The Food Hub is About so Much More Than Full Bellies

In the historic Florence neighborhood sits No More Empty Pots, a strategic nonprofit food hub focused on bringing positivity to the community through job and workforce training, reducing food waste, creating accessible healthy foods and promoting entrepreneurs through business development programs.

The Reader spoke with Talia McGill, director of strategic communications at NMEP, about the nonprofit’s work within the community, its multiple programs for creating opportunities for food security and what Omahans can do to help further the mission.

Coffee to Change What You Can, Flexibility to Work with What You Can’t

A rich latte from No More Empty Cups satisfies the soul and warms the heart.

NMEP functions as an umbrella organization with five main programs: a culinary workforce training program, a food entrepreneur program, community education, food distribution and Cups Café.

Cups Café consists of two neighborhood cafés: one at the main headquarters in Florence and the other in Little Italy. Recently, the café in Little Italy was repurposed as an event center for the community, as McGill said an event space was found to be more useful than another coffee house. “This could always change in the future,” she added. “No More Empty Pots is following the current need. But just because it is one way now, it won’t necessarily be that way forever.”

Cups Café’s location in Florence is open Tuesday through Saturday and is often staffed by students participating in the culinary workforce training program. McGill said this gives them a chance to work on their skills in an encouraging environment. They serve specialty coffee drinks and seasonal food items created in-house or by the food entrepreneurs renting kitchen space. The café seats 14-16 people and offers complimentary Wi-Fi, along with plenty of electrical outlets for guests needing to charge their phones and laptops. It also offers a conference room that can be booked online.

The café menu lists many drink options, including house-made sugar cane horchata, Italian cream sodas, Frankly Juiced specialty juices and specialty lattes. The pastry case is filled with house-made shortbreads, Crum Cakes Bakery’s muffins, Carter & Rye’s hand pies and hot-menu items, such as Pan y Leche’s empanadas and house-made brioche breakfast sandwiches featuring O’tillie Pork & Pantry’s sausage.

The lattes are poured hot and hold a firm jiggle, indicating comforting richness to come. The lemon rosemary shortbread appears simple but shares a delicate balance of sweet lemon and savory rosemary. Pan y Leche’s beef and onion empanadas have a hearty crust and a belly-warming savory filling, which pairs well with the accompanying simple greens. The greens are dressed with a flavorful, house-made Dijon vinaigrette that should be sold in stores everywhere.

Pan Y Leche Beef and Onion Empanada is a Savory Way to Change Your Day

The most alluring menu items are the Carter & Rye hot pockets. In particular, the Cubano hot pocket. Tender, shredded pork with the perfect balance of pickles and mustard, all stuffed into buttery, hot pocket dough. The edges are crisp and flaky, leaving evidence of your meal all over your plate, shirt and lap. It is Midwestern comfort food perfection, once available only during Sunday farmers’ markets but now ready to be devoured Tuesday through Saturday (as long as you get there before they’re sold out).

The Cubano Hand Pie From Carter and Rye is a Handy Meal

Prepared for Success

NEMP’s culinary workforce training program consists of a 15-week course on preparing individuals for the workforce. Once complete, students receive help finding careers within the food industry. Each training group usually comprises 6-8 individuals, which helps keep the cohort small enough for each member to receive sufficient attention. Training begins with 10 weeks focused on learning skills, such as public speaking, creating resumes and, of course, cooking. Students continue their last few weeks of training at an affiliated internship site. Upon completion of the program, students are awarded a ServSafe certificate, a chef’s coat and a knife roll set. McGill said with these gifts and the earned certificate, there should be nothing to hold students back from beginning their new careers.

The food entrepreneur program focuses on helping future restaurateurs and caterers by providing them with mentorship and community, along with affordable commercial kitchen space for rent. There are currently 15 food businesses sharing the kitchen space. Food entrepreneurs may also sell their products at a sponsored farmers’ market booth. Another large part of this program matches mentors with food entrepreneurs to help them develop business plans and participate in the Wells Fargo Entrepreneurship Invitational, a pitch competition in which they can earn seed money for their businesses.

As part of its community education program, No More Empty Pots provides culinary and gardening education for the public. Culinary education may include visiting the kitchen to learn how to cook or seeing a demonstration within the community. For gardening education, the focus is on learning where food comes from, how to take care of plants and ways to harvest and use produce grown in gardens. This conveniently feeds back into the culinary education program. McGill said community education has mostly focused on youth in the past but will grow to include more services for adults and seniors, too.

The Food Hub is About so Much More Than Full Bellies

The focus of the food distribution program is to provide healthy produce, prepared meals and food education to the community. This is done through two distribution programs: community market basket distribution, which is a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) subscription, and community harvest distribution, which is a prepared-meals program for food-insecure youth, seniors and families. McGill said these programs have evolved and will provide more to the community as the organization grows.

McGill and the No More Empty Pots staff are currently developing their seasonal calendar to share with the community. This will give residents opportunities to become more involved by participating in classes or volunteering to teach workshops for the public. McGill said for one future training, No More Empty Pots will partner with Facebook and focus on helping people develop their Facebook business skills while learning how to grow a successful following online.

Onward and Upward

Other ideas for the future, according to McGill, include opening up the rooftop garden space to the public for extra café seating, creating their own branded jams and mustards to sell and letting their space be used as a taste-testing center to give feedback to their food entrepreneurs.

McGill shared three ways Omahans can support No More Empty Pots and give back to their community.

“First, come visit the space and share it with your friends,” she said. “Eating at Cups Café helps support local farmers and food entrepreneurs. Second, engage and gather in the community of North Omaha…Third, recommend low-income individuals and families to receive CSA and prepared meals so they can be supported by the community.”

McGill said No More Empty Pots has been successful because it does not provide charity, it teaches the community “how to fish.”

“We help share skills, resources and opportunity,” she said. She encourages people to put No More Empty Pots’ mission into action, “by gardening at home, eating more fruits and vegetables from local farmers, and eat a better diet. This all creates a better community.”

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