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Amber Polk: optivore mom shares "recipe from the trenches"

I met Amber through of excellent work with the Center for Environmental Farming Systems at NC State, where she runs the Local Foods Action Plan listserv and helps make everything run like a well-oiled tractor. But I know Amber because she's also a courageous, creative, and loving mother whose son Jackson has a variety of health problems. We've exchanged notes for several years about her triumphs and sorrows in trying to get him to eat and thrive. You can see he's growing up to be adorable and lively. Yaaay! You can see why she's a Cook for Good Hero.

Jackson and Amber Polk (photo used by permission)
Amber wrote this about optivore, a word I coined to describe people who cook to make something better, whether it is someone's health, the community, or the world:
I like optivore.  I feel a whole lot less fussy and much less of the bad kind of prima donna
Amber allowed me to share her recipe for Jackson's current favorite: Sausage Soup. The last step is optivore genius. What great attitude and technique! She's keeping her eye on the ultimate goal: getting her boy to eat a big bowl of veggies and to take in enough calories to thrive. 

Sausage Soup

A "recipe from the trenches" by Amber Polk.  (Note: make it a plant-based soup by using beans instead of sausage and bones and by browning onions in a little olive oil for extra flavor. ) 
  1. Boil water in huge pot. Wash and chop up every fresh veggie you have.  Use wide variety to get most nutrients.  I always use a ton of carrots for sweetness, onions for flavor, and spinach to fight anemia.
  2. Put in some left over bones from something already cooked and eaten.  Crack them if they are really big.  I am after the marrow.
  3. Let boil until all veggies are tender.  Fish out bones and throw away. Reserve all stock.
  4. Put veggies in a ninja blender and blend until they are unrecognizable. Add veggie mash to the empty pot, pour in enough stock to make it soup consistency. (Save leftover stock to quickly liquify other veggies later. You know you did it right if it turns to jello in the fridge.)
  5. Brown several pieces of bulk sausage, drain grease, and then crumble cooked sausage into soup.
  6. Serve to suspicious 4 year old. When asked questions about ingredients just list two: sausage and "soup" and quickly change the subject to big trucks or trains.  Allow him to add his own crazy garnish like spicy brown mustard, BBQ sauce, or sprinkles.  He just ate a whole bowl of veggies so whatever.

About the Center for Environmental Farming Systems

In 2009, the CEFS Local Foods Summit brought together food-system leaders from across the state to "facilitate a local food economy and promote all aspects of local foods." The openness and character of CEFS shines through in this approach:

We've started each meeting with a discussion of sustainability and local—not trying to reach consensus, but rather bringing all the associated values and meanings to the table.

I first mentioned the Cook for Good project in public at the summit. The response was thrilling: two women even followed me into the bathroom during the break to ask me to come speak to their group. The summit lives on as a listserv with over 1,500 members who are interested in the "cultivation of local food, farms and communities" in North Carolina. 

On Sunday June 8th, CEFS hosts the 2014 Farm-to-Fork Picnic, one of the top foodie events in the country. (See my description of the 2010 Farm-to-Fork Picnic.) CEFS also runs the 10% Local campaign to support local food and local economies.

Thanks, Amber and CEFS, for your work in advancing delicious, sustainable, and local food!

Does Amber's story remind you of experiences you've had encouraging people to eat healthy food? Were you at the summit or a Farm-to-Fork Picnic? Please share your stories and tips in the comments below. (For now, you have to sign in to see the comment box. Will have this fixed soon!)

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