Safety in the kitchen usually focuses on handling knives carefully, avoiding burns from hot pans, or handling and storing food properly.
But what if being in the kitchen itself makes you feel safer?
This is the premise behind the Good Harvest Food Service Training Program. The program attracts out-of-school, out-of-work people from her 18 to her 24 years of age in Baltimore City and sets them on course for jobs in the culinary industry.
The Good Harvest Program, operated by St. Vincent de Paul in Baltimore, is one of nine grant recipients of Johns Hopkins University’s Innovation Fund for Community Safety. The Innovation Fund is his $6 million initiative in his four years to support community programs aimed at addressing the root causes of violence in Baltimore.
The idea, according to Shatabdi Patel, program manager of the Hopkins University Innovation Fund, is to intervene with those young people who are at high risk of becoming victims or perpetrators of violence. The program offers an alternative path, with training and job search that ideally leads to a living wage food service career.
“When people are out of school or out of work, when they don’t have support or something to work on, it creates a gap,” Patel said. It will fill the gap and we are working to fill it with something positive.”
Students undergo an intensive 12-week program that includes classroom instruction and hands-on kitchen experience taught by Damian Bagley. Bagley is a Culinary Institute of America trained chef with years of experience in Las Vegas kitchens at Rio, Hard Rock and Le Cordon Bleu. He also holds a master’s degree in education and has taught at Stratford University. Leading this kind of course might be the perfect resume.
“A lot of students are amazed at what I’ve accomplished,” says Bagley. “I let them know that anything I have, they can have too. As long as you work hard and stick to it, you can do whatever you want and go as far as you want.”
Bagley teaches kitchen basics such as food handling and storage, basic measurements and math. In the kitchen, program participants learn knife skills and some recipes. They can leave the class with their ServSafe Food Handlers and ServSafe Manager certificates. The former is required for nearly all foodservice jobs, and the latter can open the door to higher-paying manager roles.
Testing managers can be difficult. The number of questions is 90 and the required time is his 2 hours. Those who are already in the industry may not pass, Bagley said. “You have to know your stuff,” he said.
This means attending classes regularly, which can be difficult for many students. Good Harvest provides transportation to classes and weekly scholarships as an incentive to attend. Even when students show up for class, many of them bring other baggage with them, such as family issues or mental health issues. Some need a place to live and raise children.
That’s part of what makes Bagley so effective.
“Students love him,” said Daniela Leung, a master’s degree candidate at JHU’s Bloomberg School of Public Health and Outreach Coordinator for Good Harvest. “He has a way of connecting with his students and knowing where they come from, which goes a long way in helping them succeed.”
Leon and Hamenat Adkoya, another Bloomberg MSc student and Outreach Coordinator at Good Harvest, are Associate Scientists at the Bloomberg School and Founder and Director of the Community Engagement and Service Learning Center, SOURCE, Mindy. Hired to work on the program by Levin. She serves as her JHU Faculty Leader for the Good Harvest Project, facilitating academic collaborations to research and develop youth-focused interventions that complement the programme.
“When people aren’t in school or working, when there’s no support, or there’s nothing to work on, there’s a gap. For better or worse, something will fill that gap. I We’re working to fill that in. A positive thing.”
Innovation Fund Program Manager for Community Safety
SOURCE and Good Harvest had an ongoing partnership even before the grant, Levin said. On SOURCE, Levin coordinates access to graduate students and faculty experts to support projects.
Adecoya and Leon also teach a study skills session at the beginning of each cohort. These help students create a filing system to stay organized.
“You can see that Damian cares about his students and prepares them to succeed,” Adecoya said. “He understands the difficulties they face. He encourages them. We heard from one participant who failed the first test. The support gave her the courage she needed to retake the exam, the second time she passed.”
Bagley teaches students to work in the food industry, but he’s also something of a counselor and therapist. The child’s younger brother was a student at Good Harvest. Bagley knows he needs to work on more than his culinary skills on any given day and support his students as best he can.
“Any chef can teach you how to cook,” said Patel. “Damien goes above and beyond. He and Good Harvest provide a safe place and stability. He’s a great role model for these kids.”
What stands out most for Patel about the Good Harvest Program is how committed the staff is to supporting students. This includes teaching soft his skills such as interviewing and conflict resolution in the workplace. Employment placement services and employment support are extended for several months after graduation.
But it’s much more than part of the program, says Patel. Whether it’s a counselor, an anger management helper, a mental health professional, or wraparound services of all kinds, whatever your student needs, the Good Harvest team is committed to helping you find it.
“It’s amazing how much they advocate for their students,” said Patel.
The results show it’s working. In the last 6 months, 27 students have graduated from the program. Adekoya recalls working at a restaurant but being promoted to manager after the class. Leon remembers a student who said she had to drop out of high school after becoming pregnant. “She entered the program to get better job prospects. It was the first time she graduated from anything,” Leon said.
Good Harvest has resumed its partnership with Royal Farms, which was suspended during the pandemic. In October, Royal Farms reported hiring two new graduates and promoting one to manager. Hiring managers plan to continue hiring Good Harvest graduates.
According to the January 2023 progress report, graduates are getting food industry jobs ranging from $13.50 to $21 an hour, including one student assigned to Roland Park’s Petit Louis Bistro restaurant. Students are also included.
Last summer, participants who lived at the Community Wellness Center raved about the program to others at the center. Within a week, seven of her enrolled in the prospective cohort. Participants graduated with the highest ever score on the ServSafe Manager exam.
One student in 2022 entered the program in a domestic violence situation. Encouragement from staff and guarantees of safe spaces in the classroom enabled students to complete the course, get a job, move out of an abusive environment, and gain some independence.
With these successes, the plan is to continue to grow.
Levin supports Adkoya and Leon in developing recruitment and retention methods. Students have also helped program graduates find employment and developed exit surveys to understand and address barriers to participation in the program.
Bagley also credits Good Harvest recruiting specialist Sharease Mills for the increase in participation.
“We are running a good program,” Bagley said. “And we definitely want to keep moving forward.”