Micheal Sparks, founder and CEO of Underground Kitchen (UGK).
Photos courtesy of The Underground Kitchen.
“Get back to the basics.”
Each month we highlight a community program that aligns with the values of SoulVision Magazine. We believe engaging with one’s community is critical to fostering positive change in the world.
In 2020, Underground Kitchen (UGK), “a roving experiential dining and event company,” was forced to close due to the pandemic. As restaurants closed and many societal inequalities widened, UGK saw a way to do their part in helping the community by addressing food insecurity in the Richmond Metro Region and Petersburg areas of Virginia. In April of 2020, UGK Community First became an official nonprofit and has so far distributed over 100,000 meals. Along with delivering meals, UGK strives to educate. “We are developing a Curated Food Box Distribution program, which will include an educational component, providing nutrition and health information, recipe cards for meal suggestions based on what is included in each food box,” says Kate Houck, UGK’s executive director. “It will also include invitations to live/virtual cooking classes with UGK chefs.”
Kate Houck, UGK’s executive director
UGK has two community gardens: the Kitchen Gardens at the Annie Giles Center in downtown Richmond, and the Garden of Grace located on the grounds of the Immanuel Episcopal Church in Mechanicsville, Virginia. “Being able to turn an area of land that was overgrown with weeds into a place where we can grow homegrown food that can go towards our food relief initiatives has been incredibly fulfilling. I get to see the fruits of my labor,” says John Mattingly, UGK’s community garden director.
UGK will partner with Soar365 on a workforce development program that will offer training and employment opportunities in the kitchen and gardens. The organization looks forward to working with corporate sponsors to launch its Curated Food Box program and Family Cooking Class. “Not only will families be receiving fresh and healthy food that can be made into several meals, they will also be able to engage with a UGK Chef to learn new ways of cooking and dining as a family,” Kate says. “In addition, since UGK is committed to the promotion of chefs of color and women chefs, we are excited to introduce our incredibly talented chefs to these families as a point of inspiration, connection, and engagement.”
In April of 2020, UGK Community First became an official nonprofit and has so far distributed over 100,000 meals. Along with delivering meals, UGK strives to educate the community on how to cook their own healthy meals.
Micheal Sparks, founder and CEO of UGK, adds that the ultimate importance of the entire mission of UGK is to get back to the basics. “Black culture and food traditions have too often been hijacked by the big corporations and others,” Micheal says. “We need to get back to the way our grandparents used to cook.” Micheal believes UGK’s initiatives will help black people to reconnect with their roots. “A lot of the Southern food and the genealogy of those foods have come from black makers who brought certain vegetables and dishes overseas from Africa,” he says. “It is about time black people themselves and the entire world realize this history, so we can continue great food traditions from history in a healthy contemporary way.”