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BRATTLEBORO >> At the end of the week, 11 people will conclude an apprenticeship and already have their foot in the kitchen door.

The 11 individuals took part in the first installment of the Farm-to-Table Culinary Apprenticeship program sponsored by Strolling of the Heifers. The 12-week program, supported by grants from the Walmart Foundation, Procter & Gamble Foundation and Sandy River Charitable Foundation, ends later this week, but a graduation ceremony was held at American Legion Post 5 in Brattleboro on Aug. 31 to acknowledge the participants and the professional organizations that offered them internships. After the ceremony, attendees enjoyed a wood-fired pizza lunch made by the program's participants, who spent three weeks under the tutelage of culinary trainer Tristan Toleno as part of the apprenticeship.

"We're going to miss everyone," said Orly Munzing, the founder and executive director of Strolling of the Heifers. "Hopefully, this is just a beginning and we'll stay connected."

Each of the 11 participants were invited to a podium to accept a diploma and gifts and to say a few words if they wanted. Most thanked Strolling, especially Munzing, and Toleno, as well as their internship placement sites for their help. Kenneth Watkins said the participants came from a variety of personal backgrounds and the program has given him a bright future. He said he has landed a full-time job as a cook at Whetstone Station Restaurant and Brewery just off Main Street.

Through an American Sign Language interpreter, Erin Sanders-Sigmon said anything is possible with hard work and she thanked everyone who has assisted her along the way. Last week, she told the Reformer she discovered her love for cooking in Alabama while helping her grandmother.

"I grew up in my grandmother's kitchen and she was part of the civil rights movement way back when. ... She was a freedom fighter," she said. "So, learning to cook for so many people, I was like, 'Wow! That's something I could do, I think.'"

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Toleno, who wears many hats as part of the apprenticeship program in addition to his roll as a state representative for Windham 2-3, thanked the participants for "sticking your neck out" and giving a tremendous effort.

"I'm going to put on my political hat for a little bit because I'm in the Legislature," he said from the podium. "We talk a lot of about workforce development and, in politics, we talk a lot about the expectation that people will pick themselves up and find their own way and be strong and do everything on their own, and that's not the way the world actually works. This is an example of the way the world should work."

The internship sites include True North Granola Company, O.W.L. Energy Bar, Thompson House Rehabilitation & Nursing Center, The Brattleboro Retreat and Against the Grain Gourmet.

"Part of the goal of the program is to give them basic culinary skills, part of the goal of the program is to give them some kind of awareness of what farm-to-plate is and what works and what doesn't work within the farm-to-plate movement," Toleno told the Reformer. "This is sort of a classic public/private, grant-funded, experimental workforce development program."

Contact Domenic Poli at 802-254-2311, ext. 277.