Member Profile: Growing Chefs! Ontario

Things looking a bit different?
Nope, you're not on the wrong site – we're updating our look and content! Keep your eyes peeled for more changes!

Author: Stephanie

Posted: June 14, 2012

Categories: Edible Education Network / Featured Edible Education Network Members / GoodFoodBites / Member Profiles

By Agnes “BoB” Gentili
Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver has made headlines in recent years with his attempts to engage kids in healthier eating in and around London, England. But closer to home, London, Ontario’s finest chefs are getting the chance to do the same.

“The average chef would love to play that Jamie Oliver character for an hour,” says Andrew Fleet, executive director of Growing Chefs! Ontario. Growing Chefs! connects over 40 volunteer chefs with children in classrooms, after-school programs, and community groups to share their knowledge of nutrition, agriculture, cooking, and sustainability.

Growing Chefs! was founded in Vancouver, BC by Merri Schwartz, a pastry chef at C Restaurant. In 2008, when Andrew Fleet left C to move back to London, he decided to bring the  program with him. He ran the first workshop in his mother’s grade 3 classroom, showing the students how to grow vegetables in windowsill boxes, and how to cook with the food they grew. The students loved the program, and soon there were requests from teachers and chefs in and around the London area.

In today’s lesson, a grade 3 class learned how to make a healthy salad and stir fry from the lettuce, peas, and beans that have been growing in their classroom over the past few months. Beyond cooking

skills, the students are also taught about the biology of the vegetable plants, the purpose of roots, leaves, and flowers. “We’re teaching salad dressing in a math lesson of ratios and fractions,” explains Mr. Fleet.

At an after school program, eighteen grade 6-8 students learn to blanche vegetables for freezing. “They’re learning that it’s possible to eat locally year round.” At the recent Grickle Grass Festival at the London Regional Children’s Museum, Growing Chefs! participants made all the food for the festival’s 60 volunteers and catered a pop-up café for 450 concert-goers.

By the end of this year, 2500 children and youth, from kindergarten through high school, will have learned to make better choices about the food they eat through fun, hands-on programs, learning “not just with what goes onto their plates but where it comes from,” says Mr. Fleet. “Food is the single loudest voice that every one of us has. What’s on your plate is a mirror of your health.”

Growing on its success in London, the organization will be expanding over the coming years. “We’re in St. Thomas this year for classroom gardening,” says Mr. Fleet, and the program has had requests from Guelph, Sarnia, and Niagara Falls. Growing Chefs! Ontario has the tools and curriculum to train local champions to make the program successful in other communities around the province. “We need local community champions to recruit local volunteers and sponsors.”