Business-in-residence Spotlight: Detroit Food Academy

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What do they do?

Detroit Food Academy (DFA) is, “a youth-leadership nonprofit that uses food as a vehicle for young people to practice making their ideas realities,” says Jennifer Rusciano, co-founder of DFA. In addition, students learn entrepreneurial and team work skills through DFA’s school year program, which allows them to cook meals once a week with their classmates. This set-up paired with a curriculum focused on nutrition, budget, and cooking are what make DFA, DFA.

Founded by whom?

Jennifer Rusciano (co-founder and executive director) and Noam Kimelman (co-founder and board director)

How and when did Detroit Food Academy start?

The origins of DFA reach back to work that Amy and Noam did at Cesar Chavez Academy. CC students wanted to know more about fruits and vegetables, and how they worked within the business world.  Thus, under Amy and Noam’s leadership, they made mangos on a stick and sold 300 in 3 hours at their school.

In the summer of 2011, DFA formally began as a 1 day a week program held at the Eastern Market where students worked with local businesses, helping and selling their products. It wasn’t until, 2012 that they took to the classroom. They started off as an accredited elective class at Cody High School but. Although, they later switched to an after-school program due to constant confusion with student’s schedules.

Why did DFA start?

In the 4th grade, for Jennifer Rusciano, food became a way to connect with the world. Assigned a project on food, Jennifer chose chocolate. “As I held the small chocolate in my hands, I realized all the other hands it touched, and all the communities it went through […] I became challenged by food.” Jennifer’s passion for food stuck with her through high school, college, and her professional career, which she started by helping schools source food locally. However, schools would write to her saying they were forced to throw pans of food away that kids didn’t recognize and therefore wouldn’t eat. As a result, Jennifer realized that kids needed both education and fresh food. “They need that conversation [about food] for it to be relevant to them.”

What goals are you trying to achieve and have you made way on achieving them?

Jennifer hopes to meet the students with new opportunities that excite them. She would also like to focus on the next stage of life, after high school– this is where the idea behind engaging DFA alumni as both Junior Classroom Coordinators and employees with DFA’s Small Batch product line. She wants to use food to support students’ interest after high school.

New Things:

If you would like to meet DFA students and enjoy their delicious mitten bites, DFA will be at the Eastern Market every week on Saturday. Also, The Detroit Pop Shop, DFA’s new popsicle truck, is rolling out this summer.

My Thoughts:

In her interview, Jennifer discusses how she chose her major in college based on the fact that geography seemed intellectually interesting. Although, the downside was it had no real bone-shaking passion attached to it. And honestly, that’s how students today are choosing. In all my years of high school, I haven’t heard one student say, “I want this career because it makes my blood boil. It makes me leap with excitement, and hope that I get to wake up and do the same thing tomorrow.” I want that passion! The passion where the moment I pick my destiny up–be it a pencil, a musical instrument, or a paintbrush– I can feel my soul burst into flames. What I’ve learned is that no matter how lucrative or intellectually entertaining a career is if it doesn’t make me leap with joy and pain, or if it doesn’t make me burn like a fabulous yellow roman candle, then it isn’t for me.

Want to connect with Jennifer to learn more about Detroit Food Academy and how you can get involved? Contact her at [email protected] or 313-687-4190

Green Garage business-in-residence spotlights are written by Nehe-Miah Scarborough, a student at Detroit Cristo Rey High School who’s working with the Green Garage during the 2015-16 school year.

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