Heirlooms of Gratitude: Growing Opportunities and Skills through Culinary Enterprise

Meghan Raftery

Meghan Raftery is a freelance instructional designer for K-12 public schools, nonprofit organizations and the private sector in addition to managing edjacent.org, an Educator Design Collaborative. She leads professional development throughout the country and in her hometown of Virginia Beach, Virginia with a special interest in authentic learning, community partnerships and school redesign. She is also a wife, mother and bookseller in an airstream trailer bookshop called Read Books VB and serves as Program Director for The CROP Foundation.


“Learn to be thankful for what you already have, while you pursue all that you want.”

—Jim Rohn

The CROP Foundation is a young organization, just finding its roots in the local community. Incorporating gratitude into the very foundation of the program helps students understand their larger role in the community ecosystem.

CROP, which stands for “creating opportunities”, was established by Chef Kip Poole in 2014, when he was working as a culinary arts and catering teacher at William Penn High School in Delaware.

The organization started by catering pop-up parties. Proceeds from the parties were used to fund scholarships for the students to attend culinary school. When Poole moved back home to Virginia Beach, he brought the CROP Foundation with him and in August of 2020 a new opportunity came his way: to co-operate an existing restaurant, Commune Norfolk, focused on sustainable, local foods as an immersive classroom, providing culinary students with the opportunity to train and work in a real-world kitchen and restaurant environment.

Students plan and participate in educational community events, cooking classes, community outreach, on-the-farm training and other such programs aimed at providing them with comprehensive industry experience.

An important part of the CROP mission is the development of “heirlooms”, CROP students who return to the organization as mentors for others. Using a planting metaphor, students learn the importance of growing new, stronger seeds and crops by manipulating existing seeds. Each new CROP student is a seed, which is nurtured and given the opportunity to thrive. That student gives back to their community and the CROP Foundation, completing a cycle of support and gratitude.

CommunexCROP’s motto is “Food With a Purpose”. Students participate in a four “season” curriculum, learning how to cook, operate a restaurant and plan successful events from culinary mentors. In the Fall season, students job shadow restaurant employees. In the Winter season, they intern in a specific role based on their interests. In the Spring season, they learn about the business of running a restaurant, including sourcing local ingredients. In the Summer season, they “stage” in a restaurant outside of the community and bring their knowledge back to share with future CROP students.

Students are responsible for the day to day operations of the restaurant as well as special events. Their “assessments” are performance-based and authentic: they actually create the social media posts, the menus, the dishes and the educational opportunities. They also form partnerships with the local community.

Autumn is a time of slowing down, comfort and expressing gratitude for all our blessings. For students working with the CROP Foundation, it also means prime seasonal cooking. Cool season crops include kale, collards, squash and beets. While these may not be the typical foods of choice for teenagers and young adults, CROP students are learning the “art” of culinary arts, turning root vegetables and greens into masterpieces, even desserts.

This fall, students are working with community members at nearby Purpose Park. The city park has a community garden with an abundance of local produce. In November, students will use the produce to create signature dishes to sell at the restaurant. Each student will create a custom, deliverable meal for a non-family member, such as a teacher, coach or community mentor that supports them and helps them succeed. This gratitude meal will be delivered alongside a written letter, a short video or an artistic performance by the student, demonstrating their thanks for the love and support they have received. The meal represents an understanding and appreciation for all the community has done to support the students in their journey. It is also a promise for what they plan to give back, with gratitude for those who supported them along the way.


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