Food council cooks up community engagement through virtual class | Tri-state News

Saralyn Collingwood sliced up a sweet potato and directed the virtual audience following her lead to lather their own potatoes with blood orange olive oil.

While it wasn’t an ordinary way to hold a cooking class, it still offered a way to show people how they can assemble a healthy dinner using local products, organizers said.

“We all get Zoom fatigue, and we felt this was a great way we can share something like a meal from local foods,” said Michaela Freiburger, chairwoman of Dubuque County Food Policy Council.

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More than 30 people attended the council’s annual community engagement event on Wednesday. While the COVID-19 pandemic prompted organizers to move this year’s event to a virtual format, they still wanted to find a way to engage and educate their audience, said Sunil Malapati, a member of the council.

“Last year, we had snacks and some local foods to eat before we split into smaller groups to get ideas flowing,” he said. “This time, since we couldn’t do that, one of the things we came up with was that it would be nice to do a (cooking) demo since we have a member that was a chef.”

Attendees had the option to order meal kits, provided by Project Rooted, for the dinner, which consisted of chicken meatballs and sweet potato fries.

The annual event started in 2018 as a way for council members to connect with residents, government officials and other food policy councils to gather ideas on ways to better the county’s local food system, Freiburger said. The council also uses the event to guide its future plans.

“We are utilizing the conversation to help drive our strategic planning session,” she said. “We are going to drive our efforts in actually planning what we want to accomplish in our county in the next five and 10 years.”

During the evening, participants divided into small, virtual break-out rooms to discuss ideas and goals they have for the county.

A key theme of the night was education. Many attendees spoke about ways to inform others on where their food originates and where to find it locally.

Dubuque City Council Member Danny Sprank said he grew up on a farm in Jackson County and quickly learned where both the food on his plate and the country’s food comes from.

He said he has tried to convince his parents to sell their products through local farmers markets but hasn’t had any luck yet because of the profitability of selling through large-scale operations.

“I would really love to know how we can entice farmers,” Sprank said. “It’s always going to come down to the basic dollars.”

Freiburger said she was thrilled with the level of participation and ideas that representatives of different organizations presented.

“We were impressed by how many people want to be engaged with our local food systems here in our community,” she said.

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