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CORE/El Centro Strives for a Healthier South Side

May. 2, 2017
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Since 2002, CORE/El Centro (130 W. Bruce St., Suite 300) has promoted healthy people and communities through holistic health programs in English and Spanish. Since moving to the Clock Shadow Building in Walker’s Point in 2012, the organization has been able to expand its popular gardening and nutrition programs by incorporating a rooftop garden, adding urban gardening space and forming a farmers market.

Stephanie Calloway, garden and nutrition program manager, said their Food as Medicine cooking and nutrition classes are a key component of program. The class introduces participants to not just healthy recipes, but it also teaches them how to cook. “It allows them to build confidence it the kitchen,” she said. 

Much messaging around food and nutrition is related to calories, fat, sugar or salt content, and Calloway said sometimes people are surprised to learn how just whole foods can help lower cholesterol or blood sugar, or reduce stress and anxiety. “People learn of the health impact of getting more fruits, vegetables and herbs to the diet, and I think that’s a critical angle that we’re presenting,” she said. 

Angela Kingsawan, herbalist and garden coordinator with CORE/El Centro, has been gardening since her childhood and has for many years made her own medicinal home remedies, body care products and cleaning products. She brings that expertise to teach the Food as Medicine class and aims to make the lessons fun. She values feedback from participants to mold the programs to what people want.

The classes are for adults and children. CORE/El Centro uses its yoga studio for a learning space and brings in burners to demonstrate cooking. There’s a small kitchenette attached to the space. 

The rooftop garden consists of a beehive and raised beds to grow produce and host gardening workshops. CORE/El Centro has a paid gardening internship program for high school students. New this year is the Medicine Makers Herbal Apprenticeship Program, which Kingsawan said would be a key component this year to managing that garden. Since 2014, they also use a 7,000-square foot gardening space on the corner of Muskego Avenue and Arrow Street, accomplished through a partnership with Pete’s Fruit Market. They keep chickens there. Participants in the Medicine Makers program commit to meetings, workshops or cooking classes and gardening shifts. More than 50 people have signed up for 2017.

“People always want to know more about herbs and food and different ways to incorporate that, but the apprenticeship goes into getting your hands dirty and being out in the garden,” Kingsawan said. 

Kingsawan will grow wild vegetables on the rooftop garden and at the lot this year, including chiltepin (ancestors to hot chili pepper), different kinds of gourds, pre-Colombian tomatoes, Mayan rice, amaranth, indigenous squashes and Oaxacan green corn. “I want to expose people to things they’ve never seen before or have little experience with,” she said.

CORE/El Centro’s farmers market takes place Thursday from 3 to 7 p.m. beginning June 8, held on the rooftop garden space and first floor of the building.

CORE/El Centro serves mostly South Side residents, but people from all over the city participate in their programs. Partnerships for nutritional education include Pete’s Fruit Market, UW-Extension, Ho Chunk Nation, and they also get support from Milwaukee Public School’s Violence Prevention Program for the student internship opportunities. The organization also hosts school groups.

For more information about CORE El Centro’s gardening and nutrition programs, call 414-225-4267 or visit core-elcentro.org.

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