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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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!