A group of San Francisco chefs are teaching high school students about nutrition and how to cook with local fresh foods at Mission High School. The school, in San Francisco’s Mission District, serves a primarily Latino and African-American neighborhood.
The program is coordinated by Nextcourse, a community food and nutrition initiative founded in 2003 by Larry Bain with the support of a group of Bay Area chefs, restaurateurs, and farmers.
“We encourage people to buy fresh, locally grown food. But the challenge is that an increasing number of people don’t know how to cook,” says Larry Bain, a former chef and Nextcourse founder.
“People eat fast food on the run – and many youth today don’t have the opportunity to stand by their mother in the kitchen and learn to cook like they used to,” says Bain, adding that “sometimes their mothers didn’t have that opportunity either.”
The chefs teach students how to cook fresh food, including produce grown in the school’s garden. And every six weeks or so a celebrity chef is invited to teach, says Bain. In addition to cooking, the guest chef talks about social skills, cleanliness, paying attention on the job, and job opportunities with the students.
One day a month students visit Pie Ranch near Davenport, California, about 40 miles down-the-coast from San Francisco. There students see how fruit and crops are grown, and livestock cared for, on this 14-acre farm. The farm grows wheat, berries and has bees for honey, goats for milk, and chickens for eggs. The farm visits give students the opportunity to work with a variety of foods, and gives them an appreciation of where food comes from and of rural communities, says Bain.
He says Nextcourse will continue its program with Mission High School next school year, and hopes to train others at its Center to carry on the work at Mission and other schools.
Nextcourse also is involved in other programs that strengthen the links between urban food consumers and rural food producers. They include:
- Partnering with the National Park Service and State Parks Service so they will become purchasers, vendors and producers of local, seasonal and sustainably managed food grown in and around the Parks.
- Hosting conferences for organizations that are working on changing our food systems.
- Catering special events where Nextcourse models the most sustainable approaches to food service.
- Conducting community outreach programs that teach youth, young mothers and seniors how to prepare simple healthy meals.
- Consulting with public institutions such as the San Francisco County Jail to help to improve the nutritive value and taste of the meals they serve.
Nextcourse offers weekly classes on nutrition and cooking in the San Francisco County Jail to women, most of them young mothers, says Bain. Chefs from local restaurants such as Acme Chophouse, Jardiniere, Incanto, and the Four Seasons show students how to prepare meals that are inexpensive, easy to make with limited time and resources, and are tasty as well as nutritious.
There is a strong emphasis on the importance of diet in maintaining mental as well as physical health. Classes offer alternatives to fast food, sugar and transfat-laden snacks and the use of pre-packaged, costly, ready-to-eat meals. These classes are in their second year, and more than 300 young women have completed the courses.
Nextcourse is supported, in part, by a W.K. Kellogg Foundation Food Systems and Rural Development grant. For more information about Nextcourse and its programs visit www.nextcourse.org.