The kitchen at Salus Processing Center has been transformed into an interactive classroom, chockfull of students in aprons and hairnets. Each student is responsible for a task and working in a synchronized, systematic manner. One might assume that these are Saint Louis University culinary students, but that would be incorrect; they are all enrolled in St. Louis-area public high schools.
|Steve Jenkins, HELP program director and an instructor at SLU, leads students through a demonstration as part of the program's culinary education. Submitted photo|
These students are all participating in a six-week culinary training program that is part of the Healthy Eating with Local Produce - St. Louis Public Schools (HELP-SLPS) grant that is funded by the Missouri Foundation for Health (MFH). The program is managed by the Department of Nutrition and Dietetics.
HELP-SLPS, a farm-to-school program dedicated to bringing fresh local foods into schools and supporting local agriculture, builds on the original MFH grant written by Mildred Mattfeldt-Beman, Ph.D., chair of the Department of Nutrition and Dietetics, that centered on the Maplewood-Richmond Heights School District.
"Providing children with healthy food at school is a monumental challenge and well worth the effort," said Mattfeldt-Beman. "HELP-SLPS plans to get more produce from the farm to the school, which benefits the local economy while providing food at the peak of its flavor."
HELP-SLPS was formed in partnership with St. Louis-area public schools to provide local produce, nutrition education and culinary training. The goal of the program is to process local foods that can be used in each school's cafeteria throughout the school year. HELP-SLPS works closely with school foodservice staff to create delicious healthy foods for students while educating them about the benefits of a more healthful diet and the importance of supporting a local food system.
|Program leaders hope that students will teach their peers, teachers and administration what they learned during the program as part of a greater effort to get locally produced foods in St. Louis schools. Submitted photo|
"We want to build a healthy school lunch program that will endure long after our three-year grant has ended," Mattfeldt-Beman said. "This project demonstrates the power of partnership-St. Louis Public School District, SLU, Chartwells-Thompson Food Service, Missouri and Illinois farmers, and Farm to Family Naturally-resulting in a win for everyone, most importantly for the students. And it keeps dollars in the region."
Steve Jenkins, HELP-SLPS program director and instructor at SLU, believes the program serves two purposes: educating students about local foods and orienting students to food service.
"This program is hard work and teaches students a good work ethic," Jenkins said. "I see this program as a career orientation for many of them, introducing them to food service and opening their eyes to a future in this industry."
Entrance into the program is not easy, and students must go through an admission process. Selected students then participate in food processing, educational seminars and culinary classes. Perhaps not surprisingly, the culinary aspect is what a lot of the students enjoy the most.
"I loved learning how to make pasta from scratch," said Michael Jackson, a student at Cleveland NJROTC High School. "I had never seen anyone do it before and I had never tried. I think it was the most fun because we made it ourselves, and it tasted excellent."
The curriculum also focuses on entrepreneurship and business aspects such as food costing.
"I really enjoyed when we got to market our own product at Fresh Gatherings Café," said Sanchez Smotherman, a student at Normandy High School. "We made chips that had cinnamon and ranch. The two ingredients were really good together and I enjoyed telling others about our product."
The program's ultimate goal is that each student continues to assist the school in sourcing local foods and processing them with the hope that their knowledge will be taught to peers, educators and administration to initiate change in each school.