FINDING FOODWAYS: Catfish Row Museum opens demonstration kitchen

Published 5:28 pm Thursday, June 22, 2023

Public officials and interested residents got their first look at the newest addition to the Catfish Row Museum on Washington Street which museum officials hope will teach residents better nutrition habits and attract more visitors to the museum and the downtown area.

The demonstration/teaching kitchen at the Catfish Row Museum is seen as an extension of the museum’s mission to teach the community and visitors about the multiple cultures that have made Vicksburg what it is. The museum’s development has been at times a joint effort involving not only museum founder and Executive Director Linda Fondren but also local officials and community organizations.

“I have to say I am honored on behalf of the board of directors to express my gratitude to Mayor (George) Flaggs Jr. and also the Vicksburg Medical Foundation for their unwavering support and belief in this project of the demonstration/teaching kitchen,” Fondren said. “You know, their contributions and encouragement have been so valuable.

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“It’s invaluable to all of us and the board of directors, what they have been able to help with and be a part of and giving us that strength to just keep going, that they believed in what we were trying to do here,” she added. “We’re really excited to continue our work, to create this experience and create an experience for the visitors that are coming in, but also to create culinary nutrition.”

Warren County Board of Supervisors President Kelle Barfield said the kitchen made her recall a passage about cooking she’d read in a book, “and the idea was that we usually think about cooking as a closed circle,” she said. “Gone and done. You make the meal, you eat the meal, it’s over.”

But, she said, there is the suggestion to open that circle “to encompass, to embrace the sensual aspects of cooking and eating and food and the cultural aspects. The kitchen actually becomes a path that as the author wrote or the heroine thought, the kitchen becomes a path to give each day immortality. That’s why I am just so excited about the vast possibilities here.

“There’s the teaching aspect, teaching how to cook, teaching how to eat in a healthy way; the opportunities for the teaching elements here are really important and the entertainment aspects,” Barfield said.

Barfield said she has talked with tourists from the riverboats about spending time learning to cook something new during visits and the visitors liked the idea.

“I just see the opportunities here as being as vast as the opportunities we have in Vicksburg to improve quality of life, improve your recreational value, tourism,” she said.

Flaggs discussed the collaboration of public and private organizations that developed the museum.

He commended Fondren on her efforts to improve and enhance the health and well-being of city residents and provide health awareness programs through the museum.

“I welcome you on behalf of the Board and the Chamber of Commerce and all these ambassadors and I say to Mrs. Fondren, you made a great investment and we’re here to make certain that the investment you made in this community will pay the dividends that you invest in this community,” he said.

The idea for the kitchen began in 2020 when a steering committee was formed to build on the success of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Culture of Health Prize, a national award that recognized Vicksburg’s efforts to improve the health and well-being of its residents. Vicksburg was one of eight cities to get the award.

During discussions on the kitchen, the committee requested assistance through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Local Foods, Local Places program to identify the best practices for fostering a healthy community and vibrant downtown.

With the information gathered from community conversations, the committee prepared an action plan that united two established local nonprofits, the Vicksburg Farmer’s Market and Vicksburg Community Garden, in a downtown food hub to create a demonstration kitchen and educational center in the Catfish Row Museum, making health a shared value.

About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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