Drury's E3 Academy students draft food pantry cookbook

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Photo Gallery | Drury E3 Academy students create cookbook for Friendship Center

NORTH ADAMS — Rice, beans, pasta and vegetables are among the staples people receive in biweekly grocery pickups from the Friendship Center food pantry. They're healthy and helpful foods, but may also seem mundane.

But now, thanks to the 10 students of the E3 Academy of Drury High School, patrons will be given a new health and budget-conscious cookbook they've created featuring 27 recipes to help spice up a household's menu — ranging from roasted rutabaga to "Cheesy Leftover Mashed Potato Waffles" — based on ingredients regularly available at the food pantry.

The students and their teachers presented "E3 Cooks! Recipes and Reflections" to Friendship Center staff this week. Mark Rondeau, president of the Northern Berkshire Interfaith Action Initiative, and North Adams Mayor Richard "Dick" Alcombright, were on hand to thank the students and staff for their efforts.

The book is the culminating product of "The Cooking for (Real) Life Project," a semester-long initiative rooted in research on the food system and the issues of food insecurity, health and nutrition. According to an inscription printed on the inside cover of the cookbook, the project is "Dedicated to those living with food insecurity and to those working to end hunger."

"This was a very fun project and beneficial. I liked working on it," said student Kimberly Braimes.

The E3 Academy came to food distribution coordinator Rich Davis back in September with the project idea. Fully endorsing the project, he told them that the Friendship Center currently serves approximately 160 families from North Adams, Clarksburg and Florida on a weekly basis. He then allowed the students to take inventory of the center's food stock, which includes non-perishable items as well as dairy products, meat and fresh produce donated by local farms, stores, community gardens as well as its major supplier, The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts.

E3 staff members Abby Reifsnyder, Cathleen King and Jesse Egan Poirier worked together to coordinate site visits, speakers, and other experiences for the students to take part in so they could develop an understanding of the real issues the Northern Berkshire community faces regarding its food supply and public benefits like SNAP and WIC that can help. They then studied issues of hunger and food shortages around the world.

Students visited Caretaker, Cricket Creek and East Mountain farms to learn about vegetable, dairy and meat production. They spent a full day guided by Valerie Schwarz at Berkshire Food Project, meeting the people involved, taking in and cooking food, serving meals and cleaning up after.

They also heard from speakers Molly Sauvair of The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts; Jen Munoz of the Growing Healthy Gardens Program; North Adams Public Schools food services director Corbett Nicholas; and forager Shannon Toye.

With a $300 budget funded by a North Adams Public Schools service-learning mini-grant, the students purchased food and were given access to the kitchen in the city's UNO Community Center to prepare and taste-test recipes they researched that fit the project's budget and criteria.

When a chocolate cake recipe was vetoed "because the ingredients were too expensive," Reifsnyder said, students replaced it with a healthful, tasty and more affordable recipe for dark chocolate beet brownies. Recipes also had to reflect a range of preparation methods, from stove top to oven baking to no-cook processes.

In addition to academic skills like research, measuring and scaling and editing, students also engaged life skills, like learning to collaborate, communicate, work through problems and learning the value in contributing to the community.

Senior Charlie Talis joked that he also learned "how to ruin a pan."

Marriah Arnold said she learned to like vegetables like Brussels sprouts, while Kimberly Loring said the group learned how to work together and vote on decisions like the layout and wording of the cookbook.

All students worked to bind the book; a hundred copies have been printed so far.

This spring, through a Mass in Motion grant, ingredients for recipes from the book will be gathered and distributed by local Girl and Boy Scouts troops in honor of the Martin Luther King Jr. day of service. The E3 Academy — which stands for Effort, Employability and Essential skills and knowledge — will also be working on a project to market the cookbook in a way that will continue to benefit the Friendship Center.

Contact Jenn Smith at 413-496-6239.


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