DOVER — Lisa Jones grew up helping out in the kitchen alongside her mother, Beatrice Smith, as she operated a bakery in their home in Philadelphia.
So it is only natural that Lisa, who moved to Dover with her mom two years ago, is pursuing her lifelong dream of becoming a chef, while enrolled in the Milton Hershey School in Hershey, Pennsylvania.
She is gaining culinary and agricultural skills through the school’s Agricultural and Environmental Education program.
“I’ve actually learned a lot being here,” said Lisa, who will be a junior at MHS this fall. “I’ve learned how to take care of plants better and how hydroponics work.
“From the field trips we’ve taken, I’ve even learned about aeroponics and aquaponics and just how workers usually work on farms and the labor that they put in, ... making sure that we have food in our supermarkets and our markets.”
While her ultimate goal is to become a chef and open her own restaurant, she realizes how important it is to gain knowledge of all aspects of the food and hospitality industry.
“They go hand in hand because with horticulture, they teach you how to take care of plants and how to raise them and plant them for yourself, and now, in culinary, farm-to-table is a really big trend that’s going on that everybody’s looking at — how can they get food straight from farms or little gardens and bring it right into the restaurant?” Lisa said.
“So being able to work in the horticulture center and get the experience of growing plants for yourself, it helps with the farm-to-table idea and allows you to be able to implement that in your own plan, if you do decide to open up a restaurant of your own, … which I plan on doing.”
Internships and opportunities
Through Lisa’s internship on campus the last two summers, she grew hydroponic produce — which are fruits and vegetables grown in water in an indoor shelter, rather than in the soil outside — including tomatoes, lettuce, peppers and basil. She even made fresh pesto for other interns for lunch.
In the AEE program, she is learning the ins and outs of production, processing, marketing, distribution and financing. She is also learning about food and fibers, wood products, natural resources, horticulture and other plant and animal products and resources.
Lisa has also been involved with the growing and selling of hydroponic produce to The Hotel Hershey in the AEE program, furthering her interest in the farm-to-table movement.
“I would say most definitely (learning about) the hydroponics system (has been the most interesting) because that is something that you can implement anywhere, and you can have it in your house or in a restaurant, and it was just eye-opening to see that is something that you can actually set up yourself and just have there,” she said.
“You can also grow things that may be out of season, so it’s really awesome to be able to know all that information.”
Dr. Jason Smith, her teacher in the AEE program, has been impressed with her accomplishments since arriving at the school.
“We have year-round opportunities for interns who work with us,” said Dr. Smith, the horticultural instructional adviser at MHS. “Lisa’s been working with us in the summers, but she’s engaged in so many wonderful activities on campus that during the school year, she takes a break from the internship. She’s been the best.
“With the internship, we’re looking to develop professional quality in our student employees, like taking initiative and responsibility and critical thinking and problem-solving and working in teams. Lisa excels at all of these things, so I feel really privileged to work with her because she has a lot of gifts that I think ... will serve her well in her dreams of opening up a restaurant or growing her food or all of the above.”
Lisa, 16, has also been involved with MHS’ Project Market, a student-run local produce market, where students sow, harvest and sell produce, plant, products and Spartan Ice Cream.
Thriving in a hands-on environment
Lisa said she feels fortunate to have had so many hands-on experiences, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced many students to take classes virtually.
“It’s been great. To be completely honest, I don’t think I would have been able to make it without all the hands-on opportunities,” she said. “I’m a very hands-on learner, and being able to actually be in the classroom and interacting with people is better than just sitting over a screen. It’s really tiring to sit around a screen 24/7, so this being in person is nice.”
Lisa is getting a well-rounded education at MHS, which is a free, private, residential school for pre-K through 12th-grade students from low-income families across the nation.
MHS began as a dream and vision shared by chocolate magnate Milton S. Hershey and his wife, Kitty. The Hersheys loved children but were unable to have their own. Instead, they decided to use their wealth to create a home and school for orphaned boys.
The Hersheys’ original idea for a school has grown since 1909. While its mission remains the same, the curriculum and programs at MHS have evolved to meet the changing needs of low-income families.
And to think, all the agricultural and farm-to-table knowledge that Lisa has acquired had its humble beginnings in a small kitchen in Philadelphia.
“I’ve wanted to become a chef as long as I can remember, since I was young because my mom was always in the kitchen cooking something, and she had a little bakery when I used to live in Philly, which she ran from the house, but she didn’t get to do much of it,” Lisa said.
“So now, since we’ve moved and my mom got remarried, she’s been able to expand her business more, and she’s doing a lot more cakes. I’m always in the kitchen helping her with her different cake orders and other orders she has.”
Her mom still runs her bakery — Bea Delightful — out of her house, just north of Dover.
Bea Delightful is an online Haitian bakery that specializes in Haitian delicacies, custom cakes, strawberry shortcakes, treats, gourmet popcorn and more.
It was alongside her mother that Lisa’s dreams were born. She routinely comes home to her family during breaks from school.
“I’m really proud of my mom,” she said. “She runs a bakery from her home, and she actually made her own website and everything.”
Dr. Smith said that Lisa is definitely taking advantage of an opportunity that is awarded to only a select number of students.
“It’s not just about the potential for going to college,” he said. “We have a lot of students, as well, that graduate here and go on into the trades. Our students each have a different path.
“Lisa’s awesome. She wants to be a chef, and we have some students who leave here, and they want to go into construction, then some of them want to go to Princeton. We just have a lot of different tracks that students can take, and Lisa is on track to become a chef.”