Foodlink Career Fellowship
About this program
The Foodlink Career Fellowship is a one-of-a-kind culinary training program that creates a pathway to prosperity for individuals with barriers to sustainable employment. Fellows who are accepted into the program go through an intensive, yearlong curriculum that includes both classroom and hands-on training within Foodlink’s state-of-the-art commercial kitchen, and will graduate into middle-skills careers in the regional food industry. In 2019, the Fellowship became an official New York State Registered Apprenticeship Training program.
Throughout the program, Fellows will spend time helping Foodlink prepare healthy meals for Rochester children, and work in the Community Kitchen’s processing center, where Foodlink continues to expand its apple-slicing operations. Classroom time will be spent learning culinary skills via Rouxbe, a world-renowned online culinary training program, and working on essential soft skills development. Fellows spend the final months of the program with a regional employer at an externship that matches their area of focus.
When Foodlink relocated and expanded its commercial kitchen in 2016, it was always a goal to maximize this significant investment and uphold our responsibility to address the root causes of hunger in our communities. It became clear that workforce development — or career empowerment — would be a key pillar that guided the success of this new facility.
In partnership with Wegmans Food Markets, we spent more than two years crafting a curriculum with input from dozens of local and national partners and stakeholders. We realized our goals needed to be lofty. The culinary training program we were designing needed to prepare participants for middle-skills careers with upward mobility, not minimum wage jobs. And as many employers in the area will attest, middle-skills jobs exist in the food industry, however there often isn’t a trained workforce to meet employers’ needs.
Although Foodlink has decades of experience with workforce development through the Monroe County Work Experience Program and the City of Rochester Summer of Opportunity Program, this is our most ambitious program to date. In July of 2018, we welcomed in our inaugural class — the first of many for the Foodlink Career Fellowship.
Foodlink could not have built this program without input, support and guidance from regional employers, the community partners who nominated the members of our inaugural class, and, of course, the bold funders who took a chance on this initiative.
Employers such as Wegmans Food Markets, Palmer Food Service, LiDestri Foods, Barilla, Monroe Community College, and the University of Rochester all helped shape the curriculum to address the workforce needs of the Finger Lakes region. We also leaned on the national expertise of our friends at Catalyst Kitchens, and community partners to nominate prospective Fellows, and provide support as they progress through the program.
The pilot year of the program was made possible through the financial contributions of three major funders: The William G. McGowan Charitable Fund, William and Sheila Konar Foundation, and ESL Charitable Foundation. We are forever grateful for their willingness to take a chance on this new endeavor.
Our inaugural class
On July 9, 2018, the inaugural class of the Foodlink Career Fellowship began their journey. We look forward to sharing more information about their progress throughout the year!
The Foodlink Career Fellowship was one of more than 100 vendors at our annual fundraiser, the Festival of Food! The FCF had their own table within the VIP tent at the City of Rochester Public Market for an event that attracts more than 1,000 people annually.
Moving up! A small ceremony at Foodlink on Oct. 5 marked the completion of the first quarter of the Foodlink Career Fellowship for our inaugural class. They prepared dishes for a tasting event, and invited program supporters to Foodlink’s Community Kitchen to show off their progress. All Fellows received a new knife set, and their first pay check as official Foodlink employees.
The Fellows helped prepare a delicious breakfast for more than 50 people who attended Bank of America’s annual Rochester Community Partner Recognition Breakfast, which Foodlink hosted in its new Community Room.
The Foodlink Career Fellowship received notification that the New York State Department of Labor approved the program to be an official registered cook apprenticeship. The program was also mentioned in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s State of the State “Justice Agenda” booklet.
The website, Civil Eats, which spotlights issues and innovative solutions related to the American food system, featured the Foodlink Career Fellowship with an in-depth article, written by local writer Donna Jackel.
Seven members of the Foodlink Career Fellowship were offered full-time positions as culinary interns at Wegmans locations throughout the Rochester region. The internship is the final quarter of a yearlong training program in which Fellows will have the opportunity to learn multiple aspects of the prepared food business with the guidance of Wegmans mentors and supervisors. The Fellows will begin their internships on April 1 at Wegmans stores in Pittsford, Canandaigua, Brockport and East Avenue, as well as the Next Door Bar & Grill in Pittsford.
On their final day at Foodlink before beginning their respective internships at Wegmans, the Fellows had a little friendly competition with the full-time kitchen staff in what was dubbed The Great Foodlink Cooking Showdown. The Fellows emerged victorious after a panel of judges gave rave reviews to their “Broccoli Tots” dish, which was shared at the annual staff “healthy” potluck to celebrate the end of National Nutrition Month. The following day, the Fellows began their internships with an orientation at Wegmans’ flagship store in Pittsford.
Director, Career Empowerment Initiatives