Culinaria has announced plans for a community educational center and gardens.
The project is still in the early planning stages, and it doesn’t even have an official name yet. But among the ideas discussed so far are areas where people from the community could take part in learning how to grow food, how to know when it becomes ripe and how to prepare it. Everything from planting the seeds to cooking demonstrations of harvested foods would be included.
It’s a logical move for the organization, which is known for its food and spirits festival as well as its fundraising efforts on behalf of local charities. “We are expanding,” said Culinaria’s CEO, Suzanne Taranto Etheredge. “We wanted to create something meaningful, sustainable in San Antonio that is for everyone.”
On Saturday, chef Jason Dady of Bin 555, Tre Trattoria and Two Bros. BBQ Market earned the first donation to the project. He placed second in H-E-B’s first Food Truck Face Off, which carried with it $5,000.
“I’m excited about it,” Dady said of the project. “This can be tremendous. … I’m most excited by the great opportunity to partner with schools, so that students learn more about where their food comes from. They can see it, feel it and taste it.”
One plan is for students of all ages, from elementary schools on up, to get their hands in the soil, planting and tending fruits and vegetables. High school students might be able to take part in culinary programs led by any of the chefs who work with the organization.
But the gardens aren’t just for kids, Etheredge said. “We want adults to come out and plant, too.”
The food raised in the garden would also be used to help those in community in need, though the details of how that aspect would operate have not been worked out yet, she said.
“We are just in the planning stages,” she said. “Next would be the capital campaign” to raise money for the facility with a kitchen, pergolas and shaded areas in addition to the gardens. That way, the chefs involved would be able to offer everything from cooking demonstrations to dinner in the garden.
“There are hundreds of chefs in the city that we deal with,” she said. “And we want them to have ownership of this process.”
Already there has been such a surge of enthusiasm from board members, including Dady, that Culinaria is energized about proceeding with the plan, Etheredge said. When she presented the idea to the board recently, “they freaked out — they were so happy.”
No site has been chosen for the center and gardens, though members of Culinaria have already looked at five or six spots and are “continuously looking at others,” she said.
The next crucial step will be to develop partners within the community who will assist in getting the project launched. ”
The center and gardens will be the legacy of Culinaria’s commitment to the community, “something tangible that we could be a part of,” Etheredge said. But, she added. it won’t replace any of the current functions of the organization, including its many events, from the 5K run to the upcoming Feastivàl on Oct. 7. It will also still raise money for charities within the city.
“This will just enhance our mission,” she said. “We really want to change the culture of food in San Antonio.”
There has been a growing trend in eating local and sustainable foods, but Dady would like to see it go beyond the trend. He thinks the educational center and garden project can do that.
“We want it to be the way we eat,” he said.