Not so many years ago, before television and radio occupied a good portion of our family and social time, friends and neighbors would often gather on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon to share a meal and newsworthy conversation about developments on their farms, in their communities and their families.
As the meal was being readied, each family bringing assorted dishes of fresh products from their farm, neighbors would catch up on the latest issues and challenges each were facing in their fields.
While a return to those days may not be entirely possible in a fast-paced and modern world, it was the spirit of those old time gatherings that was the theme at a recent event near Robstown, Texas, when Texas A&M Extension specialists staged a "Healthy Cooking School" event designed to feature local agricultural production, exhibits and demonstrations.
The highlight of the evening affair was a healthy meal prepared using items that were mostly locally grown or raised, including items that were produced on production farms. Termed a "Path to the Plate" dinner, the event served a dual purpose spotlighting both healthy cooking and local farm production.
"Our goal was to encourage family mealtime and to teach families healthy meal planning and food preparation techniques," said Jason Ott, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service agent in Nueces County. "We also wanted to educate people about where their food comes from while promoting production agriculture in Nueces County."
HEALTHY AND LOCAL
Elaine Montemayor-Gonzales, an Extension educator with Texas A&M AgriLife Extension’s Healthy South Texas Initiative, addressed the crowd that numbered well over a hundred participants and talked about the healthy foods available to Texans, many of which were grown across South Texas.
"Tonight we want to highlight some agricultural products that are produced on more than 345,000 acres across some 700 farms in Nueces County. This evening we are using fresh beef, sweet potatoes, and a Nueces County highlight commodity—grain sorghum—to make a delicious dinner for you all," she said.
The menu for the night included many Texas favorites. A salad made from fresh honeydew melon kicked off the night's feast. The featured main course included locally-raised beef in the form of certified Angus flat iron steaks. Sweet potatoes, another Texas favorite, were served to compliment the steak, and as a special feature, roasted asparagus pilaf made with food-grade grain sorghum rounded out the main course.
"Nueces County is the second largest producer of sorghum in the nation, growing 150,000 acres annually. Because it is a heat and drought tolerant crop it is well adapted to the Coastal Bend," explained Ott. "Food-grade grain sorghum is a gluten-free, non-GMO crop, which makes it a good alternative for individuals who require a gluten-free diet. And it’s easy to cook."
FOOD AND FELLOWSHIP
Lynn Mutz, who is a health agent with Texas A&M AgriLife Extension, primarily spends her time working with the Healthy South Texas program educating clientele on how to improve their lives through health and wellness programs. She addressed the dinner crowd and explained that the "Path to the Plate" program is one of the newest initiatives from Texas A&M AgriLife Extension, a program built on food and the relationship Texans have with it.
She said the program was designed to provide a look into the contributions of the agriculture industry in Texas and across our nation.
"Path to the Plate provides a factual, unbiased examination of the food we eat and its original source. The program represents the important role of agriculture in our daily lives—from beef production to grains to how it arrives at our table."
Ott emphasized the role of agriculture in Texas.
"Agriculture impacts the Texas economy to the tune of $100 billion dollars annually. In Nueces County, agriculture income totaled $150 million last year. Approximately 35,000 acres are dedicated to range and improved pasture for grazing cattle in Nueces County. The county is also home to the only grain-fed cattle processor in the southern half of the state, processing approximately 1,300 head a day and employing around 700 area residents," he pointed out.
Ott also noted that cotton also plays an important role in Nueces County's economic success. He said the menu for the evening was printed on paper derived from cotton, the table cloths and napkins used for the evening were also made of cotton fiber. Cotton is the county's largest crop.
"Every dollar we spend on food is connected to cotton production, because our money (the U.S. dollar) is printed on it," Ott said.
The special event was staged at the Rockin K Maze, an agrotourism site located on and operated by Klepac Farms near Robstown. Ott said Southern Charm Events and Catering provided the meal. Sponsors for the event included Capital Farm Credit, Texas Farm Credit, Nueces County Farm Bureau, the Texas Dept. of Agriculture, United Healthcare, KR Inc. Ranching & Wildlife, United Sorghum Checkoff Program, Driscoll Health Plan and the Texas Beef Council.