Soup cook-off promotes local foods

Contest pairs area chefs, farmers and raises money for Urban Abundance

By Stevie Mathieu, Columbian assistant metro editor

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Local-food advocates hope those attending today's tree lighting ceremony in Esther Short Park also wander one block south and become taste-testers in their fall soup cook-off.

The contest pairs local farmers and chefs into teams, and those teams compete to make the tastiest soup using produce available locally this time of year. Winter squash, kale, potatoes, onions, cabbage and even some tomatoes and peppers will be in the mix, event organizer Chantelle Hylton Simmons said.

One goal cook-off organizers have is to return the community "to a place where people know where their food comes from," Hylton Simmons said. It also promotes "keeping money in the local food system and in the local economy," creates connections between chefs and farmers, and is a perfect event for foodies, she said.

Additionally, the event is a fund-raiser for the Urban Abundance organization, a group known for gleaning fruit from the yards of consenting Clark County residents. The gleaned produce is donated to food banks.

In this case, much of the money raised will pay for Urban Abundance's Garden to Table mural project. The mural project is part of a summer school program in which at-risk youth learn about local food and also paint a mural that incorporates what they've learned.

After the loss of a couple major grants, Urban Abundance has shifted its focus from fruit-gleaning to hosting seasonal cook-offs and working on educational projects with youth, said Warren Neth, executive director of Urban Abundance.

"We're paring down on this one initiative that we feel really works toward our mission," Neth said of the mural project.

The Garden to Table project teaches primarily about food justice, food heritage and healthy eating. It is responsible for the colorful landscape painted last year on the side of the St. Johns IGA grocery store building in the Rose Village neighborhood. About 200 students contributed to that display.

The upcoming mural will be mobile, Neth said. It will rotate to different locations throughout Clark County, including the public health building and various food pantries.

If future grants are obtained by the organization, Neth said he hopes to put more effort into fruit gleaning so produce around the county won't go to waste.

"We're going through a lot of changes at Urban Abundance," Neth said, adding that the group is now staffed entirely by volunteers.

The cost to attend this evening's cook-off and to sample the soups is $15 for adults and $5 for children younger than 12. Participants can pay cash at the door or pay online ahead of time at Urban Abundance.

The cook-off takes place from 6 to 8 p.m. at Torque Coffee Roasters, 501 Columbia St., Vancouver. An award ceremony for the winning soups will begin at 8:30 p.m.

The Backyard Bounty Co-op, Storytree Farm, Kunze Farms, Half Moon Farm and 78th St. Heritage Farms will provide produce for the soup challenge. Chefs participating in the contest include culinary arts students from Clark College, Muffin Batiste of Le Sous Chef, and Jodell Hinojosa of Jo Foody's Catering.