Inside the kitchen at Bethel Community Baptist Church Boyzell Hosey and Samantha Wilson are battling for bragging rights.
They're cooking collard greens, a staple in the diet of many African Americans. The judges are a group of kids from south St. Petersburg.
Wilson's recipe has a secret weapon: her Aunt Pinky.
“There's a secret ingredient that she has that her Aunt Pinky supposedly has,” Hosey says of Wilson. “She won't tell me what that is. When she first tasted my greens she said these are almost as good as her aunt pinky's greens. Almost. I think they are better actually.”
The two friends created the Tampa Bay Collard Green Festival and modeled it after similar events held in Sarasota, Jacksonville and other areas around the country. What makes their festival different is its focus on nutrition.
While traditional southern greens are boiled in a broth of bacon or other pork fat, Hosey says they want people to think about healthier cooking options.
“If we can use the collard green as the attractor, what can we develop around that to give a good message about healthy living and healthy eating?” Hosey said.
It's an important message, especially for African Americans, who are nearly twice as likely as whites to die from preventable heart disease and stroke, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Blacks also have higher rates of obesity, high blood pressure and cancer.
Wilson says the community can draw on its past to find healthier options. When her mother was growing up, collard greens were grown in community gardens around St. Petersburg. The preparation time, then, was slower.
“One day you would clean them the whole day, the next day you would cook them,” Wilson said. “And it was just that family time.”
But by the time Wilson came along, most of those gardens had gone away and processed food took the place of fresh produce.
Over the past 10 years, the community gardens are cropping up again in urban parts of the Tampa Bay area. Wilson and Hosey say they made sure to involve community gardens in the festival.
Ava Deveaux is a volunteer at the Bartlett Park Community Garden, where collard greens grow alongside tomatoes, carrots and other vegitables on what 10 years ago was a vacant lot.
Deveaux says volunteers who live in the neighborhood spend at least two hours a week tending the garden. Every Saturday, they harvest fresh vegetables to share.
“We try to let the neighborhood know, the residents know, this is now our garden, it's everybody's garden,” Deveaux said. “It belongs to the community.”
A chance to bring the community together is what started this adventure for Hosey and Wilson. And it's what prompted this mini cook-off for the kids at Bethel Community Baptist Church.
But Wilson says it's not just about the food. It's about living healthier and longer.
“In our community, minorities are stroking out early,” Wilson said. “The strokes are more debilitating and it affects the family and it has to do with your nutrition -- with what you are eating on a daily basis.”
That's why Wilson and Hosey use turkey instead of pork in their greens. Their healthy recipes were a hit with the students -- the cook-off ended in a tie.
They say their success with the collard green festival will be measured by how many people ingest their healthy message.