It might sound too good to be true, but one of the most effective ways to improve your diet is simply to cook more at home with whole foods. The strategy is so unadorned, so not a part of the diet fad industry that “just cook at home” can seem easy to dismiss. But studies have shown this everyday practice naturally lowers the salt, fat, and sugar intake of meals and can lead to healthier, longer, more fulfilling lives.
The plain power of from-scratch home cooking is at the very heart of an exciting new teaching kitchen that Groundwork has been collaborating on behind the scenes for more than two years.
The Teaching Kitchen is part of our soon-to-be new home in the Commongrounds Cooperative, and it will allow us to spread the skills and gospel of cooking with nutritious, locally grown foods throughout our community—using ideas, science, and know-how curated through our culinary medicine program.
We are in the midst of a fundraising campaign for an extraordinary community teaching kitchen that would be connected to a new, smaller-footprint office for Groundwork in the Commongrounds Cooperative. Just 1/5th the size of our current office, it represents the organization’s future with a decentralized presence statewide and a more home-based, sustainable way of working. Learn more.
In keeping with the cooperative structure of Commongrounds, the teaching kitchen will be open for a number of community partners and a wide range of students. For its part, Groundwork will focus initial efforts on teaching to the health care community—physicians, nurses, nutritionists, and others—so they can in turn teach local food home-cooking strategies and skills to their patients.
That culinary medicine focus grew from a market/feasibility study conducted for us by a team of graduate students from the Ross Business School, at University of Michigan. “One of the important findings was that we can have the greatest impact in connecting food to health through training medical professionals,” says Meghan McDermott, Groundwork Program Director.
“The health care community has really embraced this,” says Groundwork Executive Director Hans Voss. “They see the long-term value of teaching culinary skills, but they don’t have the place to teach or even yet know how to teach those skills.”
The right kitchen tools paired with a set of skills makes cooking easier, faster and more fun—and more likely to make the “cook at home tonight” choice happen.
Nationwide, the culinary medicine/teaching kitchen philosophy began shortly into the new millennium with Dr. David Eisenberg, Director of Culinary Nutrition and Adjunct Associate Professor of Nutrition at the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health. He wanted the medical profession to better understand and harness the health benefits of cooking with whole, nutrient-dense foods. He also wanted physicians in particular to see how cooking skills learned in a supportive teaching kitchen environment were central to increasing healthy cooking habits culturewide. He launched the annual Healthy Kitchens, Healthy Lives medical conference and leads the Teaching Kitchen Collaborative.
“Dr. Eisenberg wanted to help people learn life skills that got lost,” says Paula Martin, Groundwork Community Nutrition Specialist. “Things like food prep and just knowing how to feed people started to dip and wane as a skill in the 1980s.”
Groundwork invited Eisenberg to speak at our 2017 culinary medicine conference, and he was thrilled by what heard and saw around Traverse City—the high level of conversation, the rich and varied agricultural scene, and the elevated community awareness about the importance of cooking with whole, locally grown foods. “I’ve dreamt about what you are doing here in this exact city my entire life,” Eisenberg said. “You might just be the place that will invent the future for a healthy, resilient community.”
The teaching kitchen will indeed play a key role in rekindling culinary skills in our community. In a pilot test last winter Groundwork teamed up with Dr. Lucas Friedli at Munson Family Practice to teach a 6-week culinary medicine cooking class from his medical office. Class participants rated the program a success, but Dr. Friedli and other instructors quickly understood that a teaching kitchen, designed with teaching tables, plenty of working space, and the appropriate kitchen tools, would make the class much more effective and fun.
For health care workers, the teaching kitchen will be a learning laboratory for culinary medicine training, an extension of the professionally certified culinary medicine training that Munson and Groundwork have been partnering on through Munson’s continuing medical education program.
Groundwork’s new office will be as closely integrated as can be with the teaching kitchen. Only a folding wall will separate our office and the kitchen, allowing instant expansion of the cooking space for bigger classes. A video feed to the onsite Commongrounds theater can present the event on screens to audiences there for even more reach.
Reflecting on the coming-together spirit of Commongrounds and what the teaching kitchen will bring, lead developer Kate Redman says, “I tend to think if you go a little bit ambitious, you might as well go really ambitious. Groundwork brought the vision of a world-class teaching kitchen and culinary medicine, and it will elevate our community’s health outcomes.”
So, yes, Groundwork is moving …
Our team is leaving a beautiful space smack dab in the middle of downtown that, since 2007, has nurtured our work and our team spirit and helped give rise to hundreds of daring but doable ideas for a better world. And while it’ll be an emotional day when we make the move, we couldn’t be more excited about heading to Commongrounds Cooperative, near 8th St. and Boardman (still close to downtown!).
The move reflects a great deal about how we are evolving as an organization and how the world itself so dramatically changed since 2020 began. As an organization, we are becoming more decentralized, with advocates and policy specialists living in Petoskey and Lansing and Ann Arbor and beyond. More Groundworkers strategically located in more Michigan communities is a great thing for spreading local resilience statewide—and it’s made possible by the remote work technologies that we’ve all been zeroed into since the pandemic began. Our ethic of resilience is also expressed by having more people work at home, meaning fewer people traveling to the office each day, affecting their home lives, burning fossil fuel, creating carbon exhaust, and by dramatically shrinking the size of our office, from 5,000 square feet to 1,100 square feet.
The sharing, collaborative design of the Commongrounds Cooperative also expresses Groundwork principles. Our team will make use of shared building assets like meeting rooms and an auditorium, and the marvelous community Teaching Kitchen that Groundwork is fundraising for.
We can’t wait to host our office-warming party in mid-2022. And in the meantime, if you know of a great tenant who’d love to sublet our good-spirit-infused third-floor, 5,000 sq. ft. office in the heart of Traverse City, (complete with a view of the bay!) have them contact Amy Schneider, firstname.lastname@example.org.