The Edible Schoolyard Project at College Park’s Orlando Junior Academy is pioneering the local food effort with its community gardens and culinary education.
Sunday, October 20, K Restaurant hosted a Sunday Supper Benefit to fundraise for the students’ Kitchen House.
Culinary talent included Kevin Fonzo of K Restaurant, Shannon Talty of Old Hearth Bread Company, Kathleen Blake of the Rusty Spoon, Jamie McFadden of Cuisiniers Catering, and Henry Salgado of Spanish River Grill.
Hosted by Fonzo, he emphasized that nearly all profits would go toward the creation of a culinary classroom surrounded by gardens at the Orlando Junior Academy.
Approximately 80 people registered for the event, with cooking stations set up in the backyard garden. Seasonal dishes included rabbit paella, braised short ribs, and duck confit, to name a few.
The Orlando Junior Academy [OJA] and The Edible Schoolyard [ESY] Project began their relationship six years ago after Fonzo met the parent of a student that attended OJA.
He recalls that the patron, who would always eat outside in the garden at K Restaurant, asked Fonzo if he would start a garden at the school. Fonzo accepted, seeing it as an opportunity to bring local, quality ingredients to school-aged children.
Shortly after, the cafeteria lady quit, so Fonzo worked in the school cafeteria in the morning and then went to K Restaurant at night.
He says, “Back then it was small population of kids having lunch and most of them brought lunch from home … Once I started working there, the lunch program got huge. Everyone wanted to have what I was making.”
After two years, Fonzo, ESY Garden Coordinator Brad Jones, and OJA’s Principal Nicole Agbonkhese flew to Berkeley, CA, for a seminar to learn more about the Edible Schoolyard Project.
“During the seminar the principal decided I was more of an asset in the classroom, and she hired someone to work under my tutelage,” recalls Fonzo.
Jones adds, “We have been inspired by what we see happening across the country because of this network and are attempting to bring those principles to life here in the Orlando area.”
Now Fonzo teaches hour and a half sessions to fifth- through eighth-graders during the first and third semesters. Although these are not part of the standard curriculum, he is providing an education with practical applications.
Jones emphasizes that his involvement stemmed out of concern as a parent.
He says, “I began to notice that this generation of children seemed to be strangely out of touch with nature and all its complexity. I also became alarmed … about what was happening to our children’s relationship with food. A food garden became what seemed to be a practical and appropriate response.”
Fonzo elaborated on how the program works. He says, “We bring the kitchen and the garden into school curriculum. We teach how to harvest a garden, how to read a recipe, how to set a table, and produce a recipe.” He continues, “We throw math into the equation. For example, we ask them to multiply recipes.”
The popularity of this program has gained momentum and now it has the highest attendance rates of the school.
Local farms like Lake Meadow Naturals, My Yard Farm, and Growing Synergy as well as corporations like Whole Foods donate the food for ESY.
OJA, a Seventh-day Adventist school, subscribes to a vegetarian menu, so Fonzo underscores the quality of organic produce.
Fonzo explains, “We talk about the importance of eating locally and how it decreases the carbon footprint. Produce is picked when it’s right, and [students] understand that.”
For some, embracing local agriculture is a fad. But for Fonzo, it is a way of life: “It’s the right thing to do. I believe in it. Before I decided to be a chef I went to school to teach special education. I love teaching. When you learn something, it’s your purpose to pass it on … that’s the circle of life.”
College Park, with its emphasis on living local, seems to be a natural fit for this initiative.
Jones echoes, “College Park is definitely a strong community with many synergistic partnerships. Since the school owns two lots across the street from our campus, we believe a Give-Back Garden presents a beautiful way for OJA to partner with other like-minded organizations.”
To get involved, visit https://edibleschoolyard.org/program/edible-schoolyard-orlando-junior-academy or volunteer on Sundays at OJA’s Give-Back Garden.