Good nutrition has been a popular part of the curriculum at Orlando Junior Academy since 2011, with students in grades 5-8 "sowing and growing" fresh vegetables in garden plots and learning cooking skills with each harvest.
But the school's cooking stations were rudimentary. So Edible Education Experience, a Florida-based 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, dreamed of providing something more grand for students and the greater community.
Three years of fundraising and friend-raising paid off this month with the opening of the new Emeril Lagasse Foundation Kitchen House & Culinary Garden in Orlando's College Park Neighborhood.
The 3,500-square-foot facility features four cooking stations for food pre, hand-washing sinks, and modern appliances. An educational lounge provides additional instruction space, while the Edible Education Experience organization maintains its offices upstairs. A second-story catwalk looks down into the kitchen area.
The Kitchen House facility was designed to meet LEED standards, including a metal roof and cisterns for rainwater catchment to irrigate the garden, energy-efficient A/C, and other features.
The building also includes a small solar array to power exterior lighting for the building and grounds.
APsystems contributed YC500 dual-module microinverters to the project through area distributor UMA Solar. Superior Solar of Altamonte Springs, Fla., contributed installation and balance-of-system, with modules donated by Solartech Universal.
"The Kitchen House offers Orlando kids a great new facility for learning about healthy cooking and healthy eating," said Jason Higginson, APsystems Senior Director of Marketing. "We think it's great that they can also learn about healthy energy through solar power, and we're proud to be among the solar vendors that came together in support of this excellent project."
The $1.2 million Kitchen House facility was built with support from, and named for, the Emeril Lagasse Foundation, established by the popular celebrity chef "to create opportunities to inspire, mentor and enable youth to reach their fullest potential through culinary, nutrition and arts education with a focus on life skills development."
The building is situated in the middle of a 1,000-sf culinary garden, cultivated by students and volunteers to provide a bounty of fresh produce for cooking classes and events. A veranda and picnic area allow outdoor events, as well.
The Kitchen House & Garden now provides educational programming for K-12 students in both public and private schools, area kids' clubs and other community groups. Summer and holiday camps will be offered where students will use locally grown food and learn how to cook healthy, affordable meals - developing skills and menus that they can take home, and use throughout their lives.
The mission of Edible Education Experience is to connect kids with seed-to-table, garden-to-classroom, learning experiences to build a healthy future, said Janice Banks, executive director.
"We are so grateful to APsystems and Superior Solar for partnering with us and for 'setting the stage' where kids can learn innovative ways of turning Orlando's sunshine into sustainable energy," Banks said. "The reduced energy bill will be a monthly reminder of this generous ongoing partnership."