The Dish: Visit Harvest Kitchen’s New Healthy Corner Store and Cafe
The Farm Fresh Rhode Island program's new retail location brings fresh produce, local products and prepared foods to the community.
Osbert Duoa darts down the walkway between Harvest Kitchen’s prep area and the program’s new Healthy Corner Store + Cafe retail space, and quickly does an about-face. “More time in the kitchen, less time on the streets!” he shouts with a smile as he points an index finger on each hand toward program director and chef Jen Stott.
Duoa, who sports a white T-shirt under a black apron with the program’s logo on it, graduated from Farm Fresh Rhode Island’s Harvest Kitchen food-industry training program in 2012. He’s been involved for the last five years selling their products at farmers markets. Sixteen youth from the Juvenile Corrections Services participate in the twenty-week curriculum that includes fifteen weeks in the kitchen and a five-week supported internship at an off-site location. Trainees work in groups of eight, scheduled in two separate shifts, to create a line of preserved foods, including apple sauce, pickles, apple chips and more, using local farm produce, and they sell those products at farmers markets and to wholesale customers. Now they have a permanent retail location at 2 Bayley St. in Pawtucket to tout their own creations, as well as New England-made products, local produce, coffee and baked goods, six days a week. The hours are Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. and Sat. from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
The Harvest Kitchen Healthy Corner Store + Cafe is a vibrant, community-building space that brings fresh, local produce to the Pawtucket/Central Falls Health Equity Zone, which is an area that has low access to healthy foods. The neighborhoods have corner stores and Armando’s Meat Market located nearby, but lack a grocery store that sells locally sourced products. “For the cafe, it’s like a farmers market six days a week,” says Stott. “Farmers markets are great but they have limited hours, so if you can’t go on a Saturday by 1 p.m., you can still come here any day of the week.”
The shop will soon accept SNAP benefits after meeting vigorous requirements, like stocking fresh produce, some meat and refrigerated grab-and-go items. Packaged sandwiches, salads, soups and spreads will also be SNAP eligible once their application is approved. “The overall mission and vision of the Healthy Corner Store and Cafe is to provide local seasonal produce and menu items as well as locally sourced shelf stable pantry items and dairy products,” says Stott. “We put a lot of thought into that and how we can make items that will hold up well in the refrigerator for people to purchase and eat here or take to go.”
The employees are thrilled about the new shop, where they can meet more customers face to face. Duoa earned a permanent gig as a retail sales associate at the store. “The program took me off the streets and into the kitchen,” he says. “It taught me how to be a chef, how to communicate and get along well with others. It’s like a crayon box. Kids from different places and different colors, and we all come together to make this beautiful thing.”
Sean Hopkins is another Harvest Kitchen graduate and sales associate at the Healthy Corner Store + Cafe. He came to the program after being placed on the wait list while he was on probation. Through the program, he also landed a job at Garden Grille in Providence. He now works three jobs between the Harvest Kitchen and farmers market retail gigs and the restaurant position. “I wouldn’t be where I am at without the program,” he says.
Graduate Monicia “Moe” Camacho, a production assistant in the kitchen, also says she’s leading a different life thanks to Harvest Kitchen. “I grew up with negativity around me,” she says while prepping cucumbers to make pickles. “This program changes your whole demeanor. I learned you get more out of life by participating.”
Since 2010, Harvest Kitchen has graduated thirteen groups of youth and used space in five different kitchens, finding its permanent home in the new Pawtucket location. “I am grateful for all the kitchens we’ve had in order to be able to grow out of them and get to where we are now, and to all the people who have supported us throughout the years by buying our products at the farmers markets and donating,” says Stott. “What’s even better is seeing how proud the kids are to be here.” 2 Bayley St., Pawtucket, 401-335-3766, farmfreshri.org/about/harvestkitchen.php