Editor’s Note: This series of blog posts highlights community programs that partner with the UVM Medical Center to help people in our community.
Maraleigh, of Burlington, Vermont, completed FRESH Food, a 13-week professional culinary training program last January. The following Monday, she was offered a cooking position at Cathedral Square, a senior living community in Burlington, where she’ll be creating menus, ordering and doing inventory.
A self-described “housewife since age 17,” Maraleigh says her personal circumstances recently changed, so she needed to seek employment and felt ill-prepared to do so. “I’ve always been into food and cooking,” she says, “and I knew I wanted to get into restaurant work. I also like making things from scratch and using fresh, wholesome foods.”
What is FRESH Food?
FRESH Food is a social enterprise, which means it is supported partially by product sales (such as professional catering and a peanut butter bar retail product sold in local stores), and partially by philanthropic giving and partnerships with local agencies and the UVM Medical Center.
- FRESH Food was launched in 2011, and in its five-year history, it has maintained a successful job placement rate of more than 80 percent. Graduates have gone on to professional kitchen positions at Sodexo, Healthy Living Market and Cafe, A Single Pebble restaurant, and the Winooski School District.
- In 2015 alone, FRESH Food served up 30,983 nutrition-dense lunches featuring colorful fruits and vegetables, in many cases hidden from these wee, sometimes finicky, eaters. For example, the ketchup used for dipping sweet potato fries is infused with carrot puree, and pureed kale is folded into local Vermont beef tacos…unbeknownst to these tiny palates!
- The program also trains women with employment barriers, including those with criminal records and a history of substance abuse; feeds food-insecure children through its weekday preparation of 200 nutritious meals for area childcare centers; and sources more than 25 percent of its food from local Vermont vendors.
For Maraleigh, the nutrition education was a valuable addition to her cooking knowledge and something she could share immediately with her family at home.
“I would love for my 16-year-old daughter to come to this FRESH Food program,” she says. “I think it would help her feel more self-sufficient about cooking if someone were to take her in hand and say, ‘here’s another way, a healthier way, we could do it.’”
Marybeth Christie Redmond is Director of Development and Communications at Vermont Works for Women. A writer-journalist for 25 years, she utilizes storytelling to advance the dignity of people. It was a one-on-one interview with Archbishop Desmond Tutu at age 22 that helped her discover her life’s purpose of working towards social change.