Cooking with the Community: An Interview with a Nutrition and Culinary Education Manager at City Harvest

By City Harvest

What’s your name and title? How long have you been with City Harvest? 

My name is Sofia Gilary and I am a Nutrition and Culinary Education Manager at City Harvest. I have been at City Harvest for almost three years.



Why did you decide to pursue Nutrition Education? 

I always knew I wanted to help others as a child. Through high school, I always did well in my science classes, so I decided to pursue something in that field after graduating. I was pretty lost in college and was just taking biology, chemistry and other science courses to work towards some unknown goal. During my junior year of college, I woke up one day and decided to join a gym and fell in love with lifting and running.

My mom, who is a nurse and went to Hunter College, just like me, thought maybe I should major in Nutrition since she heard that was a good degree to have. I declared my major and in my senior year (spring semester), I completed my field work at PS 7 in East Harlem, participating in a pilot program called “Lessons in the Lunchroom”. It was there where I fell in love with working with children and trying to get them to make healthier choices. Most of the students would come to the cafeteria with nothing in their lunch box, and that still sticks with me to this day. On top of that, the school lunch options weren’t things I personally wanted to eat, myself. Later down the line in my career, one of my dreams is to take on school lunches and give children a better school lunch program.


What does City Harvest’s Nutrition Education program do?

The Nutrition Education team is small but mighty! We offer programming to emergency food recipients through partnering with food pantries and soup kitchens, schools, and deeply-rooted community-based organizations like public libraries

We have a 6-week course called Cooking Matters for adults, parents, kids, and teens. This Nutrition Education course focuses on cooking on a budget by using fresh, frozen, and canned fruits and veggies while incorporating culinary skills.

We also offer Eat Healthy Be Active (EHBA) community workshops and Serving up MyPlate workshops.  EHBA is a series of workshops aimed at adults that is focused on nutrition and Serving up MyPlate is a workshop series that has three levels for 1st through 6th graders.

Before the COVID-19 crisis, we would provide food so our participants can cook in class with us. Since our courses are currently virtual, we now use partner supermarkets from our Healthy Retail Program to have ingredients pre-packed in individual bags and dropped off at Nutrition Education Sites. Most of the sites participating in our cook-along program are libraries based in Brooklyn, so participants come and pick up the food the day before so they can join us on Zoom and cook along with me the next day.


What makes City Harvest’s approach special? Why is Nutrition Education so important to the people that City Harvest serves?

At City Harvest, we not only bring more nutritious food to our neighbors in need, but also provide Nutrition Education and hands-on demonstrations to teach the people and communities we serve skills for shopping, preparing, and enjoying healthy, tasty, and affordable meals. We partner with community organizations in all five boroughs to offer Nutrition Education by City Harvest staff and volunteers – all for free. This includes both in-person and virtual nutrition courses, cooking demonstrations, and guided shopping tours. Our goal is to build a healthier community by partnering with libraries that connect us to schools, community centers, and so on as well as connect these participants to emergency food programs in the area. This year, our Nutrition Education resources will reach more than 13,000 people.


What kind of produce does City Harvest rescue and deliver most, and what is your favorite way to prepare them?

City Harvest rescues and delivers lots of fresh produce, including apples, cabbage, carrots, onions, squash, potatoes, and sweet potatoes. These items are hearty, nutritious, and easy to prepare. One of my favorite recipes is the Sweet Potato Hash because it has very few ingredients and is an easy side dish. Feel free to check out our recipe box for more recipes.


How has the Steven & Alexandra Cohen Foundation’s support helped City Harvest?

The Steven & Alexandra Cohen Foundation has been a generous and consistent supporter of City Harvest since 2009. As City Harvest’s first neighborhood sponsor in 2018, the Foundation’s grant funded all deliveries of rescued food in the Washington Heights and Inwood neighborhoods of Manhattan, including to City Harvest’s two Mobile Markets where we do nutrition education demonstrations, providing residents with 2 million pounds of free fresh fruits and vegetables a year. The Cohen Foundation also supported City Harvest’s COVID-19 response work with multiple gifts throughout the pandemic to ensure the organization could elevate operations as the number of New Yorkers experiencing food insecurity across the city surged alongside the pandemic. And, of course, the Foundation provided $20 million to help establish our new home in Sunset Park, Brooklyn – the Cohen Community Food Rescue Center – where we will be able to rescue, store, and deliver twice as much food for decades to come.


This National Nutrition Month, if you could offer one piece of advice to people on how to eat healthier, what would it be?

Think about what you can add, not take away!



City Harvest helped start the food rescue movement in 1982 when a group of New Yorkers saw that New York City had an abundance of excess food, while a large number of its residents struggled to feed themselves and their families. Today, City Harvest is New York City’s largest food rescue organization, helping to feed the more than 1.5 million New Yorkers who are struggling to put meals on their tables. City Harvest exists to end hunger in communities throughout New York City. They do this through food rescue and distribution, education, and other practical, innovative solutions.