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Portland elementary school chef is going to the White House

The scratch kitchen and chef at one of the Portland Public elementary schools is getting some nice press these days thanks to an invitation from the White House to learn about their best practices. The test kitchen at Abernethy Elementary is run by chef Nicole Hoffman, who was trained at the Western Culinary Institute. She works with fresh produce grown in the school's garden. There's a garden coordinator. The school has a full-time PE teacher. They speak in terms of a 'full-circle wellness program.' It is heaven on a stick, if heaven were a kabob. Which is probably something they'd have on the menu, which really includes such delicious sounding dishes as chicken panang curry and falafel with cucumber raita. Hoffman will be at the White House on Friday to take part in the launch of Michelle Obama's Chefs Move to Schools program, part of her overall Let's Move campaign.

Everything about the Abernethy program seems right. The locally grown, cooked-from-scratch food. The working kitchen! A school curriculum that is integrated with the garden. The garden itself, that is funded by the PTA. The chef that is well trained and paid a decent wage (let's hope). And it's all so different from the majority of the other schools in the district. And I cringe to say, but guess, the rest of the nation.

Here in the non-test world, we have heat and serve kitchens. With no dishwashers, so that a serving spoon has to be driven to a central processing facility to get washed. As sick as that sounds, I'm not kidding. I wish I was making that up. We've had proposals for school gardens, and we did have one in the past, but the reality is that test scores and the never-ending need to fund raise take up the majority of our school's and PTA's time. And the funding. As much as Abernethy seems like the ideal, if you can't get it to pay for itself and scale out to all the schools, then it's just dreaming.

I just wrote and deleted a paragraph bemoaning the state of public school funding. Thinking about it just makes me want to jump off a cliff (well, not really, but it does make me super depressed since we are in our annual school funding crisis mode where all the potential cuts sound awful). But I'm not going there! We're going to hang onto the audacity of hope! A local school test kitchen chef is going to the White House. We have an administration and a First Lady who care about the health of our nation's kids. I'm hopeful. Knock 'em dead, Chef Nicole!! Let's find a way to scale and fund it.


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