Eating vegetables – fresh, frozen, or canned – is far better than eating none at all.

  • Healthy foods can actually taste good and can make you feel better!

  • There is a fantastic urban farm right in our neighborhood where you can pick up fresh produce every week to try new recipes!  


All of this and so much more made the time fly and made learning fun.  When food is the reward for learning – it always turns out positive!

The class that met every other Monday went something like this:

  • Learning generally about healthy foods and eating habits.

  • Receiving specific instructions for the recipe for the day.

  • Cutting, peeling, shaving, shredding, roasting, boiling.

  • Tasting everything that we cooked/prepared--Breaking bread together.

  • Going home with everything that was needed to try that same recipe at home

Now some of these folks were pretty good cooks already.  Take George, for instance.  He is known for his BBQ  ribs all over Muskegon.  And when he’s done talking about them, mouths begin to water!  And Isabella could teach everyone a thing or two about how to liven up fresh salsa.  


Some were “seasoned” cooks but still learned a lot.  Did you know that there is a safe way to cut an onion?  Did you know that the veins and the seeds of a jalapeno are the hottest part?  Did you know that the fennel bulb is very mild tasting, but the stems taste like licorice?

Some had some physical challenges that made cooking a challenge and some had food allergies and intolerances but adjustments were made so everyone could participate. Some cooked for one at home and some for an entire household.  We shared how we tried the recipes at home and the kinds of adjustments we made to fit our own tastes and our families’ preferences.  

One favorite memory is about Donald who stated at the first class when knife safety was the topic: “I don’t do knives.” Even with some gentle coaxing, Donald was adamant:  “I just don’t feel comfortable.”  And that was okay.  There were other jobs to do – like measuring and mixing spices, shredding cheese, and stirring mixtures.  But the class gave him just enough incentive to go home and start practicing and within a few weeks Donald was cutting, chopping and dicing with the best of them!  


At the final produce pick-up day at the Farm, everyone filled out a survey of the class.  Here is a sampling of the feedback from the participants- all of whom struggle with chronic diseases like obesity, hypertension, diabetes or elevated cholesterol.

  • Weight loss – “Helped me lose weight. I feel better.”

  • Increased consumption of fruits and vegetables – “I am eating more healthy food and I love eating veggies and fruit.”

  • Increased access to real produce – “Affordable rides” to the farm.  

  • Increased physical activity – It was useful to “get out of the house”

  • Increased knowledge of cooking healthy meals – “I learned how to cook foods I never met with.”  This program “helped me to make my food stretch.”

  • Elevation of mood and increased sense of well-being – “My barrier was my bedroom.  Now, I am cooking in my kitchen.”  It was “fun  - enjoyed making recipes at home and learning about different meals.”

So what do you get when you blend all of this together?  You get a pinch of personalities, a teaspoon of different cultures, a sprinkling of laughter, a cup of blessing from creating something together, a generous helping of neighborliness and a sense of satisfaction knowing life is just a little bit better!