Community Spotlight: Elgin & Down Home Ranch

One of the goals in the strategic plan for SFC’s The Happy Kitchen/La Cocina Alegre® is to offer at least two of our 24 annual community cooking class series outside of the Austin core. As demographic data shows lower income families moving out of central Austin, we want to make our programs more accessible in the surrounding communities.

This summer, Elgin-based Wesley Nurse, Debi Laurents, was trained as a facilitator for The Happy Kitchen with the intent of helping bring the classes to Elgin. Thanks to generous support from H-E-B, she and I started planning for a class at the Elgin H-E-B store.

Sustainable Food Center has roots in Austin going back 40 years, so many Austinites are familiar with our programs, and we have a fairly extensive network of community contacts who help with class outreach. Without that network in Elgin, I expected the class to require a lot of extra promotion. We started with Debi’s contacts, flyers in the store, and an article in the Elgin Courier, and before we could start to plan our next steps, the class was full. Word continued to spread, and soon there were 60 people on the list to find out about the next series.

We are very grateful to the Elgin community for their enthusiastic support, and it has been great to see our Elgin network expand. One of the coolest new contacts is Down Home Ranch, who sent 5 of their ranchers to the class. Down Home Ranch is a working ranch for people with Down syndrome and other disabilities, and those who choose to live and work beside them. Ranchers have the option of living in a shared home with other ranchers and a live-in assistant, or applying to live independently. The ranchers take care of the farm operations, caring for chickens, cattle, horses, a garden, and several greenhouses (pictured below), and also participate in vocational training, continuing education, fitness activities, and more.

The group of ranchers attending the class right now live together and prepare meals together. Since class participants take home groceries for the in-class recipe, they have had fun experimenting with the recipes as a group. The quinoa from the first week’s recipe was such a big hit that they’ve been adding it to anything they can think of. The focus on using fresh produce in our classes is also a great fit for the ranchers since they grow so many of their own fruits and vegetables.

We’re looking forward to planning more classes in Elgin, and inviting more of the ranchers sign up!