Once the bell rings, most high school students are out the door, spending their afternoons participating in extra-curricular activities or at their part-time job. However, for some teenagers in Detroit, the school day doesn’t end with the bell.
Once math, science and history classes are over, these students head to their next set of classes at the Detroit Food Academy (DFA), which instills leadership skills through food preparation lessons. Working with local educators, schools and food businesses, this after-school program shows kids the benefits of creating dishes that benefit people and the environment.
It all started back in 2011 as a summer program known as the Detroit Youth Food Brigade. Back then, the students worked with camp directors and local vendors to make and sell value-added food products at the East Market.
However, after two years, at the suggestion of Detroit Institute of Technology at Cody, and with funding from groups such as the Skillman Foundation and United Way, the year-round Detroit Food Academy was formed.
Now, the Academy operates out of the individual students’ schools. The fall semester is dedicated to cooking and event planning basics, as well as field trips to local farms and businesses where the students have the opportunity to participate in workshops with the owners and workers.
Then during the spring semester, students are given the chance to test their skills. For the entire semester, they develop their own food product, which is then presented at the end of the year “Market Day” event — a meal for family and friends at the school or a market at a local grocery store.
But the end of the academic year doesn’t mean goodbye for every student though. Some lucky graduates have the chance to intern for the entire summer at local businesses or farmer’s markets or be mentored by a local chef. This past year, 100 students from six different public, charter and Educational Achievement Authority schools in Detroit were a part of the after-school program. And of those, 25 had summer internships.
Through it all, the DFA focuses on three main values: people, planet, profit. For students this means that their product and all of their business plans must respect the people around them, the environment and the market place.
Over the years, 225 students have participated in DFA programs and consequently have benefited from the lessons.
Jen Rusciano is the executive director of DFA and has seen the progress. “We’ve definitely engaged a bunch of young people who after interacting with our program have developed more confidence and understand that our city is something to be proud of,” Rusciano told Seedstock. “If we can help them build a career out of it, we want to make that happen.”
Anyone can learn how to cook, but at the Detroit Food Academy, program directors are teaching their students the recipe to success. And it all starts with just a pinch of salt, opportunity and hard work.