How Marc Garneau C.I. uses its food program to strengthen the Flemingdon Park community

Marc Garneau Collegiate Institute in Flemingdon Park is one of Toronto's biggest high schools and it is equipped with a commercial teaching kitchen. As Nick Westoll reports, students are working to make sure the community is fed.

With nearly 1,800 students from various backgrounds, Mark Garneau Collegiate Institute in Flemingdon Park is among Toronto’s biggest high schools.

So when it comes to ensuring every student can have universal access to a wholesome breakfast and lunch, it’s a task that’s no small feat.

The home base for the school’s culinary arts and hospitality programs is in an expansive kitchen and teaching space on the first floor. Complete with commercial stoves, ovens, walk-in fridges and freezers, prep tables and all the cooking utensils one would need, dozens of students can be found in the kitchen throughout the day.

Shan Ali, a Grade 12 student in his final semester, is one of the keen program participants. He’s fresh off a provincial Skills Ontario competition where he finished second after preparing a three-course Italian dinner, including homemade risotto.

“It’s like something where me and my mom kind of bonded over cooking,” he said.

Together for the past 10 years, Ali said they’ve made Pakistani and Chinese cuisine. Now in the school’s kitchen, he can cook for marks and learn more about the culinary industry. While at school, Ali said baking is one area he has honed his cooking abilities.

Among the hustle and bustle, some of the lessons extend beyond the walls

“Food bonds everyone. It doesn’t matter from which culture you’re from, which region you’re from, which country you’re from. If you can make food and other people obviously enjoy food, people can get along and get together,” Ali said.

The culinary arts and hospitality program is in the middle of a massive project. Students are creating a cookbook using tried-and-true recipes from homes across Flemingdon Park and Thorncliffe Park. Ali helped take the pictures, design the pages, and contributed a dish of his own.

“You have people from pretty much everywhere, whether it’d be Muslim, Christian, Buddhist … so having a chance for everyone’s recipes and stuff to come together, I feel like it’s something special,” he shared.

Ben MacPherson is a professional chef-turned-teacher. He teaches culinary skills and green industries courses in the rooftop greenhouse. MacPherson is one of the faculty members helping with the cookbook.

“It increases their engagement as well. They feel like they kind of have a say in what’s going on,” he said.

The collective mission for many in the program is to help feed hungry students from food-insecure households

“We provide breakfast and lunches. For hundreds of students every day, made from scratch,” MacPherson said.

The students use fresh produce to ensure the dishes are well-balanced. Some of the products, like Swiss chard, beans, onions and tomatoes, come from the school’s greenhouse.

As part of the classes, participants also help fill catering orders for social events in the school.

For some, the program led to unexpected careers. MacPherson said students have landed part-time jobs in bakeries and restaurant kitchens in and beyond Flemingdon Park.

“A student had recently kind of reached out … it was a message of gratitude,” he said, noting they enrolled in George Brown College’s culinary program.

“They weren’t quite sure … if they could be doing what they’re doing right now if they didn’t get that guidance in high school.”

Meanwhile, Ali hopes students will keep enrolling in the hospitality program.

“It’s something where if you put the time to it or you have people to be with, it’s something everyone can learn.”

Students and staff are trying to raise donations to help fund and distribute the cookbook as well as kitchen equipment so the program can expand to assist the community further.

“I think if you talk to any hospitality teacher, any department head at any school, and we’re all strapped and we’re running on shoestring budgets. So we’re fortunate to have the community involvement and support that we have,” MacPherson said, adding they’ve even received donated food products from certain nearby businesses.

For anyone who wants to help, click here for more information.

Top Stories

Top Stories

Most Watched Today