SEATTLE - Carrots tend to bring out the pros and cons in people. Some folks can't get enough of them. Others can't stand them, crossing to the other side of the street anytime they see one.
Kitchen staff at FareStart t- a nonprofit culinary job training program in downtown Seattle that won a James Beard Foundation award in 2011 - are likely to be among the latter. If you'd chopped as many as they have, so would you.
FareStart was concocted by Chef David Lee. Early in his career, he'd noticed a lot of homeless people hanging out around the restaurant where he worked. No surprise, many were hungry, lucky to get even one meal a day. Instead of turning a blind eye, Lee invited them to work in his kitchen where they could learn skills to get a job and get off the streets.
It worked. So well that Lee founded FareStart, not to make money but to use great food to make better lives, something it's now been doing for 20 years..,
FareStart's model is simple as scrambled eggs. Folks whose lives have been derailed by homelessness or poverty get a chance to get back on track. If they're willing to live clean and sober and work hard to transform their lives, they're enrolled in a 16-week training course that prepares them for the rigors of work in a professional kitchen.
They start in FareStart's contract meal kitchen and build their culinary knife skills, chopping carrots. Lots of them. So many that, by the end of the course, students know how to incorporate carrots into just about any recipe you could imagine.
That's not all they learn. Professionally, they acquire ever-more sophisticated culinary skills. Personally, they take life-skills classes - the ?core? of the FareStart curriculum - focused on setting goals, team work, making positive personal choices and workplace essentials like conflict resolution, stress management and timeliness. Thanks to a grant from the Workforce Development Council and funded by HUD, enrollees with no place but the streets to call home enter shelters and transitional housing operated by providers such as the Salvation Army and Compass Housing.
FareStart's numbers are impressive. In 2011 it graduated 163 enrollees - 111 adults and 52 young people. More than 80 percent of the adults had jobs within 90 days of graduation. 80 percent of those held the job for 90 or more days. Virtually every fine restaurant in Seattle has hired a FareStart graduate at one time or another.
Its kitchens also are humming, preparing and serving veggie reubens and grilled salmon, beet salads and Caesar salad for FareStart's Monday-to-Friday lunch service. Making some 2,300 meals a day for 28 schools and child care centers and 14 shelters. Producing five cold salads sold in the take-out section at six Whole Food stores in the Seattle area. And since every new contract creates new training opportunities for their enrollees, FareStart's always looking to grow its business to serve even more people in need.
Fare Start's even gone national with its formation in 2011 of the Catalyst Kitchens, a network of more than 30 social enterprises social enterprises using good food to transform lives. You'll find them across the country in cities like Boise and Chicago, Phoenix and New Orleans, St. Louis and Washington, D.C.
And it all started 20 years, 5 million meals and 6,000 enrollees ago thanks to a chef who didn't turn a blind eye and, probably, had started his career the same way Fare Start enrollees do - chopping carrots. Love ?em or leave ?em on your plate, carrots clearly are a major force for good.
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