Forsyth Farmers’ Market announces summer slate of A Taste of African Heritage classes

Featuring plant-based recipes from the African diaspora, ATOAH engages attendees in cooking and community building.

Forsyth Farmers’ Market is gearing up to host their next edition of the A Taste of African Heritage classes, which engage the community in cooking plant-based recipes from within the African diaspora. These immersive classes, which are free and open to the public, are made possible through a partnership with Oldways, a nonprofit that promotes healthy eating through cultural food traditions.

Forsyth Farmers’ Market’s Director of Community Building, Aja Embry, is responsible for coordinating the ATOAH classes and is looking forward to the upcoming installments.

“I actually worked for Forsyth Farmers’ Market at the beginning of 2023, so I was doing these classes then. But then I came back, and now since I’m the director, it’s my job to create the classes and the flow,” said Embry.

Oldways offers a number of curriculums based on the foodways of different cultures, to include Latin and Mediterranean classes, among others. Embry said Forsyth Farmers’ Market chose the African curriculum based on the demographics of Savannah’s population, the majority of whom are African American.

“It’s important that we go for the largest demographic. ... We think it’s culturally relevant for us to do the [African heritage] classes here in Savannah. These classes are made up of different recipes and ways of eating that have been collected not only through the diaspora, but straight from motherland Africa. So it encompasses Creole eating. It encompasses different ways of Caribbean eating. It encompasses Gullah Geechee ways of eating — anything that is culturally relevant to what this particular curriculum chooses to highlight,” she said.

An interesting highlight of the ATOAH classes is that they focus on plant-based recipes featuring seasonal produce.

“In the African diaspora culture, it wasn’t a norm to eat meat for every meal. Greens, other produce, the meals are heavy in that, and then meat is like a side. It’s not something that you have to have every day or with every meal,” said Embry. “The plant-based portion of it is [about learning] how to get the bulk of the nutrients we need from our plants. It also helps us as a farmers’ market to be able to highlight the different foods that our farmers sell. So it works hand-in-hand with our goals as a market, but also with the goals of ensuring that as a community, we’re eating better. We’re choosing better options for our foods.”

She explained that throughout the year, the classes spotlight particular produce that are in season. For example in the cooler months, they’ve highlighted things like radishes, turnips and kohlrabi, leading participants in preparing each item in a number of ways. And they’ve got a selection of seasonal produce to highlight this summer.

“This next class, we’re doing tomatoes. We’re going to highlight tomatoes. We’re going to highlight squash, and I’m hoping we get to highlight okra. We’re going to make three different sides, or three different meals, with these produce [items] ... We make it three different ways because what that does is expand our minds. A lot of times, we’re cooking things because that’s the way our mom made it or we saw it made that way, and now that’s the only way we make it. So just the expansion of learning how to take one item and make it several different ways. That’s really the goal of these monthly classes, I just highlight produce and cook it in different ways than we’re used to experiencing it.” said Embry.

Furthermore, these plant-based classes also serve as a nutrition class in which participants learn about different substitutions and alternatives to conventional animal products.

“We’ll use flaxseed instead of an egg, or we’ll use oat milk instead of regular [dairy] milk. We try and make sure that even in using the plant-based ingredients, we’re explaining the substitutions that we’re utilizing,” said Embry.

She encourages the public to come out and take part in the ATOAH classes because it provides new insights into the rich culinary traditions of the African diaspora while also serving as a vehicle for community building centered around the shared love of cooking and eating.

“The African heritage food pyramid is much different from the standard American food pyramid. ... On the base row of the African-American diet food pyramid is community interactions, being active and engaging with other people. So, we believe these cooking classes are a great way to honor that communal support that we need from our communities,” said Embry. “A lot of times, we don’t gather. We don’t go outside of our norms. And what happens in these classes is something really beautiful. You meet people you don’t know. You’re cooking with them, having conversations and then you’re eating a meal that you made together. So not only do you get to meet people, not only do you get to try something new with a hands-on approach, but you get to eat the food and have a really lovely experience. It’s a great night out ... and a great learning experience and a very good way to meet people. So it really honors tradition and one of the pillars of a healthy lifestyle, which is having a community and engaging with other people.”

Community is at the core of these efforts and Forsyth Farmers’ Market is interested in partnering with other local organizations to make the ATOAH classes more accessible.

“We would love to get with other community centers or organizations because every month ... the class is at or over capacity. So we really need to be able to partner with other community organizations that want to provide a free space for the community to learn,” said Embry.

The next A Taste of African Heritage Class will take place on Thursday, June 20 at 5:30 p.m. at the Pennsylvania Avenue Resource Center. Future classes will be held on July 25, Aug. 29 and Sept. 26. These classes are free and open to the public, however registration via Eventbrite is required as space is limited. Visit forsythfarmersmarket.com/nutrition-education for more information.

     

Chantel Britton

Chantel Britton is a compelling storyteller with an ever-growing curiosity. She's built a rewarding writing career for herself in addition to serving five years as a Public Affairs Officer in the U.S. Army Reserve. She's an NPR nerd with a deep passion for all things travel, sustainable living and adventure. She...
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