Chicago's Purple Asparagus Educates, Advocates, Connects

Years before the First Lady's Let’s Move campaign and Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution, a small Chicago-area nonprofit called Purple Asparagus formed with a twofold goal: to create a community of people who cared about seasonal, sustainable food, and to spread that message to families with children.

Since that time, lawyer-turned-caterer-turned-seasonal-food-advocate Melissa Graham and her fellow Purple Asparagus board members have partnered with organizations like Chicago’s Green City Market, Swedish Covenant Hospital, and the Chicago public schools to provide families with practical, hands-on food education and to impart basic cooking skills.

Purple Asparagus often works with after-school programs, providing kids with, for example, herbs, fruit, or locally-grown vegetables and explaining their use in the kitchen. The kids can handle, smell, and taste the food, and the nonprofit's volunteers teach them a few simple recipes.

The organization is funded via member families, who pay annual dues, and also from the proceeds of an annual fundraising auction, when bigwigs in the Chicago food scene donate items to benefit the program.

With the summer season upon us, Graham and her cohorts will be spending more and more time in local farmers’ markets, giving families ideas for how to cook the fresh foods they purchase.

Asked about her greatest hope for the nonprofit organization, Graham replied: “In five years, I want us to be in 50 to 60 schools on a weekly basis. I think that given what we’ve accomplished so far, it’s an ambitious goal… but it’s doable.”


Cheryl Sternman Rule is a widely-published food writer and the voice behind the blog 5 Second Rule.




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