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Local organization rolls out a mobile kitchen in efforts to bring health to Hartford

HARTFORD – Eating healthy can be costly but not doing so can come at a cost to your health.

Since many in Hartford don’t have access to food, a local organization plans to bring it to the city’s poorest areas.

Hartford native Herb Virgo is the behind the plan to turn an old school bus into a kitchen on wheels, to bring cooking classes and healthy food to the food deserts of Hartford.

Virgo is the founder and director of the Keney Park Sustainability Project, an organization supporting the development and sustainability of community-based food systems. The organization protects and preserves Keney Park, the 693 acre urban forest, owned by the city of Hartford.

The group educates community members and teaches them skills through many different environmental based projects including landscaping, composting, aquaponics, forest management, health and nutrition.

The newest project, is the mobile food kitchen.

“We want to target a few locations in the community that are specifically in the food deserts and identify meals that may be specific to those cultures,” Virgo said.

He plans to turn the retired school bus into a fully-functioning teaching kitchen which he expects to be completed before Thanksgiving.

The plan is for the bus to travel with the Hartford Food System’s mobile farmers market, a year-round mobile food market which brings fresh produce to area’s in the city with limited access to healthy food. Virgo said they will use the vegetables on the bus, to teach healthy recipes to the community.

“What we wanna do is teach people how to cook those nutritious greens without cooking all the nutrients out of it,” Virgo said.

He said this is made financially possible through a $15,000 grant from the Whole Foods, Whole Cities foundation. The non-profit is also funding an on-site teaching kitchen at the Keney Park Sustainability Project’s home base in Windsor.

Virgo credits the help of the community to make this all possible. He said the Keney Park Sustainability Project is funded through donations and with the work of hundreds of other volunteers.

He is also assisted by kids with the Summer Youth Employment and Learning Program, along with the Hartford Youth Service Corps, a push by Mayor Luke Bronin to put teens, including at-risk youth, into part-time paid jobs.

Once the bus is complete in November, Virgo will start by rolling it out to the north and south end senior centers, to teach canning and preserving workshops. The real debut of the bus will be in the spring.