by Kimberly McGrew
Special to The New Tri-State Defender
Not even the sweltering heat could stop the students of the Boys and Girls Club Technical Training Center from selling their nutritious treats at the Downtown Farmers Market on Saturday (June 30).
Their resolve was linked to "Gardens to Groceries" – the center's program that encourages students to grow their own foods through a new age of hydroponic gardening called aeroponic tower gardening. Aeroponic gardening requires no dirt; just mineral water, sunlight and air.
"The purpose of Gardens to Groceries is to really expose students to the process of food production because a lot of students come to our center and they just don't realize how many steps it took to put those bananas on the shelves at the grocery store," said Tiffanie Grier, career placement director.
Grier said the students are trying to give people throughout the city of Memphis (especially the 38106 area) healthier options because the area is considered a food hazard.
"The kids come in from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m....They would be coming in from after school, having an after school snack and as soon as I walked through the door, the smell of grease would hit me; fried chicken, French fries, hot chips, soda," Grier said.
Last summer about this time, Grier and the students decided to take matters into their own hands. She talked to some of the staff and board members of the Boys and Girls Club, asking them to reach out and support what the students were doing. After selling their products, the students saw that their customers (along with the board and staff) enjoyed the food and became advocates of Garden to Groceries
Gradually, the students started to come up with healthier recipes, such as healthier pizza with whole wheat crust, low fat cheese, and lots of vegetables and pesto as its base.
"The students are liking a lot of the healthier products now. I know that (junk) is what's sold in the community, so it's about access. There is just not enough access to fresh fruits and vegetables so they go to the corner store," said Grier.
Rosemary, basil, oregano, cilantro, keel, jalapenos, lettuce, and squash are among the plants grown in the aeroponic gardens. The ingredients are used to make the cilantro lime jalapeno pesto, oregano basil pesto, creamy garlic humus, black bean humus, spicy roasted red pepper humus, tabouleh, watermelon de gallo, peacho de gallo, pineapple squash bread, vegan pistachio bread, olive oil lemon rosemary bread, pita bread, and pita chips.
"We have samples. Many of the students had never had food like humus before the project and were hesitant to try new things (as were the customers), but after trying it, they realized it does taste good and has lots of flavor, unlike many of the processed foods in the grocery store," said Grier.
Demarcus Little, 19, used his charm to persuade Adel Melbert to purchase the tasty black bean humus, which was new to her. He said it takes a lot of enthusiasm, smiles, waves and good customer service to get customers to buy the products.
"I really liked it, that guy is great!" Melbert said excitedly. "He was super friendly and made me want to go right to the table. That's the reason why I bought the black bean humus. It tasted kind of weird. I never had it before but I'd add it to my grocery list."
Little said he was never a big person on eating healthy until he got into the program and now he really enjoys eating fresh fruits and vegetables.
"I rarely eat junk food now. It's a healthy eating project so I don't want anybody to see me eating junk food when I'm supposed to tell everybody else to eat healthy," Little said while handing a bag of homemade pita chips to a customer.
Rita Ferguson, a customer visiting from Meridian, Miss., decided to stop by the student's table at the Downtown Farmers Market and try some of their spicy roasted red pepper humus.
"It was mmm, mmm good!" Ferguson said laughing. "Up until a year ago, I never tried anything like humus. I started working at Sam's Club and sampled them all."
Besides the Downtown Farmers Market, the students of the Boys and Girls Club Technical Training Center sell their goodies at the Cooper Young Market on Saturdays, Botanic Gardens on Wednesdays, The Church Health Center on Tuesdays, Ms. Cordelias's Grocery Store in Harbor Town, Urban Farms Market in Binghampton, and John's Pantry in Cordova.
There will be a fundraising event coming soon entitled "Farms to Forks." Students will sell tickets to customers who are interested in dining on a full course meal with all of the local seasonal selections. People in the community will learn more about the program and all proceeds will go to the Garden to Groceries project so that the students may continue growing heart healthy, nutritious food and snacks for their community.
The students are also having a Facebook 'liking' contest. Whoever has the most likes on Facebook will receive a dozen cupcakes, a humus tray, three signature pesto sauces, or two loaves of their signature breads.