What impact have you had?
Jr. Iron Chef VT has grown from 150 participants in 2008 to over 230 participants in 2010. These students are taking an active role in exploring how their food choices affect their own health and that of their communities. This event is unique in that it catalyzes conversations between students, school food service staff, chefs, farmers, teachers and parents about how to create winning recipes that feature local ingredients, are replicable by school meal providers, and will be enjoyed by students
“Through the process of learning how to make their foods, our kids made a change to really loving what they were cooking (like black beans or polenta). They now are looking forward to preparing the dishes for the entire school on the school lunch menu,” said a team parent.
In addition to the lasting impact this event has on the competitors, over 1000 attend each year to cheer on the teams, and learn about how strong local food systems support healthy individuals and communities. The lessons learned at the competition provide solutions to modern-day crises such as the obesity epidemic and downturn of America’s rural economy.
The competition provides a constructive opportunity for students and school communities to tackle the challenges of underfunded school meal programs, unhealthy commodity foods, and a disconnect from Vermont’s local agriculture. By participating in the event, teams address issues of health and food access in a fun and positive way that leads to individual behavioral shifts as well as structural changes.
This year we aim to hire a dedicated coordinator for Jr. Iron Chef VT. Our current structure requires significant time from several staff members of Burlington School Food Project and VT FEED, who each take this on in addition to their full time work. As the competition has grown over the last three years, it has become increasingly difficult for the staff of these two organizations to balance event planning with other Farm to School and food service demands. A dedicated coordinator will allow Jr. Iron Chef VT to climb to the next level of impact.
The Jr. Iron Chef VT coordinator will help us better utilize the wide skills, experience, resources and knowledge of our partners. This person will also help us expand the reach and awareness-building by developing stronger outreach tools.
In order to continue to improve Jr. Iron Chef VT, we evaluate the event each year through surveys to all teams, volunteers, partners, and judges.
Through hiring a Jr. Iron Chef VT coordinator, we will streamline event logistics, improve educational goals, and increase networking with in-state and national partners.
The coordinator will streamline the application process so that school communities can easily access the event. Additionally, s/he will secure a larger venue that can meet the unique demands of a large scale cooking competition, as we have outgrown our current location.
The coordinator will also reach a wider audience through broader outreach strategies including more in-state educational materials to promote the values of “celebrating local food for healthy communities,” and more national networking to connect with programs who would like to implement similar initiatives. Additionally, the coordinator would reach out to national programs such as the National Farm to School Network, the USDA’s “Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food” initiative, and Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign, to gauge feasibility of partnering on a national competition.
What will it take for your project to be successful over the next three years? Please address each year separately, if possible.
Besides creating more energy, excitement and awareness around farm to school, local agriculture, and healthy eating habits, Jr. Iron Chef VT is a fundraiser for VT FEED and the Burlington School Food Project. Burlington School Food Project’s mission is to connect students and their families with whole, fresh, and local foods to improve the health of the community. VT FEED, a collaboration of Food Works at Two Rivers Center, NOFA VT, and Shelburne Farms, works will schools and communities to raise awareness about healthy food, the role of Vermont farms and farmers, and good nutrition. We act as a catalyst for rebuilding healthy food systems, and to cultivate links between classrooms, cafeterias, local farms, and communities.
Over the past three years, Jr. Iron Chef VT has grown substantially. We began breaking even financially the first years to raising enough money to re-invest in the program by building a website last year. With this Changemakers grant and a Project Coordinator, we will be able to leverage more funds in order to have a wider impact and ensure sustainability of the event.
Below is a timeline describing indicators of success for the next three years:
• Hire a Program Coordinator
• Grow event to 40 Middle School and 25 High School teams,
• Move to larger venue
• Grow event to 40 Middle and 30 High School Teams
• Create a video to share success story and share model with national partners.
• Begin talking about national competition with other leaders from around the country.
• Grow to 40 Middle School and 40 High School Teams
• Schools and Counties across the state host local Jr. Iron Chef VT pre-competitions to win a spot at state-wide event
• School Food Services are integrating students recipes into their menus
• Funds-raised exceed costs of hosting event. These funds will support on-going state-wide Farm to School work of VT FEED and Burlington School Food Project
What would prevent your project from being a success?
We have grown to a point where in order to be successful we need a dedicated staff person coordinating the event. Without this person, we cannot keep up with the demands and possibilities of the growing energy.
In addition, Jr. Iron Chef VT could not be successful without the joint effort of the many participating partners. The Burlington School Food Project, VT FEED, VT FEED’s partners, our sponsors, team coaches, students, school food service, farmers, and volunteers all play an essential role in the success of this program It takes coaches in each school town to mentor the students. Our sponsors provide financial resources, local foods, and media coverage. Food service providers, farmers, teachers, chefs, parents and students all contribute ideas, innovation and energy to this event, which is then taken back to their schools and communities to make lasting school food change.