Detroit Food Academy: Cultivating Young Leaders and Tasty Treats

Detroit Food Academy is a non-profit organization that works to inspire young Detroiters through “culinary arts and food entrepreneurship.” They offer middle school and high school students a unique opportunity to gain leadership, teamwork and culinary skills through an after-school program. The dedicated staff at DFA works hard to ensure the success of these young students.

Jacob Schoenknecht is a Central Michigan University graduate with a bachelor’s degree in dietetics. He’s one of the passionate team members at the academy. After working as a healthy eating specialist for Whole Foods Market, he developed an interest in working with nonprofit organizations and taught nutrition classes in schools and children’s museums. He eventually came back to Michigan as an AmeriCorps VISTA, which led him to serve the DFA. His objective with AmeriCorps was to create a program for Detroit Food Academy to provide employment for students and alumni and generate profit with the products they make. The program that came about is called Small Batch Detroit, of which Schoenknecht currently serves as director.

Every year, there are anywhere from around 10 to 13 locations in the city – housed in schools and recreation centers – where students can sign up for this free program. There is the entry-level program, which middle school students can sign up for, and once they graduate the entry-level program, they move on to the advanced program, composed of mostly high school students.

DFA participant working on a recipeThrough the entry-level program, students learn basic culinary skills, which has been proven to improve their acceptance of responsibility, help learn basic math skills and even feel more confident and accomplished. So, besides learning important life skills, they are becoming independent, confident individuals.

“A lot of our programming is based off leadership,” explains Schoenknecht. “Each student gets a turn being head chef, picking recipes and gets to designate roles in the kitchen.”

This, along with learning how to budget and do kitchen math when expanding recipes, gives students an opportunity unlike any in the classroom. “It’s giving them that first opportunity to have autonomy over what they’re eating and putting them in charge of a project that’s actually fun, rather than homework,” added Schoenknecht.

DFA participant prepping produceIn the advanced program, students have the chance to work with local chefs and learn even more culinary skills. Small Batch students make three different products – Mitten Bites, Slow Jams and homemade popsicles for The Detroit Popshop.

  • Mitten Bites: created by students in 2012, these granola bars are now available in five different flavors, all featuring Michigan-grown ingredients.
  • Slow Jams: this gourmet line of jams was created by a partnering company and was bought by the Detroit Food Academy a couple years ago. These tasty jams are made with fresh fruits and products and are featured in many local restaurants’ sandwiches and other dishes.
  • The Detroit Popshop: using all fresh ingredients, these handcrafted gourmet popsicles are created by students and can be catered to weddings, birthdays, company events and more.

While those at the academy are busy creating these delicious products, they also find time to give back to the community. They make various donations of products throughout the year to non-profits like different 5K races, yoga events and others. In the advanced program, the students work with different pop-ups and at food banks around the holidays. Overall, those at the Detroit Food Academy and Small Batch are doing great things in the city of Detroit. If you want to learn more or purchase these delicious snacks, check out their website here.

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Photos courtesy of Detroit Food Academy

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