Young farmers grow

If you’re rushing down Tryon Road, busy with Saturday errands, you might miss the little sign at the corner of Tryon and Dover Farm Road (near the intersection with Avent Ferry Road). It notes the presence of the farm for the Inter-Faith Food Shuttle’s Young Farmer Training Program and its farm stand. I’d whizzed by it a number of times, always planning to stop in. I finally did.

Teens in the program learn about farming from the dirt to the business plan. More about it is here. A Food Shuttle spokesperson said that they are considering adding a CSA in the future.

Teens who grow the vegetables on land right across the road sell them on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. A lively clump of young farmers had their tunes turned up when I got there, but wanted to tell me plenty about their wares. On this day, they had swiss chard, melons, baby turnips and several varieties of tomatoes, among other things, all picked that morning. There were also grow-your-own oyster mushrooms: A bag of growing medium inoculated with mushroom spores. I was curious, but it would have turned into a cat-attracting object at my house, because the teen farmers told me you keep it indoors.

I don’t think a lot of people are aware of this fresh little market. It’s always fun to buy good food from enthusiastic people. The market will operate through Oct. 15.

Recipe for success

Cornelia Hill said that she learned “to jump out there and not worry about it.” Brian Hinton said that this was “the first time I’ve finished something just for me and not gotten mixed up in other people’s business.” And they learned something about preparing food, too.

Hill and Hinton were two of the nine members of the latest graduating class from the Inter-Faith Food Shuttle’s Culinary Job Training. Jill Staton-Bullard, CEO at the Inter-Faith Food Shuttle, said that the majority of people who enroll in the 11-week, full-time training class in Raleigh, N.C. have issues that have held them back in the past: drugs, prison, homelessness. Between the students’ pasts and just how tough the training is, fewer than half who start out usually finish. This class started with 16 members.

Besides extensive food preparation training, staff members offer job coaching and help simply with life issues. Graduates typically find jobs in such areas as schools or nursing home food service, and this class started looking for those jobs as soon as the hugs and tears were over on Wednesday. And there were plenty of tears on both sides, from the students and their families. The parents and children of students stood up and said how proud they were, and an impromptu gospel song rang out. Then, it was time for German Chocolate Cake.

The job market is tough right now, but the nine graduates have faced plenty of difficult situations. Ellawee Mobley, homeless and living at the Raleigh Rescue Mission, began cooking there. She enrolled in the Culinary Job Training program to improve her knife skills and learn to focus better on her work. Her dream job isn’t being a star chef or having a show on the Food Network. “I’d like to save up some money and find a building and fix it up, and give back, give people help like these people gave me,” she said.

A night in Wonderland

It was torture not being able to take a bite or sip from the tabletops at An Alice Affair on Tuesday. The other two judges and I had to go on looks at the Durham event, which raised money for the Inter-Faith Food Shuttle. Fourteen area members of the National Association of Catering Executives competed in three categories with an Alice in Wonderland theme.

The winner in the Wonderland category (no spending limit) was the Washington Duke Inn and Floral Dimensions of Durham. It’s hard to describe the design, and it was even harder to photograph. The design kind of circled around, and told different parts of the Alice story in different places. It packed a lot into the 10-foot by 10-foot space each Wonderland contestant was allowed, but didn’t go over the top into kitsch.

Other categories were Down the Rabbit Hole, where participants were limited to spending no more than $150; and High Rollers, where the scenes were atop tall cocktail tables. Entrants in each category had four hours to trick out their spots.

I talked with Jill Staton Bullard, executive director for the Food Shuttle. She said that financial donations are managing to hold steady, but that the amount of food the shuttle recovers from restaurants is way down. Restaurant are cutting costs, so there’s less food leftover.

I did get to eat, of course. The food at the event was prepared by members of the Food Shuttle’s Culinary Job Training Program, which educated disadvantaged folks for work in food service. There was chicken tagine, fresh tortillas with shrimp and chicken, a lovely spinach salad with diced sweet potatoes, and rabbit stew. Hmmm…I don’t think I saw the March Hare last night…