An Education in the Garden CHS Garden a Step in the Right Direction Today’s students face a multitude of issues that past generations didn’t worry about. A major concern, one that most students aren’t even aware is an issue, is nutrition. Poor eating habits often leave children tired and unable to focus in school, and the physical toll poor nutrition takes on kids is just as scary. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention obesity among adolescents ages 12-19 has more than tripled over the last 20 years.

Chef Mike Erickson, head of the culinary arts department at Connally High School, sees first hand the lack of education most students have about food and proper nutrition. And after spending seven years teaching culinary arts at the collegiate level, he came to PISD in 2008 with plans to build a very effective program at CHS.
“I visited a lot of the top culinary programs in Central Texas because I wanted to be the best,” Chef Mike said. “And this year I think we have the chance to be the best. I wish I had a school and a program like this when I was deciding on which career I was going to go into. These students will graduate with a certificate from the state with a food handler’s card and about a $30,000 to $40,000 education.”

The culinary program at CHS has become a finely tuned machine that is gaining recognition from programs all over the country. Now Chef Mike is ready to take a new step for the program, for the school, and hopefully for the entire community of PISD.
Ground has already been broken on a working garden in front of CHS, a project that will serve many purposes for students across the school. Students in the after school environmental club will help with soil analysis, biology classes will grow seeds into seedlings under lamps in the lab, and all of the culinary arts students will have a hand in maintaining the new garden which will bring multiple crops of vegetables and plenty of herbs and spices.

“The education these kids will gain is invaluable,” Chef Mike said. “Not only learning how plants grow, but also seeing how easy it is to grow great food that tastes really good. There are also great lessons to learn about this area’s history and the farmers who created this community.”

Chef Mike hopes to name the garden after a local farmer who helped the Pflugerville area become what it is today.

One of the most impressive storylines in this project is the fact that none of the funding came out of the district or school budget. Chef Mike and his students wanted a garden, so they went out and asked. So far they have received a grant and a large amount of materials from local construction companies and businesses. A local student is even putting his time, money and sweat into the garden as part of his Eagle Scout project.

Chef Mike is hopeful his garden will be a jumping off point for other school gardens, and eventually community gardens.

“I want the kids to understand what is lost when they don’t have fresh food, and what is gained from community working together,” he said. “That’s where the community can help out. I’d like this to be a community DIY (do it yourself) project where businesses and people in the community will see the need and step up to help out.”

Chef Mike is expecting it to take time for the garden to produce, but once it does there will be a large harvest meal with the fruits of their labor. Hopefully it will be tasty enough to drive home the message to the students who worked hard to make it happen. Fresh food is worth the work, both at the table and for a life time.

For those interested in helping out with the CHS garden contact Chef Mike Erickson by email.

I thought this was an interesting article on the transformation of food a community, a garden, and a vision can make to help people eat real food cooked well.

Hospital becomes Gourmet food paradise:

Although serving good food can be a challenge and even sometimes more expensive it is important to our bodies what we put in them so  that the foods we choose will give us the energy and nutrients we need.

Well now that we have approval for the CHS Teaching Garden I am very hopeful that the community will rise to support this vision and our students, parents, and teachers will find a way they can all help and become part of this project.

Notice it does not say CHS Culinary Garden! This is not my or the culinary arts garden it is our school garden and is open for any classes that would like to use it. Although my students will help maintain it, we would love the help and still need extra hands and shovels to help spread crushed granite, build the cinder block beds, and plant the vegetables and perinials.

See how you can help by contacting Chef Mike Erickson at mike.erickson@PflugervilleISD.net

Chef Mike Erickson and his Connally High School Culinary Arts program continue to pile up accolades and resume-building opportunities that would make most professionals in the food world envious.

Most recently the CHS Culinary Arts students were invited to participate in two events at the International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP) annual conference held in Austin this year for the first time ever.

The IACP is an organization of nearly 3,000 creative and talented professionals from more than 32 countries who are engaged in and committed to excellence in the food industry. Their roll includes some of the most successful and decorated food artists in the world.

The conference, which will be held June 1-4, will use the CHS students as volunteers and they will also get to participate in a group photo on the lawn of the State Capital with Chef Sam Kass, head chef at the White House.

"Being one of two high school culinary arts programs invited to an event of this prestige is an incredible honor for our school and students," Chef Erickson said.

The CHS program will also participate in a pair of programs that originated from First Lady Michelle Obama's "Let's Move!" initiative. The first is called Chefs Move to Schools. It helps chefs partner with interested schools in their communities to create healthy meals that meet dietary and budgetary guidelines while teaching young people about nutrition and making balanced and healthy choices.

"Chefs can have a tremendous impact on the health and well-being of children," Erickson said. "By creating healthy dishes that taste good, chefs have a unique ability to deliver these messages in a fun and appealing way to the larger audience, particularly children."

The second program is called Peace Through Pie. The fundraising event will be held at the Limerick-Frazier House in downtown Austin. The program is an expression of Dr. Martin Luther King Junior's dream of a "Beloved Community" where everyone shares a piece of the pie.

Our high school was just chosen to recieve a grant to help fund a herb and vegetable garden at Connally as part of the Green Table Initiative.  http://www.greentables.org

The Green Tables Initiative was launched in 2005 to further the linkages between urban and rural farms and gardens to school, restaurant and kitchen tables in LDEI chapter communities throughout our international organization.
  • - Promote community health and well-being
  • -  Foster LDEI’s leadership in the local food movement
  • -  Build upon existing community food, gardening and agriculture efforts
  • -  Inspire focus on the value of local farmers and enhance the use of locally grown food
  •  - Share our skills and knowledge to further the local food movement and enhance public healt

    We are on our way to produce our new cooking show - Cooking With Connally - Where You Become The Chef! with this new cutting edge technology. Let the cooking begin!
    Well thanks to all the cooperation and support from our Principal, my CTE Director, and the video tech teacher the cooking show is coming to a website or station near year the Fall 2011. A special thanks to Ryan Merrit for believing in us and this vision and purchasing the TriCaster Broadcast Studio to help us with the process. Also I will be forever grateful to Humberto Perez for his friendship and amazing example as a teacher and leader at Connally to not only showcase our new culinary arts department, but truly create a small learning community through this project based lea