By Sister Anna Gilbert-Muhammad, NOFA/Mass Food Access Director

The Summer season for the Youth Agricultural Scientists at Tapley Garden started with a cooking demonstration from local chef Marylis.

Marylis is a resident of the Tapley Court Apartments, which houses the Tapley Community Garden. Mari, as she is affectionately known, is a Springfield native and her family are originally from Puerto Rico. This week, Mari gave a wonderful presentation on making sofrito. Sofrito is an edible sauce made with tomatoes, garlic, peppers, cilantro, parsley, and various spices.

Watch a short video of Marylis preparing to make her sofrito while Sister Anna asks her some questions about her process.

During her presentation, we asked Mari a few questions concerning her love of cooking and where she gets inspiration:

Sis. AnnaMari, who taught you how to cook? 

Mari – “My grandma. I would go to Puerto Rico every summer until I was 15 years old and spend time with my grandma and other family members. As she would prepare different dishes, she would have me right next to her learning and assisting. She would have me cooking right next to her. I really loved smelling all the different herbs and spices. The sofrito that we are making today is from her recipe. She also had a small garden just like the one at Tapley Apartments.”

Sis. AnnaDo you have a favorite recipe that you like to cook?

Mari – “I like to cook just about everything. I do like using fresh ingredients and I enjoy getting fresh food to use in the kitchen. I really like making soups and sauces.”

Sis. AnnaHow important is using fresh fruits and vegetables in your cooking?

Mari – “It is a must.  I know it is easy to get ready-made stuff from the store, but it’s nothing like making your own food with fresh ingredients. That is why I enjoy going to the garden and picking herbs and vegetables for my meals.  It tastes really good and the youth do an amazing job.”

Sis. AnnaWell the sofrito smells amazing and we can’t wait to taste it.

The youth leaders conducted their own “quality control” and found that Mari’s sofrito was the best in the area.  

During the season, please read the Food Justice Newsletter to hear more from the youth, community members like Mari, and other groups as we tell the story of food self-determination.

If you want more information on NOFA/Mass’s Food Access programming visit or contact Anna Gilbert- Muhammad, NOFA/Mass Food Access Director, at