Growing Chefs! A Curriculum Beyond the Classroom

Since moving to Vancouver Island, where food grows everywhere, our backyard has become a mini agricultural project.

As a family, we have spent the last year and a half gardening, growing, harvesting and eating. Our kids have learned so much about the beginning, middle and end of the growing cycle and they love to cook what they grow. They have become little chefs.

We noticed early on into our agricultural venture that our young kids were eager to learn about food. There has never been a more critical time for children and our communities to become more ‘food literate’, to know where real food comes from, what to do with it and to develop valuable skills for growing food in the future.

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So, when I saw the Growing Chefs! Chefs for Children’s Urban Agriculture tent at the Feast of Fields in Metchosin a few weeks ago, I got extremely excited about their innovative and visionary idea. You see, Growing Chefs! takes urban agriculture right into the classroom and onto the windowsill – no garden beds or ideal outdoor conditions required – and they teach kids about the food system.

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The Growing Chefs! Program

Merri Schwartz, a professional chef, started Growing Chefs! 11 years ago. Her vision was to increase food knowledge in her community where she found children and families had limited access to fresh, local food as well as limited knowledge about food. In fact, some of the children that took part in the Growing Chefs! curriculum had never eaten vegetables before.

Growing Chefs! In the Classroom

In 2005, Growing Chefs! took their food curriculum into two classrooms at a local elementary school. The demand for their volunteers and curriculum has been growing ever since.

According to Amanda Adams, Growing Chefs! Program Coordinator, requests for their program mainly come from teachers and parents who see the tremendous value of such a curriculum for their children.

In 2016, schools all over Metro Vancouver, two schools in Victoria and in Kelowna are working with Growing Chefs!; a total of 43 schools and 47 classrooms. During the past school year, they reached 1500 kids with 150 volunteers.

Not only is Growing Chefs! a brilliant idea that impacts whole communities and provides knowledge and skills that can last a life time, it is highly relevant because British Columbia’s Ministry of Education chose to exclude ‘food literacy’ from the curriculum.

The Volunteers

Volunteers are the ones that make this program happen in the schools. They come from many walks of life and include professional chefs, home cooks, food enthusiasts, front of house staff, and retired teachers. Growing Chefs! provides full training for their volunteers who commit to teaching 4 hours per month.

Growing Chefs! Volunteers

The Curriculum

The Growing Chefs! curriculum has evolved and been refined over the 11 years. It consists of 7 lessons that build upon one another. Students plant a garden in their classroom and the growing cycle is set into motion.

They learn all about food and where it comes from including seed identification, parts of plants, urban agriculture, nutrition, recipes, basic knife skills (with supervision) and full cooking lessons where a corner of the classroom is converted into a kitchen.

Amanda Adams shared that Growing Chefs! is making a difference in the lives of the students who take part in this program.

“Kids are excited, inspired and willing to put their new skills to use outside of school. They are also much more willing to try the food they have grown themselves and demonstrate an increased understanding of healthy food choices and what eating healthy looks and tastes like.”

Gardening is so easily tied to the standard curriculum and provides such a functional, hands on way of pulling curriculum and real life together.

  • Students measure plants as they grow  
  • Count the leaves
  • Observe, discuss, illustrate and write about the growing cycle  
  • Learn about the parts of plants and their functions  
  • Read and comprehend recipes 
  • Measure ingredients 
  • Follow step-by-step instructions which involves planning and sequencing
  • Develop fine motor skills (knife skills)
  • Discuss, describe and write about their cooking experience 

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How Does It All Work

Anyone with an interest in teaching children about the food system can apply. Growing Chefs! accepts applications on a rolling basis – first come, first serve – with priority given to schools with children from lower income families.

Growing Chefs provides all the gardening and cooking materials.

Their main program is geared toward children in Grades 1 to 3 and goes from March to June. Growing Chefs! also has a Fall program for children in Grades 4 to 6. This program is more cooking based. Students learn about ‘food miles’ and receive more in depth cooking lessons such as food preservation and how to do a ‘quick pickle’.

A Foodie’s Fantasy – Harvest Kitchen Party Fundraiser for Growing Chefs!

Growing Chefs! is hosting their Farm to Forks Annual Fundraiser in the teaching kitchens of the Pacific Institute for Culinary Arts. Fifteen of Vancouver’s prominent chefs will prepare dishes featuring food from the the region’s best growers and producers. Each chef station will be paired with a local B.C. grower and producer as well as with a B.C. wine. There will be a silent auction as well as a raffle for a chance to win airfare for two in the WestJet world. Like I said, a Foodie’s Fantasy.

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