When Janice Wood began working as part of the culinary team at Stonewall Jackson Youth Development Center in Concord, NC this past year, she figured her days would be spent prepping meals for the 100 students. In fact, she never would have guessed that in just a short year, she would earn USDA Best Practice Award for Child Nutrition, nor did she predict that the one acre vegetable garden and aquaponics system implemented by 100 Gardens would play such a significant role in her kitchen.
At the beginning of the school year, students at SJYDC spent a class period at the garden and aquaponics system with 100 Gardens team member Sam Fleming, where together they would plant and harvest produce for Meals on Wheels. Soon, the class was harvesting too much food for the charity to utilize, which could have led to major waste. When the students instead offered the surplus to Janice and the cafeteria staff, she was delighted.
That evening, the student’s dinners included fresh vegetables they had grown themselves. After seeing how excitement in the cafeteria as students ate the locally sourced meals, Janice decided to add the garden vegetables to her cooking whenever she could.
This monster kohlrabi validates the hard work and focus of the students in the Horticulture Program at Stonewall Jackson YDC
Soon, the kids were bringing Janice their harvest often, leading to mouth-watering meals of squash casserole, veggie pizza, and even eggplant Parmesan. She recalls overhearing the students tell their friends that they had cooked the very tomatoes and cucumbers in their salads, which made Janice feel proud of their hard work. “It makes me feel good that they feel good about it,” she explained.
She realized that Stonewall was the only Youth Development center with a farm and garden in North Carolina, so she decided to submit the school for the USDA Best Practice Award, a contest that involves all public schools and youth centers in state.
When Janice received news that Stonewall Jackson had won, she was mostly excited for the kids to receive the honor. “It will be nice for them to stand out like that,” she said.
It goes without saying: Janice Wood is the epitome of humble. She denies any praise towards her, explaining that the real hard workers are the students. Of course, Janice’s hard work in the kitchen is what truly allows the students to reap the rewards of their hard work—a lesson that will hopefully stay with them forever.
Janice doesn’t plan on stopping with this award. She plans to continue to utilize the garden harvest and create healthier dishes with the freshest ingredients possible. With the help of her gardening students and the expertise of 100 Gardens, she will continue to go above and beyond with the meal program. When asked why she has put so much effort into this award and her job, Janice just smiled, and said, “It’s the kids. I really enjoy what I do.”