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Meet Paul Hudak of MUSE School, Seed To Table Program in Calabasas

Today we’d like to introduce you to Paul Hudak.

Paul, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
I have been working at MUSE School as the Director of the Seed To Table program since December 2012. Spending the last 5 years developing one of America’s most progressive school garden programs has been an incredible adventure but the journey for me began over 20 years ago.

Growing up in upstate New York, I got my first job in high school at a local farm picking berries and working in greenhouses. Working with the earth spoke to me even at the early age of 14. Something about working outside and growing food that would nourish local families struck a chord in me.

After attending 2 different state schools and studying Elementary Education I did what most 21 year olds would do – move to rural Oregon to live off the grid, apprenticing on an organic farm and making $500/month. Much to my parent’s dismay, I knew I had to pursue my passion for agriculture and learn about organic growing techniques. I’ve always learned best in hands-on situations and I viewed this apprenticeship as an incredible educational opportunity. So, I lived on one of Western Oregon’s most established organic farms and learned the tools of the trade. In addition to learning more than I ever could have in a classroom, I also got to live in a yurt in the woods with no electricity or running water.

After the apprenticeship ended, I knew I had more to learn and decided to spend a year participating in an international volunteer farming program (Willing Workers On Organic Farms – WWOOF). I spent all of 2000 living and working on family farms in Finland, Belgium, France and Italy. This experience opened my eyes to the world and, once again, taught me valuable lessons in how different cultures practice sustainable agriculture.

The next step in this natural progression was to spend a year helping friends start an organic farm near Salem, Oregon. With the help of 2 Belgian draft horses, Marge and Peach, we worked the land and started one of the area’s first CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) programs. After that season, I made my way to Southern Oregon where I worked for 3 years managing an organic farm that supplied produce to an on-site restaurant. I had always enjoyed preparing (and consuming!) food but working there really gave me a deeper appreciation for the local food movement. Customers would often arrive for dinner and spend time with me in the fields where they could harvest their own food and bring it directly to the chef. It doesn’t get any fresher than that.

Finally, my passion for education would come full circle when I moved to Portland, Oregon and began working at Terra Nova High School. This alternative high school was part of the most progressive network of international schools (Big Picture Learning schools). Student voice and internships are a huge part of this model of school’s philosophy. Working with students, we turned the unused 2-acre baseball field and open space into a student managed organic farm. During the 5 years I worked at Terra Nova, we grew the program into a 50-family CSA, produced food for 28 schools in the Beaverton School District, employed over 30 students and sold food to restaurants in Portland, all while engaging students in their personal interests and academics.

In 2012, I made the move to Los Angeles to work at MUSE School CA. MUSE has been lauded as one of the most progressive schools in the world. In our Seed To Table program we work with students Pre-K through 12th grade to engage them in academically rigorous projects that are focused on organic gardening, plant-based diet, sustainability practices, water conservation and general environmentalism. Sustainability is one of the pillars at MUSE and our students live this ethos daily as they navigate through their school experience. I am excited to work with so many amazing youth on this project. Our students are engaging in deep ways while embracing sustainability practices and will no doubt go out into the world to become game changers.

Has it been a smooth road?
Building garden programs at schools is not always the easiest of endeavors. Often times there are bureaucratic hurdles in the way of establishing and furthering such programs. However, I have found that relationships are the key to success. Often times in public schools there is pushback around facility use and questions about academic rigor. In Oregon we had full support of our districts’ facilities and Nutrition Services department. In fact, they were championing us in promoting our program to dozens of other schools in the district.

At MUSE School the administration has been unconditionally supportive of the Seed To Table program. In our model at MUSE we work to create a model that serves all students both as a classroom unit and as individuals. We work hard to build relationships with students and understand what their individual interests and passions are. Our STT and sustainability curriculum is constantly evolving to keep up with the ever-changing world. We are at the forefront of developing systems and curriculum that engage the students while educating them about today’s pressing environmental issues.

We’d love to hear more about your business.
The MUSE School Seed To Table (STT) program is just one of many programs at the school that help learning come alive. Seed To Table specializes in teaching the students to grow healthy food and then prepare it into creative plant-based meals. We integrate academics into every STT project in subject areas such as math, history, language arts, creative arts and science. We are proud that the last 2 years we have been offering training to schools across the country and internationally. We host 3-day training where teachers, faculty and administration come to MUSE and learn about practical STT lessons. Attendees leave with concrete information they can take back to their school to start garden programs or help elevate their existing programs to the next level. What sets us apart from others is our ability to create a system that can exist in any learning environment. We train teachers working in high-density urban populations and also those in smaller schools focused on individualized learning.

Is our city a good place to do what you do?
I believe this is the best time in recent history for Seed To Table school garden programs to thrive in Los Angeles. In the 5+ years I have lived here, I have witnessed an explosion in the farm to table movement at restaurants and local markets. The rapidly increasing support of local farms and natural food related products make this city a hotbed for such programs. Los Angeles is one of, if not the most diverse city in the country. This diversity has lent itself to the establishment of programs and systems you simply don’t see in other communities in the US. We have seen adults and youth from all walks of life engage in projects that focus on environmental activism, local food and healthy diet. The sky is the limit on this front and our city is helping take this movement to new levels.

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