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Chicago Ag. Sciences FFA Chapter News

Ag School Students and Local Chefs Team Up For Community Thanksgiving Dinner

The 19th Ward hosted a Thanksgiving dinner for seniors this week that featured help from local chefs, the Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences and Moraine Valley's culinary program students.

When you're dealing with eight turkeys, many of whom weigh in at around 40 pounds, you can never have too many chefs in the kitchen. 

Tuesday's 19th Ward Thanksgiving dinner for seniors was a true community effort with local restaurateurs, students from the Chicago High School of Agricultural Sciences, the Moraine Valley culinary arts program and 19th Ward staffers all pitching in to create a memorable farm-to-table feast. 

"We thought it would be neat to have a meal for our seniors that could go right from farm to table, everything we consume tonight was either grown or raised here right at the Ag," said Ald. Matt O'Shea. 

The idea sprang from the school's principal Bill Hook and students who were already raising turkeys at the school. O'Shea and Hook decided bringing the area's seniors into the school would be the perfect way to celebrate the holiday. 

"I want the school to be available to those in the community," Hook said. "I want them to be able to take advantage of all the different things we have here."

The feast featured  eight birds raised and processed at the school and classic Thanksgiving side dishes made with produce all grown at the school. 

Adding to the community experience was the local chefs who volunteered their time and cooked with the students. Neil Byers from Horse Thief Hollow in Beverly, Jay Tarczon from Joseph's Restaurant in Mount Greenwood, David Somerfield from Smith Village and Chicago chef and TV star Graham Elliot, who resides in the neighborhood all pitched in with the preparations.   

For Byers the opportunity to cook with the students was an exciting prospect. He recalled Thanksgiving as a holiday that ignited his culinary instincts. 

"WhenI was younger I took turkey on as a challenge because everyone always screwed it up," Byers said.
Leading the turkey preparation and logistics was Mike O'Shea, head of Moraine Valley Community College's culinary arts program. He brought along  his own students to help in the preparation and started brining the turkeys five days ago with help from Ag students. 

He relished the chance to bring people together to cook for the area's seniors. 

"I think there is something here for all of us in the community to benefit," Mike O'Shea said. 

Over 100 Ag students worked not only in the kitchen, but as servers for the almost 400 seniors who came out to enjoy the results. 

"It just add more atmosphere to the school to have these people around," said Jake Daggy, of Beverly, a student at the school. "It's great for networking and seeing different job professions. It's just a fun time."

The school's principal Bill Hook agreed that it was a great experience for his students who were actively engaged in the entire prep process.

"A good number of kids have been here since three o'clock this morning and are just really eager to work," Hook said. 

Vicky Diaz, a graduate of the Ag, who is now studying culinary arts at Moraine Valley said it was what she learned here that first exposed her to her chosen career path. 

"I was in the food sciences path while I was here and actually got interested in culinary industry," Diaz said.  

Ald. O'Shea remarked that the event was the perfect showcase for how this community can come together for a cause, and that engaging young people in the process made it all the more important. 

"What I think is most important is that they are learning about giving back," O'Shea said.