As an adult, I love hearing stories from others who shared the same fate as I did growing up; picking greens every Saturday afternoon for Sunday dinner. Collards mixed with turnips, turnips mixed with mustards or collards and cabbage; all of course seasoned with bacon, ham hocks or some other salty pork meat. The weekly ritual entailed cooking a big pot on the stove for hours to render the tastiest potlikker (pot liquor). When I got old enough to put my green picking days beyond me, you best believe I did. Then they came back. Today, there is no shame in my game as I channel my mom in the produce aisle going through bunches that will be used in my sautéed collards with smoked turkey recipe.
This June, Oxnard’s Mess-O-Greens Festival will return for its 3rd year to celebrate the power of cooking with greens and the health benefits they provide. The two-day family event in Southern California is part of the city’s 27th Juneteenth event that will take place June 16 and 17. During the month of June, cities around the country will host events to commemorate the end of slavery in the United States; all will involve food in some manner. For Mess-O-Greens producer Kelcey Newman, the inclusion of food, specifically greens, is intentional and personal.
“I always knew greens were good—I just did not know HOW GOOD they were for me until an unfortunate event influenced my interest,” shares Newman. “In 2007, my father was first diagnosed with high blood pressure, then diabetes, and finally with liver cancer. With my father being raised in Georgia and accustomed to eating only traditionally prepared southern foods, I knew that his nutrition played a role in his health diagnosis. But I also knew that changing his eating habits could help prolong his life.”
The annual event will commence on Friday night with a community tasting and cook-off kick-off. Got a winning recipe? Be sure to enter this year’s cook-off that will test contestants’ creativity. Finalists from Friday night will go in front of judges on Saturday to include Greg Dulan, owner of Los Angeles’ renown Dulan’s on Crenshaw Soul Food, celebrity chef Shawnae “Say Grace” Dixon, Food Network’s “Clash of the Grandmas” contestant and food blogger Veronica Hendrix, Own’s “For Better or Worse” star Kiki Haynes and yours truly (me). Past contestants have been amateur cooks who have come from as far as San Diego to get in on the fun. Contestant space is limited with cook-off registration required by June 2. Winner will go home with $500.
“My Aha! moment about greens came as a result of a recipe exchange with one of my colleagues. As I shared my grandmother’s collard greens recipe, he began to enlighten me to the numerous benefits that collard greens have on the body. My curiosity then grew beyond learning about the cancer-fighting phytonutrients and antioxidant power of greens, to the multicultural history and various recipes used around the world for cooking greens,” says Newman.
Saturday’s activities will start in the morning with the wellness panel, Greens-4-Life, that will feature health professionals and fitness experts including chef Barbette Davis from Inglewood’s famed vegan restaurant, Stuff I Eat, who will share the benefits of “eating green.”
In addition, throughout the day festival goers will enjoy food demonstrations and live music/entertainment as well as participate in free health screenings.
With the cook-off surely being a festival highlight, Newman says last year’s winner was a recipe made using Indian yellow curry, red potatoes with savory smoke lamb. Another memorable entry included a flavorful vegetarian inspired dish of Mexican-styled empanadas stuffed with mixed greens (mustard, kale, and collards).
What started off as Newman’s personal endeavor to save his father’s life through the power of food is now a labor of love to educate and encourage others to eat healthy with the 15 types of cooking greens being agents for change. With outreach efforts reaching beyond family, Newman says, “Today, it has turned into a passion to create health awareness that will improve people’s lives.”
For more information about the Mess-O-Greens Festival and to register for the cook-off, visit www.mess-o-greens.com. Registration is $25 after June 2. For more info, call 805-628-2929.