ANGOLA, NY - A popular trend in dining is "farm to table" and some local students are learning about it firsthand, by preparing delectable dishes with the freshest ingredients, and preparing for their future at the same time.
For most students the school day consists of sitting at desks with #2 pencils, but for others it's spent feeding chickens, hatching fish, and serving gourmet meals.
That's what's happening at Erie 2 Boces Chautauqua-Cattaraugus Carrier Educational Center. For more than 2 years now, the culinary program and the aqua-culture program have collaborated for a true farm to table experience.
"What's neat about it is if I need lettuce, I go down to aqua-science and get lettuce. I need watercress? I go get some watercress," said culinary instructor Jim Kuras.
The students don't just tend to the plants and herbs, but also raise more than two dozen chickens and care for thousands of tilapia, perch, trout and shrimp. They do all this, after spending half their day at their traditional high school.
"We do water quality testing. Checking the PH. We write them down on a spreadsheet to make sure everything matches up. We make sure they have enough oxygen and don't have too much NH3 or NH4 in it," said Phil Narraway, a junior at Forrestville High School.
"It's getting you more information, a little advanced, than other students who wouldn't do a program like this. It gets you hands on experience," said Adam Ballard, a senior at Lakeshore High School.
The teachers are proud of their students' accomplishments.
"They plan. I guide them. They build it. They've done everything from the construction part of it with hand power tools, to the plumbing of the tanks. They did it all," said Scott Farr, the aqua-culture instructor.
Everyday farm-fresh eggs go straight to the kitchen where the culinary students use them to cook or bake.
"Some of them can be huge. Some of them are different colors. They come in all shapes and sizes. It's actually really interesting," said student Destiny Anderson.
"I joined this program because I really like to cook, but once I got in here I learned all the things I was doing wrong, all the things I was doing right so I can help my family have a healthier meal or a more efficient meal, instead of just one thing," said Silvercreek High School senior Chayenne Doner.
They use their fresh ingredients and new found skills while catering for school functions or on this day, preparing a meal to say thank you to the WNY chapter of the New York State Restaurant Association, which has been a huge supporter of the program.
"I'm amazed at food costs and inventory control and these are things they're learning in high school," said WNY NYSRA board member and Pizza Plant owner, Bob Syracuse. "These are the professionals of the future."
You can see the students in action and taste their creations for yourself at the annual Taste of Education. They compete against other ProStart culinary students for a chance to win scholarships. It's February 28 at Salvatore's Italian Gardens. You can find more information here and purchase tickets here.