Over 100 people attended the annual Community Dinner at St. Mary’s Nutrition Center in Lewiston recently to celebrate the hard work and learning that was accomplished this year through the Center’s Lots to Gardens program. On hand were the program’s Youth Gardeners and their families; some of the 115 families who garden in the program’s community garden plots in downtown Lewiston and at the Meadowview and Hillview housing complexes; and others who participated in or supported the program over the year.
The evening was led by the Summer Youth Gardeners (SYGs). Much of the menu was locally grown, developed and prepared from scratch by the SYGs. The culinary offerings reflected their diverse cultural backgrounds to include Chinese chicken and rice, Somali chicken and rice, Sahro’s cabbage dish, Fiston’s braised greens, green beans, blueberry banana smoothies, and beet raspberry brownies. The door prize, won by community gardener Kirk Jones, was a basket of fresh veggies and a gift certificate to the Lewiston Farmers’ Market.
Cabot Cheese joined the fun this year with their Farmers’ Gratitude Grille, a traveling kitchen conceived by the farm families who own Cabot to thank volunteers and community-service-based organizations for the work they do. Set up in the Nutrition Center parking lot, the Grille served pimento grilled cheese sandwiches, salad, and oatmeal raisin cookies.
The Summer Youth Gardeners also presented a short program about their summer experiences. The program included skits about what they learned, including using their voices to speak up about injustices and treating each other with more kindness. Several participants told personal stories and gave thanks for what they learned.
“Although I will not be working with Lots to Gardens anymore, the experiences, the laughter, and the learning I will take with me,” said Mohamed Abdullahi. “I am grateful for learning how to cook healthy food, and food from other cultures, and for the gardening skills I will use later in life. I now pay more attention to how I treat people. I’m a better friend, better son, and better person. I’m happy that Lots to Gardens is part of the community, and that the community is part of Lots to Gardens.”
The Lots to Gardens youth program is open to Lewiston-Auburn area youth ages 14 to 18. Participants get work experience, learn about gardening, nutrition, and cooking, and receive leadership development training.
Nutrition Center Director Kirsten Walter thanked the individuals, businesses and organizations who provided youth sponsorships this year. “Sponsoring one youth position costs $1,200 and is a great way to give back and engage a young person in developing lifelong healthy habits and becoming an agent of change in their community,” she said.
St. Mary’s Nutrition Center promotes community health through organizing, advocacy, and education. It is home to St. Mary’s Food Pantry, Lots to Gardens, the Lewiston Farmers’ Market, and garden, cooking, and nutrition education programs for adults, teens, and kids. For more information, see www.stmarysnutritioncenter.org.