By ERIN O’NEILL
Stephanie Calderon had cooked beans a thousand times, but never quite like this.
As one of the neighborhood leaders for Viking Terrace through a Growing Up Healthy outreach program, Calderon decided to attend the organization’s newest effort to bring members of the Northfield Latino community together — a multicultural cooking club.
There she learned that a little cilantro and a different cooking style can go a long way in changing the taste of your beans. But a new recipe was far from the most valuable thing she picked up at the club.
“Food brings us all together as a community,” said Calderon, a Mexican immigrant who has lived in Northfield for 16 years. “It’s nice to socialize with people you’ve never met before and to share similar interests. Just being there in the same kitchen is great. We’re all helping each other out.”
The club was originally created by Growing Up Healthy — a local organization that works to connect marginalized families to community resources — to facilitate positive relationships between members of the Latino community in Northfield. Finding that the majority of residents in Viking Terrace were not well acquainted with their neighbors, the organization took the first step in boosting social capital and helped those in the community of immigrants bond with each other.
But after experiencing much success with the multicultural cooking club, Growing Up Healthy wanted to take things to the next level, and enlisted the help of another sub-community in Northfield.
“They were looking for clarification on what was going well and what wasn’t going as well,” said Katie Westwood, a St. Olaf graduate who helped conduct research for the organization.
Working in conjunction with former St. Olaf faculty member Devyani Chandran, Westwood and classmate Stephanie Villarreal conducted interviews and focus groups with participants to collect feedback on current efforts and suggestions for future endeavors.
“We found that bonding was facilitated by the activities but bridging is harder in general for these types of organizations,” said Westwood.
Now that connections had been developed within the Latino community itself, Growing Up Healthy wanted to be intentional about creating opportunities for recent immigrants to connect with the more established Northfield population. The organization took the data gathered by the local college students and used it to pursue a $50,000 grant from Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota Foundation, part of which is going towards funding a more diverse cooking club.
Partnering with Just Food Co-op, Growing Up Healthy is now providing the opportunity for co-op members and anyone else in the community interested in learning how to make Latin-inspired dishes and other kinds of ethnic cuisine to attend the Dinner Time Cooking Club the first Monday of every month.
“We’re branching out and exploring the ideas of bridging and linking to see how we can connect [our participants] with the greater Northfield community,” said Leah Eby, coordinator for Growing Up Healthy.
According to Eby, the two club events hosted so far have been very well-attended and all participants leave having learned something new, whether it be how to make a new bean dish or developing a shared interest with a neighbor.
“Not everyone who goes speaks English, but that is not a barrier,” said Calderon.
“At the cooking club, they are on the same ground as everybody else,” said Villarreal. “They really appreciated that it wasn’t about status, but cooking. And they liked being able to bring dishes to the table instead of always being on the receiving end.”
Since the start of the first cooking club, Eby has seen immense growth within the Latino community and hopes that the new dinner time club will be just as successful in creating ties across all Northfield populations.
“I love to be part of my community and give to my community what I can offer as a person,” said Calderon. “There are so many things that Northfield has for our community to be a part of.”Reach reporter Erin O’Neill in Faribault at 333-3132 or in Northfield at 645-1115, or follow her on Twitter.com @ReporterONeill.