'The Tomato Project'
An appetite for instruction
There is a hefty dose of mentoring in the eight-week program that is coordinated by Jennifer Comeau and Mark Crandell of Child and Family Services' Runaway and Homeless Youth Program.
"The biggest thing is learning the whole process," said Comeau.
"It made me appreciate farmers," said Kianni Hunt, 18, who like everyone in the program spent time working at area farms this summer.
Hunt, a Making Community Connections charter school student who plans to attend St. Anselm College and aims for a career in politics, was part of a tomato cutting and seeding assembly line one morning last week.
The line was needed and so were volunteers, because there were 11 bushels of heirloom and Roma tomatoes to cut, seed and chop in preparation for making sauce in huge kettles in the Beech Street School kitchen.
Boston University student Sarah Dolloff, 19, who is majoring in nutrition, is a volunteer who said she's learned "a lot about farming."
Because the money raised through the project funds things like driver education, yearbooks, prom and other school-related items for youths in the runaway and homeless program, getting donations of money and materials, as well as volunteer help, pays off on the bottom line.
Mohamed Daud, 19, who was in the program last year, said, "I brought four bushels of Romas from my mother's farm."
Daud, who will be studying to be an automotive tech at the New Hampshire Technical Institute, said he got a brief taste of what it could be like to be homeless. He said he was acting out and got kicked out of his house.
Chef Nicole Barreira, from Great New Hampshire Restaurants (T-Bones and Cactus Jack's) was part of the project last year and came back for more.
She said she teaches important kitchen skills, including knife safety. Almost on cue, one of the participants dropped a knife. Instead of grabbing for it and possibly being cut, she stepped back and let it fall to the floor, where it could be safely retrieved.
"Don't be pigeonholed by a recipe," she said.
"I have a degree in marketing as well," she said, which helped when it was time to design a logo for the sauce the young people called "SOL Sauce."
Choosing the recipe for the sauce was a learning opportunity for the program participants.
That meant settling on a recipe the buyer could use "as is" or tweak for enhanced flavor.
"I like hands-on work," she said, but she's definitely not there for the sauce. "I hate tomatoes," said McLaren, who wants to be a veterinarian.
Shawn Pettus, 16, a student at Manchester High School West, said: "I can eat tomato sauce, but only if it's doctored," he said. Pettus is the only program participant interested in a food-related career.
Pettus, who is originally from New York, said: "People take so much for granted."
The project hit crunch time last week, with the sauce having to be cooked, canned and labeled. Last year, 175 pints were made and sold. This year the goal is 225 pints.
"So it's more of a summer enrichment program," she said.
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