Uli Koester, Executive Director
I was teaching an MFC class at Barton Open School in 2002 or so when the student teacher in the class approached me with great intent. She loved the lessons I was teaching and would I tell her some more.
A year or two later a resume arrived. Haruko Ruggiero was reminding me of our meeting at Barton, and wondering if MFC was hiring. I responded ‘no,’ and the resume went into my files.
Then, in 2005, Blooming Prairie Foundation gave us a large grant to expand our work. After careful interviews, Haruko joined our staff late in the year as a third teacher. She became a pillar of the food education, a star teacher, and a creative force with a deep desire for student learning. This February, she takes on a new adventure—artisan tile making—and we celebrate her influential tenure with our feisty non-profit.
“Students cheered when I told them Miss Haruko was coming again.”
This report from Battle Creek in St. Paul reflects the enthusiasm of the thousands of children Haruko taught on our behalf. Teaching for MFC was Haruko’s dream job, and it showed. She imbued every classroom visit with food learning and inspiration. What does this plant look like in the farm field? How does it taste roasted? What is its cultural heritage? All of this in calm progression, joining questions and discussion to cooking, tasting, art, and wonder. Teachers could not praise her enough.
There was a brief hiatus from MFC, during which her lovely daughter Carmina was born, but in 2009, Haruko rejoined our staff as Curriculum Coordinator. In addition to teaching, she now took on the challenge of curating MFC’s extensive lesson collection. That spring she led the launch of Urban Farming for Kids, which still remains our most popular unit. From season to season she collected our notes on how to improve all our lessons, and the next year Haruko saw to it that they indeed were better than ever.
We have spent this winter teaching our newest unit, Climate Conscious Cooking, which now becomes Haruko’s parting gift. The four lessons, which she developed over the past year, break new ground for us. In a changing climate, we are teaching children to waste less, to make purchases that cut down on pollution, and to gain a precise understanding of what organic means for our precious earth. While learning, children are singing, playing games, and of course creating tasty dishes to try.
Haruko has been my strong creative ally. I will miss her calm insights, her drive to improve, and her uncanny ability to construct and launch a lesson, as an arrow would fly, into the tasting hearts of children. We will remember and continue her influence on the Midwest Food Connection’s mission for years to come.