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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:
http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/31/nyregion/new-milford-hospital-cafe-defies-stereotypes.html

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

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