LIVERMORE FALLS — Mackenzie Walker, a Spruce Mountain High School senior from Jay, is keeping busy with schoolwork and her job at Berry Fruit Farm.

Mackenzie Walker has been hired by Berry Fruit Farm in Livermore Falls. The Spruce Mountain High School senior is in the advanced culinary arts program at Foster CTE Center. She is seen holding a raspberry creme horn, one of the items she enjoys baking and a popular request from customers. Pam Harnden/Livermore Falls Advertiser Buy this Photo

Walker is a Life Skills student in the advanced culinary arts program at Foster Career and Technical Education Center on the Mt. Blue Campus in Farmington.

“I’ve learned a whole bunch of things, how to use the fryer, grill, make all different types of sauces,” she said Wednesday, Feb. 3 during a break from work. “I enjoy baking a lot. Mrs. Maurais just gives me a recipe and is like, ‘Here you go.'”

Walker began an internship at Berry Fruit Farm last September. Owners Joel and Melissa Gilbert hired her in January.

Depending on her schedule, Walker works three days a week.

“Over the summer, they’re going to put me on 30 hours,” she said. “I bake a lot of the creme horns, make a lot of pie crust. I make salads. Today I made garlic knots, peeled and cut apples for pies.”

Berry Fruit Farm is a great environment to work in, Walker said.

“I like the people I’m working with,” she said. “Two years ago I worked at their farm picking strawberries, some cherries and a little bit of raspberries.”

“I’m just so proud of her,” co-worker Lauren Kidd said recently. “She’s an inspiration for other young people.”

Mackenzie Walker of Jay, a senior in the Life Skills program at SMHS, has been hired at Berry Fruit Farm in Livermore Falls. She is shown holding trays of creme horns and garlic knots, just some of the items she bakes there. Pam Harnden/Livermore Falls Advertiser Buy this Photo

“She’s a great kid, just a real hard working kid,” culinary arts instructor Sean Minear said in a recent phone interview. “She’s done a really good job of balancing work and school, working at least one day a week, doing that and keeping up with schoolwork in what has been a challenging school year.”

Walker’s love of cooking began in middle school, she said.

“We did a whole bunch of cooking there, so I wanted to follow through with it,” Walker said.

Diane Maurais is Walker’s Life Skills teacher.

“Mackenzie has been a dream to work with over the years,” Maurais said in a recent email. “I first met her as an extremely shy middle school student who was quiet and shy. In her high school years in the Life Skills Program she has blossomed into an outgoing, friendly, kind and hardworking goal driven young lady. Working with Transition (planning for life after high school) with Mackenzie and her family has been delightful. Mr. and Mrs. Walker are to be congratulated for being the kind of parents all kids should be lucky enough to have – caring and supportive.”

Teamwork has benefited Walker, Maurais wrote. Spencer Trenoweth through the Maine Department of Labor Vocational Rehabilitation program provided the funding for Berry Fruit Farm to employ her and train her to be a productive employee they are proud to work with, she noted.

“Melissa and Joel Gilbert have been amazing to work with and have built a local business from the ground up,” Maurais wrote. “Mackenzie is in her second year of culinary arts at Foster Tech at Mount Blue High School and has learned skills taught by Sean Minear that pushed her over the top and towards her success.”

In her first year in the program, Walker said she wasn’t sure of herself.

“I always asked for help on what to do,” she said. “Over the quarantine, I baked more at my house, then I got more confidence in myself. My teacher has noticed that a lot since last year.”

Walker’s goal is to bake in a small shop, Maurais noted.

“Berry Fruit Farm has made this dream come true,” she wrote. “In the Life Skills classroom I just give her a recipe and she works with other students to bake a tasty treat! Mackenzie has a huge heart and is a joy to work with.”

Balancing school and work responsibilities has been a bit challenging, Walker said.

“I’m getting everything done, even though some of it might be a tiny bit late,” she said. “After graduation on June 13, I’m going to try to do more baking here, follow through with culinary, which is what I’m doing right now.”

The plan is to go to trade school for two years, Walker said.

“As her teacher I will miss her when she graduates but I know where to find her!” Maurais continued. “This is what can happen when a student has determination and a team behind her!”

“We are thrilled to hire Mackenze Walker!” Joel Gilbert wrote in an email Monday. “She has been in training for a few months with us and we are so happy to have her on the team for the long haul. She has proven her potential and is a great team player in our kitchen.

“We are so thankful for Diane Maurais from RSU 73, Spencer Trenoweth from Voc. Rehab and all of those at Foster Tech who have helped introduce Mackenze to us!” he continued. “This is a win for our community!”

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