By LILLIA CALLUM-PENSO, The Greenville News
GREENVILLE, SC (AP) — It was May 2020 when Dan Weidenbenner consulted with his fellow Mill Village Farmsboard members and they decided to move their annual fundraiser to a virtual format.
The COVID-19 pandemic was raging, and organizers felt it was a way to maintain the momentum of their efforts in the community while giving people the flexibility and ability to have a dining experience in their own homes. .
Now, two years later, the local nonprofit has found an unexpected rhythm with virtual fundraising and taken it to another level.
On April 21, Mill Village will host a culinary concert, it’s the seventh now, in honor of Earth Day that combines local cuisine, cooking, music, cocktails and planting, all from the comfort of your own home.
The event will weave together food from chef Drew Erickson, CAMP, cocktail instructions from local micro-distillery Vicario Spirits, music from Anya Hinkle and botanicals from Mill Village Farms.
“This event really encompasses our mission in the community,” said Weidenbenner, executive director of Mill Village Farms. “The mission to empower people to cook healthier food, to learn how to cook, to grow their own food, to control and support their own mobility, and this event kind of does that.”
It also helps Mill Village fund the work it does. More specifically, this culinary concert will benefit the organization’s youth program and its food security program, the need for which has increased over the past two years.
Since April 2018, Mill Village has distributed over 59,000 FoodShare boxes to local people in need of fresh food. The boxes, which contain 10-12 varieties of fresh produce (a $20-$30 value), are available for $15, but are available for $5 for those using EBT/SNAP benefits.
Mill Village continues to evolve. Last fall, the group launched Fresh out of the Box, a virtual cooking show that brings real-world techniques into homes via a monthly cooking demonstration. The show has gained a loyal following, leveraging local chefs who share tips, tricks and recipes for making healthy food from fresh produce inside FoodShare boxes.
The show allowed Mill Village to add an extra element to its efforts – not only by providing fresh, healthy food, but by showing people how to prepare it in a tasty way at home.
“We thought since we’re bringing this to the community, why not show them healthy ways to cook it and use items from the box and also highlight local restaurants?” said Rhonda Rawlings, neighborhood engagement director for Mill Village Ministries.
The Culinary Concert’s spring evening will offer a slightly more complex cooking technique, but with an equally hands-on approach. The $175 ticket covers a three-course meal for two with all ingredients prepped and ready to cook, a perfectly matched bottle of wine, cocktail mixers, and a dish of vegetarian flowers, herbs, and plants.
Guests will enjoy a live cooking demonstration from Erickson, mixology from Fernando Forero of Vicario as well as a live concert from Hinkle and planting tips from Frances Schueren of Mill Village. They will also be able to learn and see how Mill Village is impacting the community.
“We did it during Earth Week because it celebrates sustainability in our community,” Weidenbenner said. “It’s not just about environmental sustainability, it’s also about economic sustainability, which is what we do through Mill Village.”
The Mill Village Farms Virtual Culinary Concert will take place at 6:30 p.m., April 21. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit https://www.millvillagefarms.org/
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