Stories From The Garden

The Why and Inspiration

Many people have wondered and asked about the inspiration behind Sprouting Chefs. What makes Sprouting Chefs different from a handful of other similar organizations.

My belief is that a school garden program functions best when it has been completely ingrained into the school community’s culture by engaging the students, staff and community. I believe that a school garden is most effective when it has been built as an outdoor classroom where students go to learn all their regular subjects: Math, Science, Social Studies, Art, Healthy Living and all the others.The school garden model for Sprouting Chefs has been The Edible Schoolyard Berkeley.

By ingraining the school community and fully engaging the students by giving them a voice about what they want to plant and what they want to cook has made a difference on how the garden is then respected and treated. There has been little or no vandalism for example. Students are eating better and wanting their parents to buy the ingredients from the cooking classes.

And why have I done what I’ve done? Who am I?

I consider myself a Sprouted Chef because I have become empowered by the skills I have learned in the kitchen at a young age. Helping my parents create fabulous meals at home and witnessing several of their gourmet group dinners, I started a passion for good food at a young age. It felt wonderful to cook and serve dinner to family and friends. I found my voice on the line of various restaurant kitchens in my early 20’s when my parents encouraged me to work in restaurants instead of going to school to become a chef. Good advice! I found my voice on the line as sometimes, the only girl on the line in the kitchen of a busy restaurant.

Empowerment also came when I was training to become a counselor at a summer camp. At 14, I was shy and reserved. But it was during a group conversation that the summer camp leader made everyone in the room stop and pay attention to what I was saying; essentially, seeing me and honouring what I had to say. This was life changing. In turn, I did my best to connect and honour the campers in my cabin at camp. At the end of a week, the campers walked taller and had this amazing self confidence.

Combining both passions of cooking and working with kids was sparked when I saw Alice Waters speaking about her Edible Schoolyard Berkeley program. The idea of creating something so beautiful as a school garden on what was once an asphalt surface or empty space in a school was enchanting to me. Knowing it would be a huge challenge and dream come true, I embarked on the journey to do the same in my own community of Burnaby BC in 2008.

In 2008, I planted the proverbial seed in the mind of the school’s principal and via a presentation made to the school’s PAC (Parent Advisory Committee). In 2010, the PAC had a secured a grant to build the garden…right around the time I closed down the non profit side of my business. In 2010 I became a parent in the school with my son entering Gr. 1, I headed the committee to oversee the project that is now heading into it’s 4th year. My son is now heading into Grade 4 and my daughter will be heading into the Gr.1 Mandarin Program of the school in September.

Engagement and Support – Building Community

Thriving vegetable garden

Having the garden built right by the playground means the students can literally watch their food grow before their eyes, play or hang out in the space and call it their own.

There is also a level of ownership that the students have towards the garden. When they see others not treating the garden as it should (kids standing in the soil, pulling out plants or disrespecting it in other ways…story to follow) they stand up for the garden. Garden Club allows them to have their voices heard and we follow through on what they see by reporting the issues back to the school’s principal.

Of all the critics and reasons not to create a school garden after 3 years of overseeing the program here’s my biggest take away. No this is not backed up by records and student assessment reports on the benefits of integrating the school curricula into the garden setting. This is just based on what I’ve witnessed, the principal has also witnessed and what various community members have told me.

Building a school garden project creates community. A school garden can be a platform to facilitate social responsibility, food security, environmental stewardship and health and wellness conversations with students as young as Kindergarten. When several parents, teen volunteers and students come together outside school hours every other week with an activity that does not involve competition but rather cooperation, you get a good sense of a community.

I always point out the trees in the forest. How there is not one tree that is larger than all the rest because all the bigger trees share their nutrients with the smaller ones. This to me, is community. At Garden Club, I remind the kids that is one of the true purposes of why we gather; to share what we know so others can grow as we have. When else in school are you able to have those conversations?

Has it improved their grades? I cannot say. But we are doing our best to measure that.

Has it improved the school’s population over all health? Again, that’s a hard one to measure. But does it count that several parents have told me they have kids who once did not eat vegetables at all who are now asking their parents to buy kale to make kale chips at home with them? Does that count? Does it count that a student who hated eating potatoes (she’d only eat MacDonald’s fries) now cooks roasted potatoes with garlic and rosemary for her entire family whenever she visits them for every family dinner? I think it does. These stories have been my measure of success.

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