Hugh Acheson, local restaurant owner, chef and community activist, spoke with The Red & Black about his new project, Seed Life Skills. The project, now a year in the making, focuses on reimagining the curriculum of middle school home economics courses to provide a more pertinent and all-encompassing education experience aimed at enriching the future lives of Athens-Clarke County school children. A fundraising event, Planting the Seed, will be held Sunday, Jan. 10 for the project, which will start officially in ACC middle schools during the Fall 2016 semester.
Tell me a little bit about the event that’s happening this Sunday.
Hugh Acheson: It’s a fundraising event where we sold our sponsors tables and to people in the community who are really into public education. We are really celebrating that, and that is going to raise money for us to finalize our curriculum. We’re doing what’s called a ‘charrette’ later in February, a kind of a networking day, to finalize the curriculum with a really disparate group of awesome individuals all across different industries and different walks of life. We’re just trying to whittle down to ‘All kids need to learn this.’
So cooking is only one facet of this event?
HA: The event is a dinner with a live concert by 6 String Drag, which is a group out of Durham, North Carolina, which has a lot of links to Athens. There’s going to be a dinner, and then I’ll be talking in the interest of what we’re doing. Then people in the community can talk about the importance of public education. We’ve got all of these amazing kids, and they happen to come from a variety of different economic backgrounds. There are a variety of amazing family and consumer sciences or home economics teachers in the community who are doing an amazing job, and we’re just trying to pair with them to make even brighter of a future.
How long have you been planning this project?
HA: Seed Life Skills started as a concept about a year ago. One of my daughters came home about a year ago from Clarke Middle and recounted her day in Family and Consumer Sciences class, and it was interesting what she had learned. I didn’t think it was really pertinent to living, how to make cupcakes and Rice Krispy treats. To me, those aren’t really skills; those are treats. We want to make sure that this generation of young citizens is fully equipped to make life decisions, like cooking at home effectively and from scratch. I think that just empowers them to be better humans.
What are the next steps after the Planting the Seed dinner?
HA: We have been green-lit by the local school district because of the amazing superintendent, Phil Lanoue. Phil has green-lit us for grade six in the four middle schools in Athens-Clarke County. So, that lit a fire under us to quickly come up with a solid curriculum that we could launch forward. What that means, is that we’ve got a core curriculum already written, but we need to refine it. In February, we’ll be having the charrette, so we’re inviting about 40-60 different people from all walks of life who are experts on what kids need to learn. They’re educators, they’re chefs, they’re architects, thinkers, community activists. That disparate group of people is trying to whittle down to the core question of what, when you turn 19 or 20 years old, what skills do you need to have to make a better life. But, really it’s just about empowering kids.
Were there any inspirations for you, apart from hearing your daughter’s experiences with home economics that made you want to pursue this?
HA: Yeah, in living in Athens, which is a high poverty community, I realized that there is a lack of core skills being taught to kids. I think it’s useful for everyone to know how to build a fire and tie some knots in life. Basically the end-game on this is to create a curriculum that can be available to any school district within the entire country. It’s a reimagining of a course that’s already in existence and already has a spot in the schools, to say, “I want to make this really pertinent, not just for today, but for 10 years from now.” I want to create a living curriculum that kids will get really excited about and really reset the clock on America cooking from scratch again, because in the last 40 years, we’ve forgotten how.