• About

        • Programs

        • Catering & Cafes

        • Get Involved

US Secretary of Agriculture Visits DC Central Kitchen: “I love the work you’re doing”

Alexander Moore
Tom Vilsack

On Tuesday, December 19, DC Central Kitchen was honored to welcome United States Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack for an in-depth look at our innovative programs followed by a roundtable discussion with local farmers, food hub operators, a corner store owner, and a graduate of our Culinary Job Training program. As Secretary Vilsack toured our 36,000 square foot Michael R. Klein Center for Jobs and Justice in Southwest DC with our CEO Mike Curtin, he observed more than a dozen front-line applications of major US Department of Agriculture (USDA) programs and initiatives. 

The inside look led Secretary Vilsack to declare, “I believe DC Central Kitchen is reflective of programs that work, reflective of the importance of nutrition programs, of work that we’re doing to ensure that people have access to decent food on every corner of every city. It’s reflective of giving people second chances and folks taking advantage of those second chances. I think it points out the necessity of the money we invest in this local food system because there are a lot of producers who are working hard.” We couldn’t agree more! 

In our production kitchen and CoBank Volunteer Zone, the Secretary saw how graduates of our training program have transitioned from SNAP benefits to lasting careers helping to feed our community. Working alongside community volunteers, our graduates transformed locally grown produce items into nutritious, USDA-supported meals for schools and afterschool programs. Earlier this year, the USDA’s farm-to-school newsletter named our Healthy School Food social enterprise a “shining example of what’s possible” when we involve local farmers in elevating the quality and sustainability of the school nutrition program. 

Alongside those efforts, our staff was hard at work preparing fresh-cut fruits and vegetables for delivery to small corner stores in DC neighborhoods without grocery stores. Thanks to a brand-new grant award from the USDA’s Gus Schumacher Nutrition Incentive Program and matching funds from DC Health, our Healthy Corners program will grow to serve 20,000 food-insecure customers annually over the next four years. This pioneering project empowers SNAP customers to receive special nutrition incentives that expand their purchasing power when they select healthy fruits and vegetables at participating corner stores. “Healthy Corners and our USDA-supported SNAP Match incentives are a game-changer for small businesses and residents who would otherwise have to travel long distances for healthy food,” says Curtin. 

As the tour continued, the Secretary had the chance to see our best-in-class culinary training facilities for DC residents overcoming barriers to employment and our biodigester—the largest commercial food service biodigester of its kind in the United States. A leader of the food recovery movement, DC Central Kitchen has prevented the waste of more than 36 million pounds of food since our founding in 1989. This new tool now allows us to turn all the unavoidable food scraps in our operation—carrot and potato peels, for example—into gray water that is seamlessly returned to the water system. 

At the conclusion of the tour, Secretary Vilsack joined an inclusive roundtable discussion about the past, present, and future of USDA investments in our food system. Attendees included long-time DCCK farm partners Derek Kilmer (Kilmer’s Farm Market) and Alex True (Miller Farms), food hub founder and DCCK supplier Tom McDougall (4P Foods), food justice social entrepreneur Chris Bradshaw (Dreaming Out Loud, our strategic partners co-located at the Klein Center), and Healthy Corners retail partner Amanda Stephenson (Fresh Food Factory). The wide-ranging conversation covered the resiliency of our local food systems, barriers to growth for small farmers, and opportunities to use food as an economic development tool in rural and urban communities. Kilmer thanked DCCK for the “consistency and commitment they have shown to the orchard,” while Bradshaw detailed how his program is creating entrepreneurial and market access opportunities for Black and brown farmers and entrepreneurs—as well as what more could be done to support them.  

Also joining the discussion was DC Central Kitchen culinary graduate and Materials Manager Robert Felton. Felton is responsible along with his team for the flow of thousands of pounds of local produce each day through our operation and likened his journey to the healthy food we share with our community. “I was that product, grown in DC. That journey came here. People said I’ll train you, cultivate you in different ways.” Felton took special pride in seeing the stores and corners he knew growing up in Ward 7 now offering fresh produce that was “never available” before Healthy Corners. Now, he’s playing a leading role in an award-winning effort to make these items available in every neighborhood. 

DC Central Kitchen thanks Secretary Vilsack and our roundtable participants for a meaningful morning that celebrated the measurable results of our partnerships and underscored how much work we have left to do.