Have garden, will party: Alliance Medical Ministry’s farm-to-table fete toasts 10 years


by Liza Roberts

photographs by Missy McLamb

There’s nothing fancy about the windowless Teen Center Club gymnasium that sits in the shadow of Wake Med’s mega-campus on New Bern Avenue. Most days, it smells like sweat and sounds like basketball.

IMG_7371But to Megg Rader, the optimistic executive director of Alliance Medical Ministry, it looked like possibility. With the upcoming 10th anniversary of her next-door agency, which provides free comprehensive health care to the working uninsured, Rader, 54, envisioned a celebratory fundraiser in that dank place. Homespun fun with 300 people at farmhouse tables, an auction, fresh food, and a chunk of money raised to further Alliance’s mission.

The agency’s own garden across the parking lot didn’t hurt. “When I saw the garden, I knew we had to use it,” she says. Rader, who has worked in a variety of nonprofits for some time, is relatively new to the place; she took the reins from co-founder and interim executive director Sean Harrison last year. The garden is a community resource she’s eager to expand and make available to anyone nearby who wants to help it grow and share its rewards. “We have a food desert in Southeast Raleigh,” she says. “We can feed our patients, and then some: the Boys & Girls Clubs, and our other neighbors.”

And so a fundraiser dinner that emphasized the bounty of the garden and the health benefits of fresh food was born. With fresh kale grown in the Alliance garden, other vegetables from the Interfaith Food Shuttle’s farm near N.C. State’s Centennial Campus, and a menu by Market Restaurant’s Chad McIntyre, the makings of a healthy celebration began to come together. Creative, homemade plans to transform the gym into a worthy venue did, too.

It was important to Rader – and to the mission of Alliance – that the event’s emphasis was on health. The agency has evolved over the course of its first decade from a straightforward medical clinic to one with a more comprehensive focus on prevention, wellness, and education. “We’re trying to get people to be healthy, happy, productive workers and good parents,” Rader says, “It’s a holistic approach to health: body, mind, and spirit.”

A growing number of Raleigh residents count on it: More than 8,000 people use the clinic as their medical home base, and about 1,100 come every month for primary care, acute and chronic medical care, pharmacy services, disease management, and pastoral counseling. They pay about $15 a visit, with the remaining cost covered by donations, volunteer doctors, and donated services from WakeMed Health & Hospitals, Duke University Medical System, and UNC Rex Healthcare.

photo_7One month before the party, a fleet of volunteers gathered to till and plant in the Alliance garden. Some were patients (Alliance doctors sometimes prescribe work in the garden to patients who need the exercise); some were staff; some were teenage church group volunteers. As weeds were pulled, soil was tilled for cucumber and squash, and long neat rows of flourishing kale, cabbage, onions, garlic, rosemary and lemon balm were watered, a diabetes education class was under way in a kitchen classroom inside. Half a dozen patients – all working folks with no health insurance – learned from Duke Raleigh Hospital diabetes educator Maria Tucker about the health benefits of leafy greens like kale, then took bags of it to cook at home.

“I didn’t know any of this before,” said Sharon Davis, 49, who works as a driver and has recently started exercising in a gym, thanks to Alliance. “They got me movin’.” She held up her bag of kale: “I’m going to go try it. I’ve never had it before.”

One month later, Rader’s hoped-for 300 guests arrived. They, too, had kale in their near future. But first they had a chance to stroll among the rows, and grab a “Sweet Alliance” moonshine cocktail donated and served (under an Eagle Scout-built trellis) by Foundation Bar’s Will Alphin. They could admire, and bid on, the decorative “garden girl” scarecrows with potted-plant heads that Rader and some of her committee made in her backyard. They could buy a ticket for a wine raffle and marvel at the modular, unusual display that held the donated bottles. Rader explained that the bottles were tucked into recycled Styrofoam coolers used for transporting insulin.

It turned out that dim lighting alone did wonders for the Teen Center, which was simply decorated with long, burlap-covered tables, a sprinkling of sunflowers, and clusters of votive candles. The dinner of roast chicken, succotash, macaroni and cheese, and yes – kale salad – was served family style. And so with very little spent but time, energy, and ingenuity, Rader and her team raised $125,000. It is a fitting capstone to the agency’s first decade and a solid start to its next one, says David Wilson, an Alliance co-founder, its board chair, and the CEO of FGI Research in Cary. “This has been the most spectacular entrepreneurial success; the most rewarding endeavor I’ve been involved in,” Wilson says of Alliance. “And Megg has is the perfect person for the next chapter. She has so much energy, and so many ideas. It’s an entrepreneur’s dream.”   


Market’s Three-Cheese Mac and Cheese

1 tablespoon salt, plus more for pasta water

1 pound large elbow macaroni

6 tablespoons butter

6 tablespoons all-purpose flour

3 cups milk

1 cup heavy cream

1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper

1 pound white Cheddar cheese, shredded

4 ounces Parmesan cheese, shredded

4 ounces gouda, shredded

2 cups panko bread crumbs

In large pot filled with water, add 3 pinches of salt and the macaroni, and place over high heat. Bring to a boil and let cook until al dente, about 8 minutes. Drain. Set aside.In a large saucepan, melt butter. Sprinkle flour over butter and cook 2 to 3 minutes on medium heat, whisking until a roux or paste forms. Add cold milk and whisk vigorously until dissolved. Cook sauce on medium-low heat until thick and bubbly. Add heavy cream, all cheeses, 1 tablespoon of salt, and 1 tablespoon pepper. Cook until cheeses are fully melted, stirring occasionally. Add cooked macaroni to cheese mixture and mix thoroughly.  Place macaroni mixture in a 13 by 9 baking dish and top with bread crumbs. Place in the oven and bake for 12 to 15 minutes or until golden brown.


Alliance food extraMarket’s Kale Salad with Golden Raisins,
Parmesan, lemon vinaigrette

1 large bunch kale, washed and trimmed of stems

4 ounces Parmesan, grated

2 ounces golden raisins

2 lemons, juiced

1/2 cup olive oil

Kosher salt and fresh black pepper, to taste

Roll several kale leaves lengthwise and using the point of a chef’s knife, cut away the thick center stem. Discard. Roll the remaining stack of de-veined leaves into a tight cigar shape and slice strips. Toss the kale with the cheese. Whisk the lemon juice and olive oil and pour over the salad. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Let the salad sit at room temperature for 10 minutes before serving.