Updated Sat, Mar 29, 2014 11:37 am
A new grant will provide the means for a pilot program at Hocking College, benefiting both culinary students and local grade school students. The college's culinary arts program has partnered with Rural Action to provide two Athens County school districts with local produce.
Tom Redfern, sustainable agriculture coordinator for Rural Action, said that the agency has been trying to find ways to get local produce into schools for the past few years. A major challenge that has cropped up again and again, he said, is the problem of preparing the food once it arrives at the school.
"Schools don't always have the labor to prepare fresh produce," Redfern said.
That's where Hocking College's culinary program comes in. Headed by Chef Alfonso Contrisiani, dean of hospitality, students in the program will prepare the fresh food as part of their training, after which it will be delivered to schools in the Federal Hocking and Athens City School districts.
"(The initiative) hits all three of the sustainability areas: Environmental, social, and economical," Contrisiani said. It supports local production of fresh food and proper training for those who prepare it, he said.
"My students will learn basic preparation skills, learning to properly blanche and throughly cook the fresh vegetables," Contrisiani added. "And Hocking College is an approved USDA site."
The college, he said, also holds summer nutrition workshops that work to encourage children from area schools to eat healthy.
The produce, said Contrisiani, will be purchased by schools using funds they have already allocated to frozen foods that might have travelled from as far away as California. Through a partnership with the Chesterhill Auction and Rural Action, the vegetables will be come from local producers instead. After that, it will be transported to Hocking College before being delivered to schools by Rural Action.
The Farm-to-School Initiative grant, which has been funded though the Central Appalachian Network, is worth $10,000 and will cover the cost of transporting produce, containing food, faculty supervision and Hocking kitchen maintenance.
“One of our missions at the Hocking College School of Hospitality is to promote sustainability initiatives. The addition of the Farm-To-School program greatly enhances our core beliefs. While supporting the local farming industry of southeast Ohio, we are making a contribution to an eco-friendly agricultural environment resulting in healthy products to feed our children,” Contrisiani said.