A foundation created by renowned chef Emeril Lagasse is backing a $2 million project to open a “Culinary Garden and Teaching Kitchen” at Pajaro Valley’s Starlight Elementary School in 2022, with the first major local gift $150,000 from the Community Health Trust of Pajaro Valley.
“The significance of Emeril’s Culinary Garden and Teaching Kitchen in our community will be profound,” predicted Dr. Michelle Rodriguez, Pajaro Valley Unified superintendent of schools. “This expansive new garden and teaching kitchen facility will bring very meaningful new curriculum and hands-on experiences to our students. The impacts will extend far beyond the classroom.”
Pajaro Valley Unified School District received the $500,000 five-year grant from the Emeril Lagasse Foundation in January 2020 and is now designing and planning to build a permanent fully-equipped 1,543-square-foot kitchen, a 5,600-square-foot organic garden, and a 2,300-square-foot community gathering area at the Starlight campus.
Starlight Elementary — the fourth school in the nation to be chosen — has nearly 600 students in transitional kindergarten through fifth grade, 60 percent learning English and many of them children of farmworkers whose labors send produce nationwide. The school opened in 1980 on the site of a former drive-in theater.
“As longtime partners of PVUSD, we are proud to support this new program that directly aligns with our vision for a healthy community,” said DeAndre James, Health Trust executive director. “Our young people deserve access to the highest level of health and wellness and this project teaches them where their food comes from, how to cultivate it, and how to prepare it, along with essential life skills that will help them be healthier now and in the future.”
PVUSD has earmarked $500,000 in developer fees for the Starlight project and plans to raise $850,000 more from the community toward construction, which will involve installing a new modular classroom as the kitchen site.
The curriculum for Emeril’s Culinary Garden and Teaching Kitchen was written by Life Lab, integrating health, wellness, and nutrition-based experiential learning with core curriculum subjects such as science and math.
Lessons are designed to teach teamwork, critical thinking, planning, and problem-solving, skills to be successful in school, careers and in life.
Starlight Elementary, led by Principal Jaclynne Medina, has an educational equity focus, a long-standing garden education program and strong family and community involvement.