Students in Laurel go farm-to-fork with Phillips School's new commercial kitchen

Students at Phillips School are taking their farm-grown foods to the classroom with the opening of a state-of-the-art commercial kitchen – the latest addition to the North Laurel school’s vertical farm program.

Phillips School is part of the nonprofit Phillips Programs for Children and Families.

Built by Columbia-based KasCon, the commercial kitchen immerses students in the professional atmosphere of restaurants, food service and catering. Through the school’s vertical farm program, students learn how to grow different foods, which they can prepare in the kitchen, such as herbs, micro greens and produce.

The vertical farm is capable of growing tomatoes, peppers, lettuce and a variety of micro greens, said Piper Phillips Caswell, CEO of Phillips Programs for Children and Families.

“It’s pretty amazing [and] a very exciting venture,” Caswell said. “The kids can go into the culinary arts program and earn industry certification if they have an interest in using that as a stepping stone into employment or further education. They will be also developing marketing around the micro greens and sell them to caterers, restaurants and markets.”

Caswell said portions of the home-grown produce will be donated to local food banks as well.

The school serves those students ages 5 to 22 who have special needs and emotional and behavioral health challenges. Students are referred to Phillips School by school systems in Howard, Prince George’s and Montgomery counties and Washington, D.C.

Fifteen students are currently enrolled in the vertical farm program, officials said, with enrollment expected to increase annually. The program focuses on hydroponic and other farming operations.

A grand opening of the kitchen was held Nov. 15, which coincided with Phillips 50th anniversary. State Sen. Guy Guzzone, Del. Frank Turner, Howard County Chamber of Commerce president and CEO Leonardo McClarty and KasCon president Jeff Kassman attended the event, which featured tastings of micro greens from the school’s indoor farm.

Caswell said the new kitchen is just the beginning for the program.

“We’re in the early stages of a vision of bringing more employment opportunities,” she said. “We envision expanding this program into workforce development. To be able to grow produce and learn about sustainability, food deserts and nutrition — we’re on the cusp of an ever-growing movement.”

The school launched its $1 million capital campaign to support the construction costs and operation of the commercial kitchen and farm. AIMS India Foundation provided a $24,000 grant for the vertical farm, and a $10,000 grant was donated from the Truitt Family Foundation.

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