Jr. Iron Chef VT - VERMONT State Winner

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Jr. Iron Chef VT - VERMONT State Winner

United States
Organization type: 
nonprofit/ngo/citizen sector
$1,000 - $10,000
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

Jr. Iron Chef VT, hosted by the Burlington School Food Project and VT Food Education Every Day (VT FEED), is a statewide competition that gives students an opportunity to gain hands-on experience preparing and cooking nutritious, farm-fresh foods. We highlight local agriculture and encourage students to make healthy eating choices and understand more about nutrition and school food systems.

About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

With a population of just over 600,000 Vermont is a small state with a viable agricultural economy. Nonetheless, an increasing number of children in Vermont have poor or inadequate diets and lack a working knowledge of their local food system. The numbers are grim. 23,000 children, and 12.1% of households, in Vermont live in food insecure households. 37% of Vermonters cannot afford either enough food or nutritious food. Over twenty percent of all Vermont adults are obese and for children, the picture isn’t brighter. Over the past 20 years, the number of children that are obese in the US has doubled to 18%. Obesity increases risk for health problems associated with cardiovascular disease, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and Type 2 diabetes. VT FEED grew out of a deep belief that the growing disconnect from our land, our food and our Vermont agricultural roots was neither healthful nor sustainable; and that an important opportunity could be found in simultaneously promoting the resurgence of local farms and increasing equitable access to fresh, healthy food for all children through education and outreach in schools.
About You
VT FEED a project of Shelburne Farms
Section 1: You
First Name


Last Name



Vermont Food Education Every Day


, VT

Section 2: Your Organization
Organization Name

VT FEED a project of Shelburne Farms

Organization Phone


Organization Address

1611 Harbor Road, Shelburne, VT 05482

Organization Country

, VT

Your idea
Country and state your work focuses on

, VT

What makes your idea unique?

Fifty-seven teams of middle and high school students from across the state of Vermont competed at our 2010 Jr. Iron Chef VT Competition, and more than 1000 parents, siblings, classmates, farmers, teachers, and community members filled the venue to witness this event.

Jr. Iron Chef challenges students to take the lead on solving complex problems of underfunded school meal programs, lack of access to fresh fruits and vegetables for many Vermont children, and declining rural economy. The students have the unique opportunity to think of creative solutions to these problems in partnership with local chefs and farmers, school food service professionals, and teachers.

Jr. Iron Chef VT is being looked at as a national model, as a jumping board and engagement tool for school food change. School food change takes many players—the students, the food service, the teachers and the community. Jr. Iron Chef VT involves all of these players and the energy it creates is palpable. By engaging students’ creative and competitive spirits, Jr. Iron Chef VT promotes healthy eating habits and increases awareness of local agriculture and food systems.

The energy continues long after the dishes are tasted. The winning teams are invited to the Vermont Statehouse to be honored with a Legislative Resolution. While there, and the students are given the unique opportunity to provide taste tests of their dishes for the legislators. The recipes are shared on our website and many school food service programs have incorporated the students’ recipes in their menus.

This video gives a snap shot of the event: http://vermonttv.net/ironchef.html

Do you have a patent for this idea?

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.

How many people will your project serve annually?


What is the average monthly household income in your target community, in US Dollars?

Less than $50

Does your project seek to have an impact on public policy?


What stage is your project in?

Operating for 1‐5 years

In what country?

, VT

Is your initiative connected to an established organization?


If yes, provide organization name.

Shelburne Farms

How long has this organization been operating?

More than 5 years

Does your organization have a Board of Directors or an Advisory Board?


Does your organization have any non-monetary partnerships with NGOs?


Does your organization have any non-monetary partnerships with businesses?


Does your organization have any non-monetary partnerships with government?


Please tell us more about how these partnerships are critical to the success of your innovation.

The success of Jr. Iron Chef VT is built on partnerships at every level of organization. We strongly believe that school food change cannot happen with out the participation of partners from the grassroots up to national policy makers. As a project of VT FEED, Jr. Iron Chef VT works from our foundational “3-Cs approach”, which supports Farm to School programming in the Cafeteria, Classroom and Community. VT FEED believes every member of a school and community can play an important role in helping Farm to School efforts to succeed. We believe that weaving Farm to School programs into the fabric of the community is what strengthens and sustains programs and the communities over the long-term.

Our Jr. Iron Chef VT partners provide mentorship for the students, raise awareness in their communities, create policy change, provide product, and volunteer their time.

What are the three most important actions needed to grow your initiative or organization?

1) In order to grow Jr. Iron Chef VT, we need to hire a dedicated coordinator who can attend to the increased demands as the event grows in number of teams that participate and in recognition from other organizations and media. Since the 1st Competition in 2008, the event has grown from 35 to 56 teams. In addition, our organization receives more and more requests from other programs across the nation who seek to implement similar fund and awareness raising events. In an effort to better serve the competing students, our Vermont communities, and peer organizations around the country, we need a dedicated coordinator who can strategically increase our capacity to host, share, and promote Jr. Iron Chef VT.

2) We seek to expand our educational materials in order to create more opportunities for students, spectators, volunteers, and the broader Vermont community to understand the Jr. Iron Chef VT’s core values of healthy eating, supporting strong local food systems, and valuing school food programs. Again, our Project Coordinator would be able to communicate these values through new learning pieces for the community, students, food service and farmers that attend and participate.

3) With 38 middle school teams in 2010, we were at capacity in our current location. In order to accommodate the growing attendance of teams and spectators at the event, we will need to find a larger venue.

The Story
What was the defining moment that led you to this innovation?

As part of our Farm to School activities, we were doing cafeteria taste tests of new recipes using local and seasonal foods that students were generally not familiar with. Each month a few students were involved in the preparation, served the new recipes to their peers. As one expects, since they made the food, they were more likely to try it. That led our Farm to School team to a discussion about how to get more students involved in preparing new foods, not only in the one school district we were in, but statewide. We also noticed that students were newly interested in watching and talking about cooking shows, and one of them was the ‘Iron Chef.’ We decided that we could involved more students in school food change, trying local foods, and change their own food preferences, if we could hold a statewide student cooking competition.

Tell us about the social innovator behind this idea.

This idea came was developed by many people. In particular, Betsy Rosenbluth came up with the idea during a Farm to School team meeting. Betsy Rosenbluth is the Northeast Director of Projects at the Orton Family Foundation, she has twenty years of experience in the field of community development, including resource development, capacity building, project management and citizen engagement. She has most recently worked as a private consultant with experience organizing and implementing Burlington’s Sustainable City Initiative - a multi-stakeholder community planning effort in Vermont’s largest city. Betsy has been a partner in numerous education initiatives involving sustainability, working to establish an international “environmental learning cities” exchange and helping to draft and pass Vermont’s first Farm to School bill. Prior to that, Betsy worked for over ten years in the Burlington Community Economic Development Office on waterfront development. She co-directed the creation of The Echo Center, which transformed a Navy Reserve Training Center into a lake science center and aquarium, and she now serves on the Echo Board. Betsy holds a Masters in Community Economic Development from the University of Southern New Hampshire. She lives with her family in Charlotte, Vermont.

How did you first hear about Changemakers?

Email from Changemakers

If through another, please provide the name of the organization or company

50 words or fewer