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Classie Parker
Just Food Trainer and Co-Owner of Classie's
March 05, 2013

Who among is is brave enough to boast that they have eaten opossum? Who doesn't wish that her own name were as fabulous as Classie's? All this, and over 50 years of experience canning and gardening in NYC, makes Classie an inspiration to everyone she meets. She has taught more than 4,000 people across the New York metropolitan region how to can their own food. She is also a master Just Food & Green Thumb Trainer, a food activist and the founder of the Five Star Community Garden in Harlem.

Want to learn more from Classie? Purchase her online class, Canning 101: Learn How to Make your own Strawberry Jam, which will be released on Friday, March 8th. Funds from the class will help to build Classie's own canning business. Click here for more information and a course description. And for a sneak peek, check out her Etsy video.

When did you know that you wanted to work in food?

I knew by the age of 5 that I wanted to make food like my Grandma Emma.  I saw first hand how she would take her time to prepare and mix flavors so that her food tasted good.  My 'aha' moment was when Grandma Emma told me she was going to make a pie out of orange peelings. I swore up and down that people are not supposed to eat orange peelings.  Well, Grandma Emma proved me wrong.  When I saw how she made the pie and I tasted it, I could not stop eating it.  To this day, I still remember what she put in the pie. Ever since then I always listened to what Grandma Emma told me to put in the food.  She had the uncanny ability to taste your food and then tell you what was missing.  Once you put in that missing part, the taste was great.  I have not quite arrived at that stage in Grandma's Emma's life, but I believe that I will get there. I will always be thankful for Grandma Emma teaching me about canning and cooking.  Grandma Emma and my mother, Lela Walker were the best cooks in the family.  My father, Mimes Walker,  always said that my mom outshined all her sisters and brothers in cooking.  That part was true.  My mom and Grandma could cook almost anything.

How did you get your current good food job?

I got my good food job at Just Food when I met someone in my home canning workshop by the name of Kathleen McTique.  She introduced me to Just Food and encouraged me to pass on the gift of canning, which I had been doing most of my life.  I took my first class called Trainer of Trainers which was for two days.  I have been a Just Food Trainer ever since.  It might be more, but I have trained over 4,000 people how to preserve their fresh fruits and vegetables.  I was shy in the first class, but then my shyness went away and I made the Art of Canning my own.

How did your previous work or life experience prepare you for a good food job?

My life experience with Grandma Emma was truly amazing.  I watched her cook things that I was not born to tolerate, such as chittlings, hog brains, opposum with sweet potatoes, goose, duck, deer, raccoon, sous meat, hog head cheese, liver pudding and a host of other things that I did not think were for me.  Today I am one out of many that still know how to make these southern dishes, all because of my Grandma Emma.  I am so thankful that I had the opportunity to learn from my Grandma.  This is something that can never be taken away from me.

What was the greatest obstacle you had to overcome in pursuing your Good Food Job dream?

Getting used to the strange reactions of people tasting my product.  And people stealing my jars, sometimes while I am in the room. Sometimes traveling to the different classrooms is a hardship, but the key that has kept me going year after year was that I loved canning.  I love looking at the end product on my pantry shelves.  I love making things with my hands.  That is why I knit, crochet and can today.

What can you identify as the greatest opportunities in food right now?

The greatest opportunity in food right now is that people are gravitating back to the land and wholesome living again.  People are returning to the benefits that the land gave them back in the olden days.  I think that is why my classes are so popular. The art of growing your own food in an urban setting is absolutely amazing.  Urban farmers, CSAs and food pantries are stepping up to the plate and hitting home runs in urban areas.

If you could be compensated for your work with something other than money, what would it be?

Two things: an old fashioned hump back truck like my Grandmother had, and the most awesome rotating pantry at the push of a button.  I dream about these things.
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