By Vickie Lewis
High school is a time when young adults begin to prepare themselves for what they will encounter in the outside world. But they are often so busy studying, participating in sports or other extracurricular activities, or completing endless applications for colleges, that they don’t get any “real world” experience until they are out on their own. One way that West Contra Costa County students can attain some of that important life experience while they are still in high school is through participation in the “Plant to Plate” Internship Program, a collaborative project of Anaviv Catering and Events and the nonprofit West County DIGS (Developing Instructional Gardens in Schools).
Since 2007, West County DIGS has supported school gardens by providing resources and partnering with teachers to promote environmental awareness in the West Contra Costa Unified School District. The Plant to Plate Internship Program, which is only in its fourth year, expands the focus on gardening to include many additional learning opportunities for its participants. Student interns not only learn about organic gardening from planting seeds through the harvest but are also taught essential culinary arts skills by some exceptional chefs. The program also includes instruction about important job and life skills that are transferrable to most professions, such as resume writing, mentorship, and networking, which are essential to advancing their employment opportunities.
The Plant to Plate program was initially a collaborative effort between Molly Wahl, an employee of West County DIGS, and Kelli Barram, a Master Gardener who has taught students gardening skills and the essentials of healthy nutrition for almost a decade. Kelli worked as a Garden Education Specialist at Washington Elementary School in Point Richmond and currently works for St. Mary’s College of California as the Garden Manager/Coordinator. Chef Arnon Oren, Master Chef and owner of Oren’s Kitchen, Anaviv’s Catering & Events, and Anaviv’s Table restaurant (featured in the July 2019 issue of Contra Costa Marketplace.) learned of Kelli and Molly’s ideas and was eager to participate. Chef Arnon had relocated his catering business from Berkeley to Richmond in 2017 and wanted to do something special to give back to the Richmond community. With initial seed funding from Chef Arnon, a grant from the Miranda Lux Foundation (obtained with assistance from West County DIGS), and generous donations from customers and corporate donors, the Plant to Plate Internship program was successfully launched with the first 15 motivated high school student recruits.Kelli developed the curriculum for the program and continues to co-lead the Plant to Plate Internship program with Chef Arnon.
The Plant to Plate Internship Program is open to 11th and 12th graders (ages 15 – 18) from all West County high schools. Interested students are invited to submit applications to participate in the Plant to Plate program which accepts up to 15 students each school year. Students selected to participate must commit to attending two after school sessions weekly on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 4:30 PM to 6:30 PM from October through April. During these sessions, interns get the opportunity to work in and urban garden adjacent to the Craneway Pavillion in Richmond, and receive hands-on instruction in Chef Arnon’s commercial kitchen. Students learn to plant a variety of vegetables from seed under Kelli’s guidance, such as radishes, zucchinis, cucumbers, and tomatoes. They care for the plants until they are mature and ready to be harvested, at which time they use the fresh vegetables to prepare delicious dishes (which they also get to eat!) Chef Arnon’s staff of trained chefs is allowed to use their time to provide hands-on culinary instruction to the Plant to Plate interns, including the proper handling and usage of knives and other kitchen tools. As time permits, Chef Arnon sometimes teaches the interns personally which he enjoys immensely.
Chef Arnon and Kelli are often assisted by other Anaviv chefs (including Chef Kadie from Anaviv’s Table) and guest culinary experts who provide instruction to the Plant to Plate interns. On at least one occasion, Chef Arnon invited his friend, Alice Medrich, a well-known chef and writer best known for introducing the chocolate truffle to America, to teach a class on baking! When the students aren’t tending the garden or practicing their culinary skills in the kitchen, they are visited by various community leaders and professionals who volunteer their time to share information about their businesses and life experiences, helping to expose the students to other professions they may wish to consider. Interns learn about the importance of punctuality, teamwork, and taking direction, as well as skills like financial literacy, resume writing, developing their own “elevator speech”, and interviewing tips, all of which helps to round out their professional learning. Meeting and interacting with local business representatives enable the interns to form a professional network from which they may be able to benefit in the future.
At the end of each year’s Plant to Plate program, students prepare dinner for their families using produce that they have grown and cooked themselves! This is followed by a graduation ceremony and celebration to evidence successful completion of the program commitments.
The Plant to Plate Internship Program is an enriching experience for the student participants that prepares them with skills and knowledge to consider job and career opportunities. The hands-on experiences in the garden and in the kitchen will prove invaluable in whatever profession they may choose to pursue. Hearing the experiences and wisdom from experienced professionals in other fields broadens their horizons and allows them to consider employment opportunities about which they may not have previously been aware.
If you are also passionate about Chef Arnon’s and Kelli Barram’s endeavor to help empower West County high school students through this program, and would like to invest in Plant to Plate, you may do so by visiting the West County DIGS website at westcountyschoolgardens.org and click on “Support Plant to Plate”. If you’d prefer to donate by check, please make it payable to West County DIGS and write “Plant to Plate” in the memo line. Mail check donations to:
Earth Island Institute
Attn: Tamira Machado for WC DIGS - P2P
2150 Allston Way
Berkeley CA 94704
Instagram: @plant2plateinternprogram | Kelli Barram at email@example.com
2150 Allston Way, Berkeley, CA 94704 | firstname.lastname@example.org