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Mary Jane’s Cooking School, Inc., is a registered charity located in the Province of Manitoba, Canada (Registered Charity No. 87220 2429 RR0001).
The school originated in the early 1990s with the coming together of four women, each with a special interest in promoting healthful homes in healthy communities. Of the four, Mary Jane Eason, a community nutritionist, was particularly concerned about how modern lifestyles had denigrated the activities of the home, making-basic nutritional cooking, maintaining a clean home setting, and nurturing family members to become contributing participants in the care of the natural and human environment. Together Mary Jane, counsellor Wilhelmina Howes, dietitian Diane Yu, and anti-poverty activist Laura Steiman pooled their resources and set to establish the basis of a model home environment in which their values could be shared with people of all backgrounds and ages. In addition to the homemaking skills, there was a growing concern amongst the women that the trends toward the use of chemicals in foods were matched by the effects of pollutants in the air and in the soil and that these trends all posed significant threats to the health and well being of people, animals, and the natural environment. Thus the program of Mary Jane’s Cooking School was extended to include education about the interaction of Earth, air, soil, and water, and about how these elements of the Earth could and must be protected.
Over the following five years, Mary Jane’s Cooking School was established, first as a partnership of the participating women and finally as a non-profit corporation incorporated in 1998. With the theme of “Nurturing Today for a Healthier Tomorrow,” the school opened its doors at 252 Arlington Street in central Winnipeg. Mary Jane developed a curriculum guide for both home cooking and cleaning, and a Mission Statement was developed to articulate the goals of the school to provide “education in nutritional home cooking and home making in harmony with individual, community, and cultural traditions, with respect and care for the environment.” Under the leadership of Laura, cross-cultural and interfaith components were included to complement the practical learning activities of the classes.
Since a large percentage of our students have been of Indigenous background, with the assistance of Native elders, we have included in our program information and activities particularly relating to indigineous culture and spirituality.
From its origins, Mary Jane’s Cooking School has provided education in both drop-in classes and formal class settings. Adults of all ages as well as children participate in special group sessions of four to twelve weeks duration. Some classes have met off-site at such locations as the West Broadway Community Services Crossways-In- Common location; St. Margaret’s and Holy Trinity Anglican churches, the Saigon Centre of the Free Vietnamese Association, at the premises of Women in Second Stage Housing, Inc. and in the West End Senior Centre. This latter location is of special interest to the school in that it relates to our interest in promoting service to seniors needing home support care.
The school has a program and a curriculum in place to train people interested in working in the home as either home support workers providing services of environmentally friendly housekeeping and home-cooked meals or as self-employed people providing homemaking services. The curriculum also includes many aspects pertaining to a cross-cultural understanding of home. Working with the support of Human Resources Development Canada, in 1999-2000, Mary Jane’s Cooking School followed this curriculum to provide classes in home cooking and environmentally friendly home cleaning for personal and home support settings. Participating students completed the fourteen-week course and moved into various areas of employment with the provincial government, private agencies, and as self-employed home support workers.
Better training is important in providing home support, particularly in culturally competent home support services. Obtaining funding support, however, is very difficult when home support workers are underpaid, and the government itself will not encourage anyone interested in training and employment to pursue this important work. Yet many competent people would be interested in this type of work and who should be allowed to enter employment in this field. Obviously, this gap in opportunities is a systemic problem in which part of the answer to poor wages is better training and greater public acknowledgment of the importance to society of these human services.
As an extension of this training, students are provided with the opportunity to participate in catering services undertaken by the school.