Building a healthy community with food

CitySeed unveils Kitchen at CitySeed, a commercial-grade demonstration kitchen for community cooking classes, food business incubation, events, and more.

City Seed Community Food Systems Coordinator Tagan Engel prepares a salad in the new demonstration kitchen.

Many people would like to eat better by making meals from scratch with fresh ingredients but don't because they never learned how to cook. Or the fresh food they see in the store costs too much. Or they have no time and don't know many quick and easy dishes.

The Kitchen at City Seed is a place where these and other barriers will be torn down. Unveiled last week at a grand opening that honored the donors, community partners, and staff who worked to get it built, the commercial-grade demonstration kitchen is already booked with a range of upcoming cooking classes and events. The lineup includes: "Quick Healthy Dinners w/Wendy Battles," "Grillin' and Chillin,' w/Jason and Tim of Caseus and The Ordinary", "Get Fermented! Dilly Beans & Summer Harvest," "Soul Food Gets Fresh w/Smokin' Skillet" and a Monthly Potluck with the New Haven Food Policy Council.

"We have a super high demand for cooking education. Everywhere we go people are asking for it," said City Seed Community Food Systems Coordinator Tagan Engel.

The Kitchen at City Seed will also be used as an incubator space for food entrepreneurs who want to try out recipes or make small batches of products to sell at markets or for pitches to investors.

City Seed runs the farmers' markets in New Haven. The nonprofit has overseen a significant expansion from the single outdoor market on Wooster Square to four outdoor locations, a winter indoor market, and a mobile market for neighborhoods far from grocery stores. The markets work with small local farms and accept food assistance benefits and double the value of SNAP vouchers.

The idea for Kitchen at City Seed grew out of the success of City Seed's "Master Cooks Corps" program, which trained more than 40 people with funding support from the New Haven Health Department and The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven. Developed by Nadine Nelson of Global Local Gourmet in collaboration with Engel, the classes taught techniques for making tasty meals without a recipe and using simple ingredients.

"We trained these cooks to build on what they already knew and how to work with a group of people to mine the wisdom of the group," said Engel. "We believe there is a lot of wisdom in the community, and we need to create community supports to connect people around that wisdom."

The cooking classes were offered at no cost in exchange for the participants' commitment to teaching free cooking classes in the community. Using portable stoves and supplies from a box, the community cooks have been holding classes at community centers, libraries, schools, and other locations throughout the city.

Wanting to help the community cooks take their skills to the next level and earn money by teaching their own classes or developing food products, City Seed developed the concept for the kitchen at its Grand Avenue offices. The kitchen was built with funding from The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven, United Way of Greater New Haven's Women's Initiative, private donations, and used donated cabinets and kitchen equipment from IKEA.

"We are breaking down racism and health disparities through food," said City Seed Executive Director Nicole Berube. "You get people around a prep table and suddenly someone will talk about the way their grandmother makes something and income levels and backgrounds don't matter."

For more information about CitySeed, visit its profile at

Tickets to cooking classes will be available in July at

Did You Know?

Nearly one-third of Americans say they do not know how to cook, according to a 2011 survey by Impulse Research on behalf of Bosch home appliances.

This story is part of the Inspiration Monday story series produced by The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven.