When I was a kid it was common for my peers and I to be commandeered as helpers in the family garden. Some people just had window boxes to worry about, but my parents were always keeners and we rented a duplex with a yard. Our back car stall was converted to a veggie garden and that became my number one summer chore. I learned quickly that gardening was not for the lazy, but I also learned that fresh peas and beans and carrots that I helped plant and water and pick were much tastier and more fun to eat than store-bought items. There wasn’t a farmers’ market where I grew up, but I did learn about where food came from at an early age.
For the past five weeks I have been working with local chefs as part of a program that helps kids today learn how much fun food can be. Growing Chefs was started in Vancouver in 2005 as a way to transmit the knowledge and share the passion of chefs and growers to kids in urban settings. This is the second year for the program in Kelowna and classes in Comox and all areas of the Lower Mainland are participating as well. Last year over 120 volunteers helped 850 students to experience the fun of growing their own food.
In a regular classroom we can only do so much, so I hope that the spark has been ignited for these kids. Maybe they will ask a grown up to take them to a farmers’ market or stop at a fruit stand. Perhaps they will try growing plants in a patio pot or on a windowsill. Hopefully the flavours excited them enough to make them want to explore with their tastebuds too. Today we made salad dressing from scratch and had them choose ingredients from a salad bar we set up. I loved seeing them – some liked the taste of the dressing on mixed greens, others liked grated beets and carrots, and then there were some who liked the crunchy sunflower and pumpkin seeds. The best part was seeing almost the whole class excited about salad – imagine that!
At Rabbit Hollow this summer we’re going to explore the farm-to-table idea with families in some of our events. We will literally take ingredients from the farm to the table, picking them fresh and then working with them in our backyard kitchen and tasting them at the harvest table. Parents and kids will be encouraged (even pushed if necessary) to work together and play with their food. We hope they will find out that it’s more fun (and tastier) than opening a box from the freezer.
We can all do our part to contribute to a sustainable environment and a life eating real food. Simple things like visiting the markets in summer will open your eyes to local wonders, I promise you!
If you have kids, maybe we’ll see you at Rabbit Hollow this summer (just contact me if you want more information). If you are interested to volunteer for Growing Chefs you can check out their website; they also have great information on planting suggestions for the urban gardener. And if you’re just a big kid like me, then perhaps I’ll see you at one of the local markets or fruit stands. Check out Soil Mate if you are looking for places and ways to connect with fresh food in the Okanagan.