Gandhi Mahal & Women’s Environmental Institute (2016 program, 2017 calendar)

Ruhel Islam of Gandhi Mahal in Minneapolis gives a hearty laugh when asked where he learned to cook. “I’m a Bangladeshian native who grew up in a sustainable village! We don’t need to go to culinary school; cooking’s in our blood!”

For Ruhel, cooking isn’t about recipes or techniques; it’s about making the world better by bringing people together over nutrient-rich food. Gandhi Mahal has three gardens, providing Ruhel with much of what he needs for his ethnic flavors: curry leaves, garlic, green chiles and more. He then procures other ingredients as locally as possible to reduce his carbon footprint and support his community. He loves shopping farmers markets, which remind him of his village markets.

Ruhel’s especially passionate about the Gandhi Mahal Interfaith Garden in partnership with Minnesota Interfaith Power & Light, a place people gather on Sunday nights for interfaith conversations, gardening, dancing, and ‘anything that changes the world positively.’

It’s no surprise Ruhel connected with the Women’s Environmental Institute (WEI) in North Branch, an environmental research, renewal and retreat center. Founding members Jacquelyn Zita and Karen Clark and their crew tackle issues of food, farmer, environmental, and climate justice through organic farming, education and research. Jacquelyn explains, “We grow, distribute, and build community around food as a kind of revolution and soft approach to social justice.” She continues, “We are working to build stronger, healthier communities by challenging the industrial food system.”

WEI’s work is vast, but one successful project they’re especially proud of is the North Circle Food Hub, a virtual hub that aggregates local farmers’ products. Consumers then select and purchase online the farm fresh foods they wish to pick up at the North Branch Farmers Market each week. Jackie remarks, “Local farmers should grow for local communities. We don’t need lettuce from California in North Branch. The North Circle project was a way to help connect local farmers with our community.”