Regional foods are a contemporary trend – rather than anonymous food products, more and more well-informed consumers are turning to foods that are produced and processed in their local region by people whom they know and who are responsible for quality.
The GenussWerkstatt in Königslutter even goes one step further: it not only offers high-quality products from the region, which are produced by hand according to traditional recipes or as special creations. Here, the entire manufacturing process and the sale of the products are also part of a sustainable and social education project.
Award-winning recipe for success
The GenussWerkstatt is a school cooperative with structures like those in the ‘real’ business world. Here, children and adolescents from the Förderzentrum Wichernschule, a special education centre, learn all about what is important for successful business and an independent, fulfilling life with meaningful work. ‘Our project helps the students to acquire the much-lauded soft skills in particular, which employers often find are missing in their new employees,’ says Petra Oppe, one of the three supervising teachers at the GenussWerkstatt.
Around thirty students between the ages of nine and 18 work in mixed groups. At the same time, they learn how to prepare foods by hand as well as the business skills required in accounting, marketing and stocktaking. Selling their own products directly at weekly and Christmas markets is also on the lesson plan. This is an important experience for the learners: they not only have to organise themselves, but can also bring the (preserved) fruits of their labour to customers while coming into direct contact with them.
Their self-confidence and social skills get a boost at the same time and every jar of jam sold is a measure of social recognition for the students as well. At the same time, they learn one or two tricks from the world of business. That raisin bread sells better, for instance, when it is presented as the ‘Easter Bunny’s favourite plaited loaf’ and that pumpkin and celery soup flies off the shelves when it has an attractive label. All of this is valuable basic experience that goes far beyond a weekly market stall or a soup dish.
However, classic school subjects aren’t overlooked alongside career guidance: ‘Let’s take the example of fractions,’ explains Oppe, ‘The students would otherwise agonise over examples without any practical relevance. But here, they follow recipes and come across specifications such as 1/4 litre or 1/8 spoon. They suddenly realise that maths have a very practical purpose.’ And in this way, dry school assignments become juicy jams.
Their economic success is overseen by external auditors, but this isn’t the only thing that backs up the efforts of the young entrepreneurs and their supervisors. Their work has long been attracting attention at the national level, too. The GenussWerkstatt was thus profiled by broadcaster NDR as part of its themed week on sustainability and presented by the car city of Wolfsburg at the didacta education trade fair. Plus, there is also an Education Award from Allianz für die Region in the cabinet next to the baking mixes. This was followed by first place at the School Business Fair in Braunschweig, and the project was named one of Germany’s ten best student companies by the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy in 2015!
Joint efforts with great results
It’s clear that success like this can only be achieved through a huge amount of voluntary commitment. Those who want to get involved in the GenussWerkstatt project therefore undergo a proper application process and are only ‘hired’ after job interviews with external partners. The collaboration is then sealed with a contract, which can be terminated at any time by all those involved – i.e. students, parents and teachers. This ensures that everyone is eager to be on board and puts all their energy into the project. There are even working time accounts like those in the real world of work outside the centre. After all, more commitment is required when things get busy, such as during the harvesting season, than in January, when everything is still hibernating.
The success story began with the subjects of home economics and creative crafts at the centre’s field site. Typical tasks include catering or related preliminary work for the local Christmas market. Then came wattle fences for a nature show garden that includes many fruit trees. And then the apples needed to be harvested as well. The group found they could do all sorts of things with the fruit! And that’s how the GenussWerkstatt began in the 2012/13 academic year.
From turnip soup to paprika and chilli puree
The children and teens now produce an impressive range of food. This includes popular homemade fruit spreads made from apples, pears, berries, cherries, oranges, lemons, plums, quinces, peaches and rhubarb – depending on the season and depending on what is currently flourishing in the centre’s fruit gardens. Most of the ingredients are harvested by the youngsters themselves or purchased directly from partners in the region. In summer, there is also sweet fruit leather made from strawberries or apricots, a delicious snack for warm afternoons. Other fruits are made into syrup or compote.
Those who aren’t keen on sweets can also tuck into savoury treats. The soup kitchen offers a wide range of choice delicacies, from its popular carrot and orange or pumpkin and ginger soup, the old classic pea soup and regional favourite ‘Arften, Mauern und Klump’ (a dish made from peas, carrots and meatballs), through to a rustic turnip stew based on an original recipe by Tim Mälzer.
Those who love exotic ingredients can try paprika and chilli puree, aromatic chutneys and fancy organic spice mixes. Fine varieties of tea and vinegar, which the pupils create themselves, are also on offer. And the Genuss artisans are also right on pace with current trends, of course: the currently popular baking mixes in a jar are available with recipes developed right here in the kitchen, and bear tantalising names such as ‘Happy Birthday Brownie’ and ‘Sunday Afternoon Coffee Treat’. And all in keeping with the philosophy ‘think local, buy local’.
‘The best thing that could have happened to us’
Having seen all of the students’ culinary expertise, customers were soon inspired to get into the kitchen themselves. And so the GenussWerkstatt quickly published its best recipes in book form. The titles ‘Time to get preserving’ and ‘Time for snacks’ whet people’s appetites for varied cuisine and can be purchased directly from the producer in the region. And thanks to the economic success that the GenussWerkstatt has enjoyed, the students can eat the products they have made free of charge there.
‘The GenussWerkstatt has completely changed life in the school,’ reports Petra Oppe. ‘The children feel at home, they go to the fridge themselves and can help themselves whenever they feel hungry. This means that they end up trying almost everything and not only learn a great deal about food but also experience sitting together at a table and talking, which is often missing in some families.’ Oppe therefore sums up the project very positively: ‘It’s the best thing that could have happened to us and our pupils!’ And there is no doubt that their customers in Königslutter and the surrounding area feel the same. We’ll raise a glass of homemade rhubarb lemonade to that!