Storytelling Spotlight: Sustainable Food Center


This spotlight is a feature on WhyHunger’s digital storytelling website, Community Voices, that showcases grassroots organizations and community leaders through dynamic stories and pictures, to give a real view of projects that are working to alleviate food insecurity and increase communities’ access to nutritious food. We believe that telling one’s story is not only an act of reclaiming in the face of the dominant food narrative of this country, but also an affirmation that the small acts of food sovereignty happening across the country add up to a powerful, vital collective. Up today: Sustainable Food Center, Austin, TX. Story by Andrianna Natsoulas.


While the students at Pecan Springs Elementary School in east Austin went through their mid-day class routines, eleven women graduated in a small portable classroom beside the playing field. Each woman was called up to the front of the room to receive her diploma. The rest of the class applauded between bites of food. For the final class, instructor Lorena Cruz taught them to make two dishes: whole wheat penne pasta with tuna, olives, lemon-olive oil dressing, parsley, onions. That meal, using ingredients from the local HEB grocery store, cost $1.48 per serving The other meal was a salmon salad with fresh radishes, celery, parsley, mustard and lemon juice served over corn tortilla or whole wheat pita. It costs $1.09 per serving.


Lorena, has been working for ten years with Sustainable Food Center (SFC) of Austin’s The Happy Kitchen/La Cocina Alegre® (THK), a program of community-based healthy, affordable cooking courses. She’s seen hundreds of women graduate with the knowledge and confidence to use easily accessible ingredients to make healthy meals for well under $2 per serving. Lorena’s husband left Mexico for Texas before she did. He’d call her and say he missed her, of course, but that he really missed her when it was time to eat. She always cooked for the family in Monterey.

When she moved to Austin to be with her husband she didn’t speak English. She got her GED with Buen Samaritano, an Episcopal service organization in town. They pointed her to the new cooking classes being offered by SFC. This was over ten years ago. Lorena attended one where she and the other Latina students learned to cook from instructors who only spoke English. They’d show photo cards of ingredients with the names written in Spanish. She said there were a lot of charades in those first classes. Regardless, Lorena learned to speak English and to read American food labels and to cook healthy on a budget.

SFC has been working for over two decades in Austin. The non-profit’s motto sums up their mission: Grow, Share, Prepare. SFC encourages residents to grow their own food by supporting community-entrenched gardening education courses. To share, they work with farmers to streamline connections with local schools, worksites and food service providers. SFC also manages four weekly farmers markets. Finally, THK uses six-week cooking courses, taught by trained community members and facilitators, to provide free instruction in healthy, affordable food preparation for low-income residents.

THK cooking classes comprise the “Prepare” part of SFC’s multi-pronged approach to improving food security. THK focuses on adults, the people buying and preparing the household’s meals, for the most part. Other programs have focused on integrating food and health education among kids and parents. SFC’s USDA Community Food Project grant from 2007 funded a pilot study for middle schoolers, hoping to figure out ways for the students and their parents to cross-pollinate among the numerous facets of SFC’s programming, from gardening to the farmers markets to cooking lessons.


Read the full profile at Community Voices, a WhyHunger digital storytelling site showcasing voices of leaders and communities across the country on the front lines of food justice.

Andrianna Natsoulas