Project Homemade not only teaches cooking techniques but focuses on educating the community to make healthier food choices.
While East New York has been labeled as one of the city’s biggest food swamps given its density of fast food chains, one nutritionist-in-training is trying to educate residents about healthy eating through a community service initiative called Project Homemade.
From May to August, coinciding with farming season, Project Homemade founder Sophia Samuda hosts free cooking classes at McLeod Community Garden on Liberty Avenue, where she schools local residents in the benefits of using fresh ingredients over processed foods and shows them how to grow their own produce. A former advertising executive at Ralph Lauren currently studying for a master’s degree in nutrition at Brooklyn College, Samuda focuses less on imparting cooking techniques than a mindset shift. She wants people to understand that when their cereal contains four-syllable ingredients they can’t pronounce, it’s likely to be harmful to their health.
“I focus on showing them how to prepare heavily processed foods in a healthier way,” she says, “because processed food is something that everybody probably buys all the time.”
In her workshops, she shows the local community how to make jam using strawberries or how to make ketchup using fresh tomatoes and herbs, sourced from East New York Farms (ENYF).
When Samuda bought a house in East New York in 2013, she realized she had to trek to downtown Brooklyn to buy fresh fruits and vegetables, especially during the winter months. In the summer, she frequented the East New York Farms farmers market at the corner of Livonia Avenue and Schenck Avenue, which operates on Saturdays and Wednesdays. She began volunteering with the market and eventually discovered the ENYF mini-grant, which funds projects that increase access to healthy foods in the neighborhood.
Since its inception, Project Homemade has run for two consecutive summers on the grant, but Samuda is considering turning her community service project into a business.
“Initially I just wanted to share what I know so we could all fight for more access to fruits and vegetables,” she says. “But now [the project] has more legs than I thought it would have.”
While she wants to continue to host workshops free of charge, she knows the project needs a business model to remain sustainable. She cites the shuttering of healthy eating-focused businesses such as The Tea Room at Belmont and Pitkin Avenue as evidence for the need to educate the local community and boost demand for better food choices.
“At the Tea Room they had almond milk and organic food but no one wanted it,” she says. “But if you’re not familiar with healthy foods, you won’t ask for them.”
Interested in learning more about healthy cooking? Sign up for Project Homemade’s next class on Wednesday, August 22.