Culinary students add service to food sustainability classes | News, Sports, Jobs


Pennsylvania College of Technology students who spent eight weeks learning about sustainable food systems — including visits to area farms that make the most of their resources — concluded their learning with another concept of sustainability : food safety.

The students, who study all of the culinary arts, learned how they can be a link in the chain that connects food to those who need it. Namely, they spent the afternoon in the kitchen of the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank in Williamsport, using the ingredients available to prepare a nutritious meal for the children who attend the after-school program of Firetree Place, one of the partners of the Food Bank.

“It’s a great opportunity for the food bank to invite us here and provide the ingredients to cook a great meal for these kids, and a great opportunity to introduce them to a bit of what we’re trying to do here – and expand their horizon kitchen, said Connor J. Raudenbush, a Culinary Arts Technology student from Fleetwood.

The afternoon menu included chicken ratatouille; rice; a salad of tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, onions and Italian vinaigrette; and hot apple bread pudding.

After cooking the meal in the food bank kitchen, the class traveled to Firetree Place, where they served their culinary creation to approximately 60 children.

“For some of them, it’s the first time they’ve tried some of these foods,” said Trista Falls, director of Firetree’s food program.

Participants visit Firetree before and after school, where they have homework time, gym time, and a lesson plan or activity that focuses on soft skills. A meal is served to them before and after school.

Children’s comments for visitors in white coats and top hats were enthusiastic praise.

“The message to students in this class is that we are quite lucky,” said Michael J. Ditchfield, a food and hospitality management/culinary arts instructor, who teaches the class and grew up a few blocks from Firetree. “They learn about food security and food equity, and that there’s a whole group of people who don’t know when they’re going to eat next.

“It’s easy to volunteer your time and be good neighbours. Due to the nature of some of my courses, with college support, I am able to involve students in some community partnerships, such as the food bank and Firetree Place. And students like to do that.

“Growing up I was food insecure and we went to the food bank. And so, in my mind, it’s come full circle, giving back,” said Zoie B. Boyer, a culinary arts technology student from Watsontown.

The students also used their skills – and spices provided by the food bank – to develop a spice blend for the black beans. The mixture was packaged in individual bottles and loaded into the suitcases of a group of Penn College nursing students traveling to Guatemala to help with a week-long medical clinic. The nursing students are led by Christine B. Kavanagh, assistant professor of nursing, who enrolled in the Food Systems Sustainability course this semester.

The seasoning—as well as a recipe for black bean soup that uses the mixture—is donated by nutritionists at the free clinic operated in Nueva Santa Rosa, a rural and medically underserved community, by the Glen Falls Medical Mission ( New York). . Black beans are an abundant and nutritious crop in Guatemala.

For the past two years, Ditchfield’s sustainability class has been making spice mixes that the food bank distributes locally to customers.

In conjunction with lessons on food equity, the sustainability course took students to area farms that employ sustainable or organic practices.

“It opened my eyes” said Culinary Arts Technology student Nataly Acosta from Shillington, recounting a visit to Beech Grove Farm, where she saw owner Anne Nordell use cover crops, compost and other practices to replenish the soil. “This summer we haven’t had much rain and his plants have been doing well.”

Raudenbush spoke of visits to a fish nursery and Milky Way Farms in Troy, where he tasted “the best chocolate milk, hands down,” sold in glass bottles. Farm owner Kim Seeley has reduced the use of heavy equipment and chemicals to make the farm a safer place for his family and improve the health of his herd, which in turn produces healthier products for its customers.

Lance P. Bierly of Center Hall plans to use what he learned in his future: “It made me more interested in keeping my own sustainable farm,” he said. “I was interested in keeping my own plants. I found interest in growing rich soils, the kind of soil that grows healthy herbs, plants, fruits and vegetables.

Linden Culinary Arts Technology student Kelsyn M. Hart will also put her learning into practice: “just being more aware of what I’m buying and having the right mindset when I’m cooking.”

To learn more about culinary arts majors at Penn College, call 570-327-4505 or visit

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