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Growing Chefs! A Garden of Endless Potential

Posted by SVP Vancouver

With a desire to break down the kitchen walls and share the knowledge that is invaluable to every human, Merri Schwartz founded Growing Chefs! in 2005. Schwartz, a full-time professional pastry chef, had the idea to educate our most influential, our children, on the importance of food sustainability, nutrition, and local agriculture.

In 2006, Growing Chefs! piloted their unique Gardening and Cooking Program at two elementary schools in Vancouver. Four volunteer chefs helped launch the program, getting students excited about growing, cooking and eating healthy food.

It was a huge success and has been growing and evolving ever since.

The program runs from March to June each year. Volunteer chefs, dietitians, gardeners, and other food industry professional’s visit participating classrooms every two weeks, helping the students plant and tend to indoor vegetable gardens. Their curriculum also includes games, lessons, and activities focusing on plant growth, local and urban agriculture, sustainability, and nutrition. In the final weeks the students harvest their own vegetables and cook their  own delicious, healthy meals.

With the success of the program, Schwartz transitioned her role from Executive Director to Chair in 2010. A full-time Executive Director, Helen Stortini, was hired to focus on the program’s growth and within the first year was able to nearly double the number of schools and student participation.

The program is now offered in Vancouver, Burnaby, Surrey, North Vancouver, Richmond, Comox Valley, Victoria, and Kelowna with priority given to inner city schools with lower income families. In its 9th year, the program how has 120 chefs servicing 34 classrooms with 850 students in grades 1 through 6.

Over the past 12 months, while Growing Chefs! has worked on developing their SVP application, many SVP partners provided non-financial support to help increase the organization’s impact for 2014. Growing Chefs! is incredibly appreciative for the infinite wisdom and professional services of:

  • Strategic Planning – Steven Hill
  • Financial Modelling and Reporting – Christopher Morris
  • Board Member – Maria Pacella
  • Graphic Design – Shafin Diamond
  • Soil Transportation – John Zaplytynsky
  • Fundraising Committee – John Zaplytynsky
  • Lead Partner – Nick Bedford
  • Classroom Volunteer – Stania Bedford
  • Classroom Volunteer – Nancy Nelson
  • Salesforce Set up – Michelle Malpass

In addition to the talent capital, SVP has also been able to provide shared office space and assist with implementing a strong internal structure for committees and governance practices.

In April 2014, SVP Vancouver’s Investment Committee awarded Growing Chefs! a first-year grant of $40,000, inclusive of a $10,000 co-funding contribution from the Francis Family Foundation. The funds will help create and pay for a full-time program assistant and volunteer coordinator, a program equipment contractor and a fundraising contractor, as well as provide resources for developing an awareness campaign video for recruiting young chefs and cook volunteers.

“SVP’s involvement with Growing Chefs! has been invaluable and a huge help. We feel like we have grown up as an organization. We feel we are now moving from a start up to a fully functional small business. We wouldn’t have been able to achieve what we have this year without SVP. We’re excited to continue to build on our growth and expand our capacity with SVP by our side.” says Helen Stortini, Growing Chefs! Executive Director

Growing Chefs!  is on the path to plant more gardens and educate more kids about healthier eating in Metro Vancouver and help facilitate the same in other BC communities. For more information on how you can be directly involved, contact Executive Director, Helen Stortini.