When you grow up, what will you be? A chef, a farmer, a botanist? Chris Jess, a secondary school teacher with the Centre Wellington District High School, is teaching his students that they don’t have to wait until after high school to become an entrepreneur. Now, this is not your usual Home Economics: Chris has created an entire integrated program based on the culinary arts with a strong agricultural bent. It’s called The Food School, and it’s teaching students from soil to plate to soil again.
This is no bird course. His innovative program has constructed a greenhouse where Grade 11 students grow their own food as part of a full-day four credit agricultural curriculum. In addition, they maintain an English-style kitchen garden and an heirloom fruit orchard at the school. Students get their hands dirty bringing in local farmers’ end-of-season harvest. They then use their haul to create value-added products and return it to the farmers. Chris has even brought students into the woods to forage for wild ramps and other edibles.
Preparing & Serving
Students sharpen their culinary skill in a full kitchen as Chris fosters tomorrow’s celebrity chefs. In addition to creating value-added products for farmers, they run an ever popular student café with fresh menu items daily, all made from scratch. They sell to faculty and students alike.
Dining at the café, you can expect anything from Carrot Coconut Cranberry Muffins to Smokey Corn Chowder, Lamb Korma to Perogies and Homemade Bagels. They keep a well-stocked “Pantry” where you can buy all manner of preserves, pickles, artisan breads and fresh pasta. Students keep an online journal called “The Cookbook” of all of the items they have made in class.
Perhaps more impressively, they are serving their community. His Grade 12’s work directly with the Centre Wellington Community Food Bank, assessing donated produce and running workshops for their patrons on how best to prepare these foods. The workshops utilize their culinary prowess, and build their confidence, as they themselves become the teacher.
Finally, it is all brought full circle. In an effort to teach sustainable agricultural practices, the school now composts between 40 and 50lbs of food scraps daily that would otherwise be landfill.
The Food School teaches 300 kids a year about integrated food systems. And it’s only expanding. Chris is continually building the repertoire with more agriculturally focused courses. These include “Intro to Farm Equipment and Tools,” “Philosophy [of Food]” and “Green Industries” where students try their hand at entrepreneurial tasks such as designing irrigation systems, building their own garden and harvesting and pressing their own fruit juice for sale.
Chris Jess is pioneering a new kind of classroom, one based upon practical, solutions-oriented learning. At a time when Canada’s farmers are reaching retirement age, when we have record obesity levels and face a constant barrage of muddled nutritional advice, it is clear that this is a consciousness worth cultivating in our schools.
- Chris Jess, Chef instructor and a Slow Food leader
Read more about Chris Jess by following him on Twitter: @foodinyourface