Charitable Choices: Merri Schwartz, Founder of Growing Chefs

Growing Chefs teaches kids to grow and cook healthy food and explore sustainable food systems. We spoke with their Founder and current Co-Executive Director of Communications & Engagement, Merri Schwartz, to find out more about what they do.

Growing Chefs

Describe your charity/non-profit/volunteer work in a few sentences.

We teach kids to grow and cook healthy food and explore sustainable food systems. Our programs give kids and youth hands-on experience with the whole food cycle from seed to plate to compost. Working with teams of chefs and community volunteers, students plant and care for their own gardens, learn to cook nutritious meals, try new vegetables, and share food together.

What problem does it aim to solve?

Our vision is a world with healthy, just, sustainable food practices. Too many kids don’t know where food comes from or have access to healthy, whole food. We’re on a mission to change that.

When did you start/join it?

I started Growing Chefs in 2005 as a fresh-faced young pastry chef. I never could have imagined what it would become!

What made you want to get involved?

I saw the incredible passion and knowledge that cooks and chefs carried, but it was trapped in the kitchen. There were no opportunities for culinary professionals to share what they knew about local food systems, nutrition, and sustainable agriculture. I started a pilot program with a few chefs friends in a local elementary school to see what we could do. More chefs heard about it and they wanted to volunteer, more teachers heard about it and wanted it in their classrooms. The rest is history!

What was the situation like when you started?

The food landscape was very different in 2005. There was one Farmers Market in Vancouver. Chefs weren’t the celebrities they are now. Many kids had little access to home or school-grown food. We were in the right place at the right time to launch a food literacy program!

How has it changed since?

Food justice issues have moved to the forefront of social discourse, and food literacy has vastly improved. That’s not to say that we still don’t have a long way to go or that some kids don’t have better access to healthy, whole food than others. But when we go into the classroom, many kids start with a baseline knowledge closer to where it would have been at the end of our program in those early years. It’s heartening—it makes me feel like we will see even greater changes in the next 18 years.

What more needs to be done?

All kids need access to the same food literacy and healthy food. We need to invest in food justice and make sure that the information and skills shared in programs like ours are accessible to all kids and all people.

How can our readers help?

Volunteer! Donate! Follow us on social media and help spread the word.

Do you have any events coming up?

Our 3rd annual Bee Sweet Campaign launches on February 14th. Bee-come a monthly donor for as little as $5/month before March 31 to be entered to win a sweet prize pack.

Our spring Classroom Gardening & Cooking Program launches in March, and we’re looking for classroom volunteers to help deliver our hands-on food literacy lessons. Sign up to volunteer!

Where can we follow you? 

Website | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter | Youtube

PAY IT FORWARD: What is an awesome local charity that you love?

I am a huge fan of East Van Roasters. This amazing social enterprise in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside provides dignified employment for women re-entering the workforce and makes incredible bean-to-bar chocolate and house-roasted coffee.