A new food truck operating in Burlington, Vermont, aims to teach students confidence, teamwork, and culinary skills. The Fork in the Road food truck employs 10 students from Burlington High School and the adjoining Burlington Technical Center.
"I think it's a new twist on the food truck," said Burlington Technical Center culinary arts student Dylan Allen, 17. "I never really knew how to bring my skills into the real world until now."
Students designed the menu, along with adult help from the Burlington School Food Project.
"It's a confidence builder," said BSFD's Sarah Huesner, describing the main goal of the project.
Huesner educates students about local agriculture and encourages better nutrition through gardening at school. The project has also dramatically increased the amount of fresh produce served in school cafeterias across the city. She told New England Cable News the food truck's options are classic, but dolled-up. Huesner pointed to franks made by North Hollow Farm in Rochester, Vermont, using the farm's own grass-fed beef and naturally-raised pork.
"The customers really like what we're offering," she said. "They come in and they're like, 'These are high schoolers running this?'"
The Burlington firm Dealer.com, which provides digital marketing tools for car sellers, donated the truck and other gear. The company has said it was eager to see the high schoolers developing customer service skills, better financial literacy, teamwork, and other important talents.
Dealer.com also plays host to the food truck as one of its several stops, and employees have been supporting the new enterprise. "I think it's a good opportunity for them to dive into the food business," said customer Emily Lavallee.
"I wish they would've had this option as a summer job when I was in high school," added Marissa Coolidge, another Fork in the Road customer.
The high schoolers are getting paid for their summer experience, through a workforce investment grant administered by the Vermont Department of Labor. Any profits the truck earns, along with donations, will go right back into the business, Huesner explained, to keep it going in future summers.
Asked what his favorite part of working at the food truck is, student Abdul Avrow, 17, said, "Making food; making people happy!"
The Fork in the Road crew advertises the truck's schedule and locations, which include city parks, the high school, and other stops, on Facebook. For a link to the truck's page, click here: https://www.facebook.com/forkintheroadvt
Dylan Allen said he will continue honing his knife skills, proper sanitation techniques, and other food service knowledge in his culinary arts classes at the Burlington Technical Center this fall. After that, he told NECN he hopes his Fork in the Road experience helps point him to a rewarding career in a kitchen. "Eventually, I want to make enough money to open my own restaurant," he said.
For Howard Harper, 18, and Jeannette Ndihokubwayo, 15, the food handling and customer service work is just part of the larger picture. They said building teamwork and confidence were some of their most noticeable areas of learning. "If you don't work well with others, you're not going to have a great team," Harper said. "But if you do work well with others, you're going to have a great team."
"A new sense on life: confidence and responsibility," Ndihokubwayo added, describing what her summer with the Fork in the Road food truck has meant to her thus far. "All these skills I need to go forth in life and stuff. It's going to really help me!"
Each student works two shifts at the truck a week, Huesner explained. Additionally, she said all the kids come together for two group planning sessions a week, where the team talks about how to market the truck, how to incorporate seasonal ingredients coming from local farms, and even how to describe their work on a resume.