There’s a program that’s gaining momentum in high schools across Wisconsin that connects young people’s interest and curiosity over food, into future jobs, and Wisconsin agriculture may benefit.
ProStart, coordinated through the Wisconsin Restaurant Association’s Foundation, is a nationwide, two-year curriculum and mentoring program designed to introduce high school students to the skills needed for a career in the restaurant and foodservice industry. In Wisconsin, it also exposes them to Wisconsin agriculture and commodity groups, explaining how food is grown/produced.
Ryan Demers has been in the food industry most of his career, and now he finds an increasing interest in students wanting to learn how to prepare food, and careers that may be waiting for them. “We had 7 students involved last year”, Demers tells Pam Jahnke, “And we’ve grown to 19 this year.” A sign of what he thinks is building in Pewaukee High School as far as food interest.
Demers says thanks in part to partneships with groups like the Wisconsin Beef Council, his students are exposed to all types of Wisconsin agricultural products and the story of how it’s produced. Demers says teaching his class about the different cuts of meat, different cooking options with those cuts, is all part of the process.
“I think now with Food Network, and all the shows people can see, I think that has a lot to do with it (popularity wise) – and it also goes back to people wanting to know what’s in their food” Demers says. He started his “Culinary Club” for students about four years ago. It was motivated in part by all the academic requirements students have to work around. The club works after school to give students skills in the kitchen, and also give them insights into future careers they might enjoy.
This week, Pewaukee High School competed in the ProStart competition at the Wisconsin Center in Milwaukee. Winners there advance to national competition. Deb Garbe, teacher at Neenah High School, was named the ProStart Teacher of the Year in Wisconsin, and will advance to national competition as well.