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Insider Article [February 2013] [02/05/13] (Alameda County Library presents My Neighbor’s Kitchen Ta
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Alameda County Library presents My Neighbor’s Kitchen Table

Serving Up Community Conversations on Healthier Food Choices

Healthy Eating is So Delicious! Over 650 people crowded seven community branches of Alameda County Library in 2012 to participate in community dialogues about their “neighbors’ kitchen tables” or how they, their families, and their neighbors could eat healthier foods. The speakers were urban farmers, nutritionists, authors, cooks, theatre troupes, doctors, and more. The audiences were amazingly diverse, including many new folks and lots of regulars. The programs attracted all ages and backgrounds, and attendees enjoyed delicious food, left with loads of tips, and in some cases, also left with bags of free organic locally grown produce!

Several organizations accepted the library’s call to co-sponsor these programs over the three months of presentations, including the County Health Department’s Nutrition Services, Kaiser Permanente, Dig Deep Farms & Produce, and other agencies. They provided excellent presenters, resources, literature and healthy treats. Included among the presenters were famed and wonderful authors Novella Carpenter, Willow Rosenthal, and Ying Compestine; Kaiser’s famous Dr. Preston Maring; educational theatre actors; and top-notch nutritionists. County Librarian Jean Hofacket observed:

“Libraries transform lives, and these community conversations gave hundreds of library users ideas for eating healthier and living better—providing food for the mind and for the body!”

All-Staff Awareness

Mindful that library staff and their families are also affected by the growing health and nutritional crisis, we recruited our partners from Alameda County’s Nutrition Services to provide nutrition trainings at seven of our branches. We also tied My Neighbor’s Kitchen Table to the system-wide Summer Reading Game, Reading is So Delicious!, our successful Food for Fines program, and other nutrition-related programs. As a further tie-in with the healthy eating theme and the Summer Reading Game, we coordinated with Alameda County Nutrition Services to feature displays of their Soda Free Summer campaign, “Rethink Your Drink,” at all our branches.

Community Partnerships & Outreach

Instead of merely searching for good speakers for one-time library presentations, we invested a considerable amount of time researching community-based organizations and individuals. This included looking at their programs and services, meeting with them, and taking various workshops, as well as educating them about our programs and services. An all-too-common initial response from many of our partners was “Oh, we thought the library just provided children’s programs!” This critical preparatory process not only resulted in us finding expert and entertaining presenters, but was the beginning of ongoing and potentially long-term collaborations. We started with specific organizations and individuals with whom we had worked before, and then expanded to several new and valuable resources such as authors, booksellers, and other libraries. In addition to our standard approaches (for example, the library’s Facebook page and blogs, flyers, press releases, and the local we also expanded our efforts in a more targeted way, including via health care facilities, plant nurseries, health food stores, ecology centers, and e-blasts to our partners’ community contacts.

Snapshot of programs (See flyer)

Novella Carpenter and Willow Rosenthal – The Essential Urban Farmer
Novella Carpenter, best-selling author of Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer and Willow Rosenthal, founder of Oakland’s City Slicker Farms, presented practical information, demonstrations, and signed copies of their new book The Essential Urban Farmer, a how-to guide for a new generation of urban farmers. See flyer

Dr. Preston Maring and Dig Deep Farms & Produce
Dr. Maring, Kaiser Permanente’s Medical Director of Referral Services, started the innovative Kaiser’s Farmers’ Markets. Dr. Maring presented a cooking demonstration and offered inspiring ideas for healthier eating.  He is part of the new HBO documentary, The Weight of the Nation, sections of which were available for viewing. Then, Hank Herrera, General Manager of Dig Deep Farms & Produce (DDF&P), shared his experience and advice on edible gardening. DDF&P grows fresh, affordable fruits and vegetables on its farm spaces in Alameda County, and provides healthy “grub boxes” to residents through community-supported agriculture. DDF&P provided free organic produce to attendees. See flyer

Ying Compestine
Ying Compestine presented Ying’s Best One-Dish Meals: Quick & Healthy Recipes for the Entire Family, a collection of quick, healthful, and delicious meals. Prepared using fast cooking techniques and nutritious ingredients, these recipes allow families to pull together satisfying meals in a snap. Ying is the author of many bestselling and award-winning cookbooks, children’s books and novels.  Copies of her books were available to purchase and for signing. See flyer

Kaiser Community Troupe – Mixing the magic of drama, music, and dance
Families brought their kids to see the Kaiser Community Troupe and learned about important health messages through interactive performances that addressed nutrition, physical activity, safety, and drinking water, and celebrated fruits and vegetables. Events included performances by the Mascot Ambassadors of Health and Wellness. See flyer

Healthy Eating for Older Adults
Alameda County Nutrition Services staff discussed the special nutritional needs of seniors and caregivers, including how our traditional foods can fit into a healthy eating plan, purchasing healthy food on a limited budget, taking supplements, and much more. See flyer

For more information, contact Gary Morrison at or Richard Bray at

Gary Morrison and Richard Bray
Alameda County Library