About Sproutedchef

Visionary, Ground breaker of fertile young minds, Believer in Garden Fairies and Kitchen Angels, Empowering youth with skills in the kitchen or garden, Lover of Nature

Cooking for the Community at Forest Grove Elementary

One of the main goals of any school garden program is to grow food in a school garden that can be used in the school’s lunch program. I knew this from the very beginning of Sprouting Chefs but also knew that the size of our garden at Forest Grove was not nearly big enough to produce enough food for the whole school…or was it?

Sometimes monumental tasks take a different kind of thinking and approach.

The school garden grows a few things in abundance:

Kale, Chard, Salad Greens at certain times of the year, Tomatilos, Garlic and Herbs

All these ingredients if combined the right way with some supplements like pasta could create a meal that the community could enjoy.

In October 2016, the school was provided funding via the Metropolis at Metrotown Community Investment Fund that allowed Sprouting Chefs to provide support to the garden over the summer of 2016 to properly maintain, harvest and plant more crops for the Fall of 2016’s Cooking Classes as well as Spring Seed Gardening Classes and another set of Cooking Classes for the Primary Students.

With this in mind, there was an intention to finally connect the food growing in the garden with a lunch provided to the entire school…for FREE.

In the Spring of 2016, the school Principal, Al Post and I set out a plan that would create an event to connect the community to the garden and the food we are growing there. Event ideas ranged from a school market to having a guest speaker come in to speak about the importance of eating locally and seasonally. We engaged our partners at Whole Foods to provide what the garden could not as well as other community groups to be a part of this event.

Cooking Classes were to be provided to 5 Intermediate classes that would highlight a combination of what was available in the garden as well as what was seasonally and locally available. Recipes included: side dishes to serve at Thanksgiving, a food preservation class featuring the tomatillos and making the tomatilo salsa we normally sell at the Christmas Craft Fair which was not happening this year.

Ok, so part of the reason we really needed to create an event was to be able to sell the salsa at all since we grew and harvested so many tomatilos over the summer! Salsa was sold after school the day we had our lunch as expected, it sold out due to the fact the kids not only helped grow the tomatillos, they also helped make the salsa!

What I decided to do was to choose a handful of students out of these 5 classes that would then help me cook for the entire school at the end of the week. This actually worked really well to set the tone of the classes and create a good behavioral management tool for each class. By starting the class talking about the fact I was looking for students who demonstrated responsibility, leadership, a willingness to serve as well as strong cooking skills, the tone of the class dramatically shifted. At the end of each of the 5 classes, several students approached me to help out.

The easiest thing I could think of that would also incorporate what was available from the garden was a Tomato Pasta. Tomatoes were harvested and frozen, garlic was harvested and cured earlier in the summer and managed to hold very well until October. Salad greens, chard and kale could be used as a salad.

A donation of a gift card was provided by Whole Foods which allowed us to purchase ingredients for the 5 Cooking Classes as well as a few things needed for the end of week lunch. Pasta and canned tomatoes were donated by our friends at Ciolfi’s as well. Funding was provided to Sprouting Chefs in the Spring for whatever else was needed including disposables to serve the lunch.

In the end, about 25 students were chosen out of close to 100 kids. The recipe for the Tomato Pasta was broken down into tasks the kids could take on including: chopping onions, peeling and chopping garlic, cutting basil, grating cheese, making the tomato sauce, harvesting salad greens from the garden, making a dressing for the salad, serving the meal to the students in the school as well as clearing and cleaning.

The Hot Lunch Coordinator of the school provided the parent volunteers needed to help in the kitchen and set up the school gym. Two seating times were chosen to serve half the school at 11:30 am and the other half at noon.

Focus was placed on the students helping where they would do most of the food preparation and cooking while the parents provided the set up and support. This allowed the an opportunity for the kids from the Cooking Classes a real chance to shine. It was amazing to see how many kids wanted to stay for the entire event to not only help with the food preparation but also the clean up too!

There was a real sense of school community pride that was created as a result. For every child that didn’t necessarily like the lunch for one reason or another, there were many children who came up and asked for seconds, thirds and fourth helpings. Only one student asked for plain pasta so all the others had pasta with the tomato sauce.

What I do regret was not speaking at the event when I had the chance. Overwhelmed by the day and not having anything prepared, I can reflect back now and be able to at least say I am most proud of all the kids that happily and willingly participated, who served with the true sense of generosity where they did not expect anything in return. I am proud that despite not knowing exactly how much to make, if we had enough at all or if it would not work out, that faith in the school community and the intention of providing this meal carried me through.

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Will we do it again? I really hope so. Will it be the same recipe? Perhaps but with a new batch of equally eager students ready to shine their light into the world through the creation of a meal.

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What to do with Tomatoes! Tomato Sauce and Tomato Crostinnis

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With Summer starting a bit late this year due to a cooler July 2016, tomatoes are at their peak now in September when normally, the peak season would be August. Our crops at Forest Grove Elementary are doing really well under our hoop house which is also protecting them from late season blight. Even the random plants growing without being under the protection of the hoop house are also doing quite well.

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We’ve been harvesting a variety of tomatoes including: pear, grape, cherry and a larger sized tomato. Sounds more like fruit which reminds me to say that tomatoes are in fact fruit as the come from a flower. Our crops have been really tasty and sweet too.

So what is the best way to enjoy tomatoes? I have two suggestions right from the mouths of our kids at Forest Grove. Our two most popular recipes to how to enjoy tomatoes, one using uncooked simple ingredients crostinniwithtomatobasil (link to video) and one using tomatoes in a freshtomatosauceforpasta.

Fresh Tomatoes on Crostinni 

Harvest as many different kinds of fresh tomatoes as you can

Cut a baguette on an angle and spread out on a baking sheet to crisp up

Paint each piece of bread with olive oil and bake in a 375 degree oven for about 8 mins

Rub each piece of toasted baguette with a clove of raw garlic. NOTE: be careful not to rub too much garlic on each piece as it will taste quite “spicy” to kids.

Cut up fresh tomatoes into small pieces; small enough to fit on to each piece of bread.

Combine the cut up tomatoes, chopped basil, olive oil, salt & pepper with a splash of balsamic vinegar into a bowl.

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When crostinni toasts have cooled, add the tomato topping on to each piece along with some grated Parmesan cheese.

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Serve immediately as a starter or appetizer.

Also try roasting peppers add instead of tomatoes.

If you can’t enjoy the tomatoes right away or have a bumper crop where you have an abundance, consider freezing some of your crops in a large ziploc bag. This works really well if you would like to make tomato sauce later in the year. We are doing this at Forest Grove since the tomatoes are ready faster than our cooking classes will start.

Speaking of cooking classes and cooking tomatoes, our recipe for a basic tomato sauce has been a real hit with the kids. My own daughter has perfected the recipe recently at age 9 after practicing several times over the summer. It’s made her feel super proud to be able to cook for her family !

Basic Tomato Sauce

The recipe I use stems from a combination of my Foods 11 and 12 classes in  high school when I was taught by a young Italian teacher as well as watching other Italian cooking shows. I find using simple fresh ingredients and only a few ingredients helps kids remember too.

We also do a version with canned tomatoes which can be cooked down and reduced into a pizza sauce. Simply subsitute the canned tomatoes for the fresh and prepare the below recipe the same way.

For the fresh tomato version, start with peeling and slicing about 6 large cloves of garlic

On the same cutting board with the same knife, cut up 4 to 6 vine ripened tomatoes in 6 pieces per half tomato to transfer the flavour of the garlic.

Once your garlic is sliced, add the garlic to a cold pan with about 4 tablespoons of olive oil

As the pan heats up, add a few pinches of red chilli flakes

There is a debate about whether to allow the garlic to brown. To me, allowing the garlic to brown just slightly around the edges really improves the flavour of the sauce.

Once the garlic has started to brown a bit, add the cut up tomatoes. NOTE: this is the part where the pan will spit as the juice from the tomatoes hits the hot oil. This can scare some kids so warn them ahead of time.

Sprinkle the tomatoes with sea salt and dried oregano. If you have fresh oregano, add it closer to the end of the sauce.

Allow the sauce to cook and reduce slightly. When sauce has reduced a bit, add fresh chopped basil which should also be still growing nicely around BC. Amazingly, I found a huge bunch of basil at a local produce market for only $1.79!

This is when your pasta should be almost done. Instead of draining the pasta, I prefer to remove the pasta with tongs or a slotted spoon and add it to the pan along with some pasta water.

Toss the sauce together with the pasta and serve with freshly grated parmesan cheese. Kids will never go back to the jarred stuff again. I promise!

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Summer Sets, Autumn Rises: Summer Re Cap and Back to School Reconnection

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Summer Cooking Camps, Garden Work Bees, Campers, Volunteers, Seed and Good Times

There has been a ton to reflect on in the last two months. It was the first time Sprouting Chefs was back in the gardens cooking with kids in the summer since 2010 and to be honest, I was a mix of excited and scared which are both the same feeling funny enough. Excited to be fulfilling the part of our program that answers the question of “what to do in the summer with school gardens” and scared a bit wondering if I could pull it off again.

All worthy thoughts looking back now. The camps filled up nicely with an age range of children from 7 years old to 13 years old in scattered weeks through the summer. We had access to use the Community Room at Lochdale Community School which had a lovely school garden I had planted out in the Spring of 2016 with the school. I was familiar with the space and a few of the kids too.

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A few goals of the Summer Cooking Camp: to harvest and cook with the food growing in the school garden, to highlight local seasonal ingredients available in BC, to teach at least 10 basic recipes to children that they can then use at home with their families, to instill a sense of confidence and empowerment within each child.

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From Asian Salad Rolls, Roasted Chicken (as seen in the photo above!), Pastas, Salads, Wraps and Infused Waters, we did it all plus a few more depending on the group. Also new this year was taking the groups to Whole Food to learn how to shop on a budget. The older group, 10 to 13 yr olds, learned how to either work together in groups or shop individually with only $5 each to then create a recipe when they returned to camp. It was awesome to see the final creations which included: Tomato Lentil Soup, A Crostinni Hors D’Ouerve with Chicken Sausage, Avacado and Cheese, French Toast, and a Fruit Crisp too. It was great to have a handful of new volunteers and a couple of fabulous staff to help me manage the various degrees of organized chaos. Chase Ando and Valerie Song from AVA Gardens brought in their enthusasim, energy and passion for food during the week with the older kids. We all had a blast!

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In between all the camps, Sprouting Chefs was also funded to oversee and maintain the Forest Grove School Garden during the summer.

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Bursting with life at every turn, Garden Work Bees ranged in activities from watering, harvesting both crops and seeds, planting out more crops, composting and weeding.

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Families from the school’s Garden Club, Forest Grove Alumni and a handful of volunteers from BDO, a new corporate sponsor all came out throughout the summer. Many folks ask how to care for a school garden during the summer and what has been working really well for a handful of schools Sprouting Chefs oversees is a simple volunteer schedule that gets created just before school ends. Parents from the Garden Clubs are asked to sign up for a week to water and care for the garden. In the end, only about 9 families are needed and the families feel really good about caring for the garden and helping their community.

What is needed to maintain a school garden in the summer: access to a hose and water source, someone coordinating the transition between the families usually via email, and a strong knowledge of what each garden space needs. Some of the Forest Grove Families took on more than 1 week, their dedication and commitment to the garden was that strong.

Always in the back of my mind as the summer days passed was the fact the kids in the school would be back soon and to make sure there was something for them to discover and admire about what they had planted in the spring.

Garlic was harvested in July and cured for the Fall Cooking Classes, the Labyrinth was redefined as the grass had grown in and the front garden area was thoroughly watered and weeded all ready for the kids to enjoy again.

When it comes to fall and preparing for the new school year in the garden, the biggest crop and excitement is around our tomatillos. For the past few years now, the kids at Forest Grove have been learning about preserving and then selling Roasted Tomatillo Salsa at the school’s Christmas Craft Fair. Out of the sales and interest, the students then estimate how many more new crops to plant for the following year.

Sadly, the Christmas Craft Fair is not going ahead this year so Garden Club will be creating the salsa to sell to the community  in another way; either via the Burnaby Farmer’s Market or at the upcoming Fall Community Event we are creating with the school.

The Fall Community Event will be a set of 6 in school Cooking Classes with the Intermediate students ending with a celebration where the school community and a few local community groups will come together for a lunch. Another exciting and new adventure for Sprouting Chefs as a pilot project that may become an event other schools can also create with our help.

 

Herbs 101 – Top 6 Herbs for a Kitchen Garden

Herbs 101 – Mediterranean Herbs

A base for cooking to not only enhance the flavour of any dish, herbs can also be beneficial for your health adding much needed antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. Herbs added to any dish can also culturally identify your dish from adding fresh cilantro to a Mexican salsa to adding methi or fenugreek to an Indian curry recipe. Because there are so many varieties of herbs, I will just focus on the basic perennials in this article. Look for future articles when I will speak about the annual herbs such as parsley, arugula, cilantro, and basil.

Growing Herbs Indoors

This new fad of either growing container gardens on patios and decks to having a window sill garden inside is a fad that is definitely here to stay once you know how to do it and how to grow enough for you or your family. There are a variety of herbs that do well outdoors in BC in the late spring and summer that can then be brought inside. One major tip I do have to share is that if you are impatient like me, growing “woody” herbs from seeds takes way too long. Buy woody herbs as in the below listed, as established plants and plant in your containers at home.

Here are some herbs you are best to purchase as “established plants” from your favourite garden store such as Gardenworks or a local nursery like Cedar Rim Nursery.  The below listed herbs are all perennials, meaning, they will grow back year after year and at the same time, are a must for any aspiring cook. One really good rule of thumb when growing herbs is that herbs that taste good together often grow well together. Similarly, if a recipe calls for tomatoes, basil and oregano, all three can also grow well together too.

  • Lavender – used for calming, drying out for sachets and potpourris, adding to sugar for baking or decorative. There are several varieties of lavender so make sure you take your time to get to know which one you like. Some are great for their blooms but have no fragrance some are grown just for their fragrance but need lots of space to thrive. If you want your lavender to really do well, consider growing in the ground rather than a pot as it likes to spread and has a deep root system.
  • DSC_1473 Harvesting: Harvest the blooms just before they open, when they are on the more vibrant coloured side. They are at their most potent at this point and will really transfer their aromas well. Hang upside down to dry and then carefully pluck off the buds. Transfer into a jar of sugar with a vanilla pod for added flavour. Leave for up to 3 days before using in baking. Or add the buds to sachets and place in the opening of a window near your bed or under your pillow for a wonderful night’s sleep!

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    • Cooking/Baking: what I’ve discovered baking with lavender infused sugar is the flavour combination of lavender, lemon and vanilla works so well together. Consider baking vanilla cupcakes using lavender infused sugar and icing with a lemon buttercream. Delish!
    • Growing Needs: lots of sun and little water as it is a plant that thrives in drier climates like the Sunshine Coast and the South of France. Once established the plant is very hardy and can withstand wind, dry soil and high heat. Water minimally.
  • Rosemary – I love to plant rosemary and lavender side by side because both thrive in similar conditions and together they demonstrate the opposite healing benefits as Rosemary is great for energizing you, clearing your mind and retaining memory and lavender is for calming. Rosemary is also an antibacterial herb so it along with lavender is great to plant in any school garden! With colds running repent throughout the year, make sure you show the health benefits of rubbing it on a child’s hands instead of using sanitizer!
    • Cooking- use with RoastedNewPotatoes and any other root vegetable. Add rosemary fresh near the end of roasting veggies. Stuff inside poultry to enhance the flavour. Use the woody stems of the rosemary as skewers for grilling. Use a bundle of rosemary as a brush to brush on olive oil to meat grilling on the bbq. Rosemary is a very strong herb so use it sparingly in dressings and marinades. Best with lamb, chicken, beef and any stronger flavoured meats.
    • Growing Needs – as with lavender, rosemary thrives in well drained soil with about a quarter to a third mix of sand as it is a Mediterranean herb. In the right conditions, rosemary can thrive and actually be used as hedging. At home in a pot, make sure you bring your plant in when the weather cools over night. Place in a sunny spot inside to over winter. Cut back sparingly during the fall and winter as growing tends to slow down.RosemaryPot
  • Sage – also highly reccomended to purchase as an established plant as it’s stems are quite woody, sage does really well growing among the listed herbs. Along with rosemary, sage helps to enhance memory and clear the mind. Smudging with a combination of dried sage, cedar, lavender and rosemary is also seen as a way to clear energy around home spaces. The sage we grew at the Forest Grove School Garden, grew so big, we actually took half of it to another school. Sadly, the plant did not like this at all and did not survive so be cautious when cutting sage back or transplanting.

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  • Cooking – Sage does really well with poultry. Using it dried in your stuffing mix, fresh stalks in your turkey brine or stuffing whole stems and leaves into the cavity of the bird enhances the flavour so well. Consider also taking leaves of the sage and placing between the skin and the flesh of the bird. For the vegetarians out there, sage sizzling in a pan of butter before sauteeing butternut squash cut nice and small also makes for a very delicious fall dish. Serve on top of pasta finished with some ricotta cheese and you have a meal fit for any dinner guest.
  • Growing Needs: as mentioned, sage will thrive in a large growing space and needs little tending to over the summer months. Plant in well draining soil with a bit of sand and allow for the root system to grow deep and wide. Water less than you would other plants in your garden. In our second or third year of growing our sage at the school garden, the plant produced beautiful purple flowers which attracted bees like crazy to our garden.

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  • Oregano – is part of the mint family and as such, can grow back prolifically. It’s definitely a must for growing A Pizza Garden. Oregano oil is used as an antibacterial and lately to fight flus and colds. Use sparingly however as it can be quite strong for young children. In fact, the best way to administer oregano oil for young children is rubbing it on the soles of their feet.
    • Cooking – use dried oregano at the start of any recipe. For example, after adding garlic to olive oil in a warm pan, add dried oregano before adding tomatoes to enhance the flavour. Opposing, add fresh oregano at the end of cooking a tomato sauce but use less as it will be stronger. Pluck off leaves of the oregano from the woody stems, chop finely and add to any dish. Use the whole stems and leaves to stuff into poultry, marinades for beef or lamb.
    • Growing Needs – when the oregano has started to bloom its tiny purple flowers that is a sign your oregano is close to being ready. There are several varieties of oregano, but all cooks agree, using the plants leaves when fresh or cutting the plant back and drying out the plant after the flowers have bloomed to use later is best. Cut the plant back at the base of the stems in late summer and after the flowers are finished blooming, tie up and hang upside down until the plant has dried out. Store in a paper bag to use throughout the year.
    • Bring oregano inside when the weather starts to cool overnight. Or leave it in your garden over the winter and it will come back in the Spring.

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  • Thyme – although a small plant normally, thyme also has very woody stems. When I say “woody” too it means its best not to use the stems when you are cooking. Folks don’t normally like chewing up the stems of these plants. When using thyme, pull off the leaves going down the stem from top to bottom. The leaves are usually so small that it isn’t necessary to chop up. There are several varieties of thyme including: lemon, purple and the standard variety. It can also be used as a ground cover and is very soft and plush for sensory gardens for children. A very hardy plant, it’s a great addition to any outdoor box or garden that needs something low laying as it does not grow very tall. In fact, our thyme is buried right now underneath some marigold plants…sigh!
    • Cooking – use fresh in salad dressings with lemon and olive oil or as marinades for chicken or fish. Dried thyme is one of my pantry basics because it can be added to any sauce or gravy to enhance flavour. Fresh thyme when used often is harder to grow back so use sparingly in cooking.
    • Growing Needs: Thyme definitely does fine in pots on a patio mixed in with oregano and chives. It actually looks quite nice together as the chives tend to be taller with the thyme filling in the bottom of the pot. Choose soil that drains well and is has plenty of organic compost. Thyme needs less water than most plants. When watering, allow plant to be well drained before watering again. As mentioned previously, this is a slow growing plant so unless you have an abundance use fresh thyme sparingly. It is a strong flavoured herb so you don’t need too much anyway.

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  • Chives: Although not a “woody” plant, this one does fall under the perennial category as it is an easy one to grow and have continuously coming back. It always makes me giggle how much children love this plant too. I’ve had 3 yr olds come to the garden, chew on it and calm right down after a tantrum. Every year when we ask what we should grow in our garden, there is always a student who says “CHIVES!” No matter how strong in onion flavour these taste, kids just love it. And so do the bees. What is really cool is you can also use the flowers of the chives to add in salads for flavour and flare. Once the chive flowers have finished blooming, dry out and almost fall off, look for the tiny black seeds that are within the petals. These can be saved to grow or share.
    • Cooking: use the stems or the flowers of the chives in any recipe that calls for a mild onion flavour. Traditionally, chives go best with sour cream and baked potatoes, chopped into salads, finely chopped and added to smoked salmon or used the whole length of a the stem to wrap around and bundle together a bunch of herbs. Chives often show up in the arsenal of a chef as a garnish with their long spikey look.
    • Growing Needs: cut chives back to the base of the plant in late fall. Harvest the dried flowers for the seeds and save to re plant or share with others. Once the plant is cut back, over winter the plant by either bringing it inside for the cold months or placing under a plastic covering, with leaf mulch to protect against frost in a pot. In early spring, you should start to see the plant growing back. Once this starts to happen and the temperature reaches 10 degrees on a regular basis, bring the pot back out in a sunny area. Flowers start to develop around April or May and can attract beneficial pollinators such as bees and butterflies to your garden.

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How Wayne Dyer Has Influenced Sprouting Chefs

With the passing of Wayne Dyer this week, I have felt called to speak about how his teachings have influenced what we do at Sprouting Chefs. Although we focus on garden programs in schools, a main ingredient we like to foster is the love within us and all around us. How if we truly love ourselves, each other and the planet, we are more likely to eat well, live well and foster an ongoing love for the planet.

One of the most important influences I have taken from Wayne Dyer and then tried to translate back to the children I encounter is that we are not our bodies. We are not our “stuff”, We are not our careers even. We are that which never changes. We are love. We are light. We are unique and special just being who we are. And that is enough.

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Creating a legacy, something for my children and the children of the community has been a personal mission of mine when it comes to school gardens. A place where we do not only learn about food and nature,science and math, but where we can learn about ourselves and how we can better interact with ourselves and each other.

I am definitely not the perfect parent. I don’t always say the best things in the right way. Garden Club however, gives me a chance to right things; to speak about deep truths with kindness like the virtues of Love, Forgiveness, Service, Compassion and Patience. After all, we teach what we most need to learn.

I have to learn Patience when 5 children are asking me a variety of questions at the same time.

I have learned Forgiveness when a group of children, including my own son and daughter, choose to wander away from the garden and not participate rather than help out. In the end, this is my path and not theirs. Having them help when they genuinely want to, serves us all and feels better too!

I have had to learn Compassion when a group of Grade 4 students are heartbroken over loosing their asparagus crop. In the same moment, I get to witness Gratitude when they hear about a school garden project in Maine that want to help them. We are all connected.

And I constantly learn about Service and what it means to give without expecting anything in return. Wayne Dyer says himself that “the purpose of life is to give. The purpose of life is to enrich the life of others. The measure of your life will not be in the duration of your life but measured in the donation of your life. The more you give away, the more that comes back.”  I see it all the time at Garden Club and during the Summer Work Bees with all the families and teen volunteers coming to help. I always encourage them to take a bag of veggies or herbs from the garden as a token of thanks and quite often, they turn the gifts down. Ok, maybe they don’t actually like squash or beans but I see them coming to help with open hearts and from a place of genuine giving of themselves to service their community and less of wanting anything back in return.

When asked recently why two former students of Forest Grove come to Garden Club they had this to say:

Donald, age 12 “What made me wanting to come back to garden club, was the sheer amount of things I was able to do, the people to talk to, learn more about plants and do something for the school.”

From his older sister, Jesse, age 17 who was also a former student from Forest Grove “Community involvement and the fact that I got to learn new things every time! I love how I could interact with a variety of people that I usually would not get a chance to meet at all. I also got to learn so much about gardening that I could immediately apply to my garden back home and also learn general knowledge about gardening I could tell my friends and family about too!”
There have been times when I have wanted to give up on this dream and questioned my purpose.

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Hearing Wayne speak about the lessons we learn along the way, despite the mistakes or obstacles, we need to see them as opportunities for growth shifts you away from feeling sorry for yourself “a victim” into a mindset of a student. I had the opportunity to hear him speak at an I Can Do It Conference in 2012. He was amazing. Time flew in the two hours that he spoke. How is it possible for me as a mother or teacher in life to help children get over their mistakes if I can’t get over mine? Children are always reflecting back what is deep inside of us; whether we like the reflections or not too. Even in the lowest times, it is a choice to see the light, to see the lesson and to grow from it.

A part of this journey for me has been to reflect on the various teachings of new thought leaders. Wayne Dyer has been one of the main models to look to when it comes to knowing your worth, defining who you are, creating positive affirmations and living life with intention. Children, especially in a garden setting, are wide open to these ideas. Gathering them together outside at a labyrinth or a food garden, are easy places for children to see how they can make a difference, what an “intention” really is and how to turn a negative thought into a positive affirmation. We have to have an intention before we create a garden. Although mistakes happen, we can turn the mistake or misfortune into a positive lesson as in the time when we lost our asparagus or when someone kept taking our colourful Swiss chard out of the garden.

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What has amazed me is that there have even been some students who know what the Law of Attraction is. When speaking to them about the labyrinth and what it has been for, they understand the concept almost completely because somewhere in their short lives, they have been shown or told about the Law of Attraction.  They are open to the idea that you not only attract what you want but the Law of Attraction is also about attracting what you are. I have taught the kids before walking the labyrinth that if you are in a happy mood and want to continue to be happy, walk the labyrinth to amplify this in your life. If you are sad about something but have the intention to want to let it go, you can also do this when you walk the labyrinth and have the intention to be at peace. This is why we have the various virtues posted around our garden and why we would like to finish our labyrinth project with 4 reflection stations with the words: Love, Gratitude, Peace and Forgiveness.

How blessed am I to have the opportunity at all to have these deep profound conversations with children? How blessed am I to create a wonderful outdoor teaching tool such as a school garden or walking labyrinth at a school and to bring these lessons to open minded children? Very.

What I know in my heart is that there is actually little sadness for the passing of Wayne Dyer. I know he has lived his life fully, on purpose and with so much love. He has given in complete service to the world his wisdom and thoughts. He himself has said he was not a perfect person, husband or father. “My goal is not to be better than anyone else, but to be better than I used to be.” Isn’t this what we should all strive for?

Although he is gone, so much of what he taught, a real legacy will always remain and this was his ultimate teaching anyway that life is not permanent, not perfect but ever changing. Who he was is that that never changes. Love. He is love, he gave love and I bet he is receiving an abundance of love still. Just as a garden is constantly changing, what always remains are the people who continue to care for it with love. This is my hope anyway.

Thank you Wayne for sharing your light and your love! Onwards!

Smells Like Teen Spirit – Environmentors

Teens these days can get a bad rap. I for one, as a mother of younger children, have the odd fear that my kids are going to grow up in world infused with social media mixed messages, over sexed marketing schemes and that whatever the Kardashins are doing is the trend.

Sure the media tends to highlight the worst case scenarios. But what if we start a movement that changes things by highlighting all the teens that are setting out to “be the change they want the world to see”. One of my biggest pet peeves is also this “anti-bullying movement”. Sure this is a good thing to promote “anti-bullying” but we’re still using the word “bullying” and I would rather see a movement that focuses on Kindness, Compassion and Peace and the children who are examples of that.

From the very beginning of the Forest Grove School Garden Project, I have felt that children learn more from other empowered youth and teens who are just slightly older than they are. The garden has allowed an opportunity to let the youth in our community shine. I have witnessed the power of influence when a 14 year old shows a 7 year old how to do something simple like use a drill. And when that 14 year old uses a drill to attach a sign of virtue on to a school garden with the words: “Patience”, “Trust”, “Compassion” or “Forgiveness”, well, you can only hope that some of these virtues seep into their consciousness.

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Although the Forest Grove School Garden is a project that takes place at an elementary school, I felt it was important to include other generations of students in the project. Not only can the lessons learned in the classroom transcend into nature’s outdoor classroom making them real and effective, there was also a need to include the rest of the school community to ensure the project was a success. If other community members were involved, especially those who were about to graduate from the school and go on to high school, there was less chance of vandalism because there was a sense of ownership and care over the project. Grade 7 students therefore were vital to the build of the school garden.

A Grade 7 student getting guidance from our friends at Home Depot who funded the school garden build at Forest Grove.

A Grade 7 student getting guidance from our friends at Home Depot who funded the school garden build at Forest Grove.

The student featured in this photo has gone on to programs in the field of trades after his Grade 9 year and now is enjoying an apprenticeship with a construction company. Coincidence? Or did being a part of building the garden spark an interest in him?

Once the garden was built, it was time for the parents and champions of the project to take a step back and hand over some responsibilities to the students themselves as well as reaching out to high school students who might be interested in helping sustain the garden; creating a bridge into the community via the garden. The answer was given to us in the form of an amazing group of teens called the Burnaby Youth Sustainability Network. This is a group that was formed from the passion of two Grade 11 students in 2010. Every month the teens gather together students from all 7 local Burnaby high schools to discuss matters regarding: recycling, water conservation, sustainability, waste management and now, school gardens. They continued to expand this network by evolving a group in Ontario and now there is even a national network of youth for sustainability. They were and still are a natural fit to reach out to.

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The group has received awards in Environmental Stewardship and Youth Leadership via the City of Burnaby. Just look at them! I’m inspired by how tall and proud they are standing J

Creating the After School Garden Club was the answer to several issues about sustaining a school garden. The Garden Club is a group that is made up of students within the school from K to Grade 7, (K to Gr. 2 students must come with a parent or guardian) to water, weed, harvest and maintain the garden space. Leading this group with various organic methods and principles, I placed myself in charge. But leading a group of sometimes 20 plus students on my own with a handful of parents can also be quite challenging. Enlisting the help of the teens was a natural answer.

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Teens are given some direction and then asked to help younger students with various duties around the garden like using clippers or cutting down big sunflower stalks in the fall. Watching them work together with the younger students is definitely a sight to behold. There is sometimes a bit of hesitation on both parts but after awhile, the groups find a flow that might only last a few minutes but a connection has been made.

An Outdoor Education Program was another group that we reached out to who responded by helping us with our Fall Harvest and Clean Up. There must have been at least 20 students who came to help with this activity. Although this was an organized after school group lead by a teacher, they still came with enthusiastic hearts and genuinely wanted to help.

Students from the Burnaby Mountain Secondary Outdoor Ed Club who happened to be international students this year as well, helping us out for our fall harvest event.

Students from the Burnaby Mountain Secondary Outdoor Ed Club who happened to be international students this year as well, helping us out for our fall harvest event.

Summertime is also a time during a school garden project that can be a challenge. Who will water the garden over the summer? What do you do with the food that has grown in the garden?

This year like many other years before, I have led various Summer Work Bees with the school community. We have met on Wednesdays and Saturdays throughout the summer to tend to the garden space. We have also set up a watering schedule with the parents and families of the Garden Club. Having a list of emails collected from registration forms in the beginning of each year is quite valuable to continue to reach out to families throughout the whole year.

What has been special about this year is that the leader of the BYSN reached out to me in June before school ended to ask if their group could help in any way. Facebook and social media have been our main lines of communication. If you are going to connect with teens, know how they communicate and social media is probably the main method, more so than emailing and second to texting. After reaching out to me via Facebook, I responded with the list of dates for each Summer Work Bee. A few days later, she let me know that after sending the dates out to her group, we now had teen volunteers for each date. Remember, these are teens who may be attending summer school during the summer, have social lives, are meant to be relaxing and lazing around pools but choose to volunteer their time…to garden!  I had a few doubts but because we had already established a relationship with the group itself, seeing the first group of eager teens including the leader herself, for the first Summer Work Bee still warmed my heart.

Summer Work Bee Crew -Salina, Ariel, Alice, Laura, Jeremy and Alexa

Summer Work Bee Crew -Salina, Ariel, Alice, Laura, Jeremy and Alexa

They genuinely want to help in some way even if it’s just watering, weeding, thinning out beets or harvesting kale seeds. I have had 10 different teens arrive on a Saturday morning in the summer from 5 different Burnaby high schools including Burnaby South which is at least 2 or 3 bus rides away from Forest Grove.

Harvesting kale seeds in the shade and lavender in the sun. Many hands make light work...

Harvesting kale seeds in the shade and lavender in the sun. Many hands make light work…

Of course these Work Bees end up going quite quickly with all these extra hands. When there is time left after the “work” is completed, I encourage the teens to ask me questions regarding their own gardens and they do. We’ve discussed composting, what grows well in containers, what can grow all year round and what you should purchase as established plants. There is a genuine curiosity here.

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I guess my main intention as September creeps ever so close and some of these youth will also be heading off into universities is that this blog reaches them and they feel heard, seen and appreciated. I don’t always get the chance to properly thank them, honor them for what they do and most of all, encourage them not to stop caring for the world we live in, the lives they touch and the difference they are making. By showing up in life, showing up to volunteer with us and maybe only have a brief moment or two with a younger student, they too are planting seeds in the gardens but also in the minds of the younger kids they interact with. Seeds that might grow into an idea that helping the environment is a cool thing to do as is serving the community.

So to Jennifer, Sofiya, Jacqueline, Tomas, Salina, Simon, Ariel, Alice, David, Todd, and numerous others who have shown up in our garden, expressed interest in changing the world, created some amazing events (Do It Green Conference. Check it out. All organized by youth, for youth.), I see you, I honor you and I’m grateful for all you are doing.

~ Ms. Barb

2014 Summer Reflections – A Mixed Bag of Seeds

Today is September 22, the first day back to school for kids in BC and almost the first day of Fall 2014. Naturally, I am inspired to reflect back on these past few months of growing, planting seeds and harvesting an abundance of growth at the school garden at Forest Grove Elementary here in North Burnaby, BC.

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For those of you unfamiliar with the education system in BC, have a quick glance here at a rundown of what has transpired over the past few years coming to a head these past few months. There are several sides to this story so please, if you do want more info, there are several links to read online. This is just one via the Vancouver Sun.

School officially ended for us on June 13, 2014, although at the time on the day, none of us knew for sure that this would in fact be our last day at the school. As such, there was a huge range of emotions; from hopeful that things would work out and we would be back for Sport’s Day events, end of year assemblies and Grade 7 graduation ceremonies to the extreme of cleaning everything out of classrooms and saying final goodbyes. Without knowing for sure, most of us just hoped for the best despite a huge amount of uncertainty.

June 13 for me was crazy busy. I had 2 cooking classes during the day, hosted a visit from Edible Vancouver Magazine to witness our potato harvest with a Grade 5/6 class and also hosted an end of year (as I was pretty sure it was the end of the year) celebration with the Garden Club where one of our main funders was paying us a visit.

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Thank goodness for the Labyrinth!

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Walking the Labyrinth one last time at the end of the school year did wonders for me; I could ground myself after a hectic day, remind myself what truly was important and enter the paths with a deep sense of gratitude as I led my Garden Club Members through the winding paths to do the same. Our visitor from the McGrane Pearson Foundation was impressed to say the least as he left with his bag of harvested greens from the garden.

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Without knowing for sure when we would be back, I was grateful for at least knowing there would be funding coming in for me to take care of the garden over the summer as well as a couple cooking classes with the summer program hosted at the school via The Grove Childcare Society via the grant we received via Metropolis at Metrotown.

It was a quiet summer of Work Bees mostly attended by my own two reluctant children and a handful of other families popping by throughout the summer. Yes, my own two children now are finding it difficult to go to the garden “again!” as their Mumma brings them more than they would like. Thankfully, they do still help water, plant seeds and are also given the camera to take photos as a way to keep them entertained.

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It’s always a magical time in the summer watching plants growing from seed to sprout to seedling to full on fruit bearing plant. I marveled at the corn plants that started out from an Orville Reddenbocker (yes, the K’s grew popcorn!) container in the K classroom that have now grown ears of corn. The sunflowers that always bring smiles to everyone who sees them, tower a good 15 feet above everything also reminded me of our smallest students who earlier in April planted them. I tried to take as many photos as I could of these beauties not knowing if and when the little ones would see them again but luckily there are still a few in bloom today as the kids headed back to school. It’s always the goal for school gardens that we instill a sense of appreciation for growing food from seed. Having the most exciting time of growth happen when students are not around is always a question schools face of whether or not they grow anything in the summer.

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The goal at Forest Grove was to plant out and tend for as many fruits and veggies as possible so that there was a crop to harvest for this Fall’s Cooking Classes that are set to start in October. So naturally, we did have a crop and garden to tend to in the summer. I believe we achieved this goal as the pumpkins, butternut squash, and spaghetti squash are all almost ready to harvest. Our beloved tomatoes sadly caught the blight but luckily I managed to save two ziploc bagfuls of ripe ones that have been frozen ready to cook with the kids. We also had our first crop of rainbow carrots and planted a succession of radishes which several of our students in the summer program really enjoyed.

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The most excited new crop we have growing still are the tomatillios. I point these out to all the kids visiting the garden as they are a fascinating plant that are also quite delicate as they look like paper lanterns. Little fingers have been trying to squish them too which then kills the fruit trying to grow inside. Perfect opportunity to teach both patience, kindness, and being gentle. We’ll be harvesting these as they ripen to eventually create a “canning” session with my older Garden Club students to transform them into salsa verde to later sell at the Christmas Craft Fair. Our principal is excited about this opportunity to teach the valuable lessons of seed to plate to market!

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Swiss chard and kale have been really abundant this season with a whole separate side crop of chard that has leaves grown the size of some of the small preschoolers. I encourage families to take as much as they like home to cook up the same way as bok choi (sauteed with a bit of olive oil, garlic, salt & pepper finished with some stock or water) served on the side as greens for dinner. The possibility of this crop growing over winter is very good as it has grown and survived before in the past couple of years.

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So with the official day of Fall 2014 starting tomorrow along side of the first day the kids are back for a full day of school I am hopeful for many “Seeds of Intentions” to flourish:

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  • To have a good crop of Garden Club Members with open minds and open hearts who are willing to connect to nature, themselves and each other
  • To cook some amazing new recipes with the 12 Divisions at Forest Grove Elementary using as many ingredients as possible from the school garden
  • To expand the Sprouting Chefs programs to other interested schools throughout the Lower Mainland of BC
  • To inspire other willing, open minded, open hearted individuals to join me on my journey to plant seeds of various virtues from love to forgiveness, courage to kindness with children through planting school gardens and cooking what we grow