Reflections on the 2013 Classroom Gardening Project

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

 I’ve had the pleasure of working with Growing Chefs! Ontario this year and it has changed my perspective on what it means to provide learning experiences that captivate kids.  Field trips have been the method I’ve used to bring my kids outside of their surroundings and into new possibilities.  Seeing talented chefs from around the community volunteer their time and skills to inspire food nutrition education in the comfort of the classroom is, at first, hard to wrap your head around; yet it happens, and has been happening for the past six years in schools in London, Delaware, St. Thomas, Port Burwell, Thorndale, and Chatham-Kent. 

I signed on to be a volunteer in the classroom for the Classroom Kitchen Project in the fall and I…was...hooked.  I sought a bigger role in this amazing organization because the more I gave to it, the more it gave back to me and the experiences that I’ve had as the project coordinator for the Classroom Gardening Project give me the biggest smile.

Young people are excited to learn.   They love to see new faces and see new activities happening right in their classrooms.  A chef in their whites + heirloom carrots + a knife & cutting board = instantaneous little gasps (even from those who “never eat veggies”). 

I had a wonderful first experience with Chef Andrew Wolowicz (of The Springs Restaurant) who dazzled the class with his vibrant personality and rainbow-coloured salad, topped with a made-to-order salad dressing that the students helped him build.  If Chef Andrew wasn’t there right away when we walked in, the question from concerned voices came quickly and in unison;

“Is Chef Andrew coming today??”

I saw it again, and again, and again.  Students looking up to their chefs, both literally and figuratively during a lesson that they might not have gotten without Growing Chefs!.  

My favourite story comes from a boy in a classroom that I was visiting for the third time - we were reviewing how to make a salad dressing.  While I was talking to another volunteer, she told me that this young man had never, EVER tried a vegetable before they had the root vegetable salad during our last visit three weeks before. At that time everyone was getting ready to try the salad with some homemade salad dressing, the young student was clearly uncomfortable with the idea of putting anything “foreign” into his mouth.  The teacher in the classroom stated that she had never seen anything but white bread and ketchup in his lunch, and said she believed him when he said he had never eaten a vegetable, or fruit.  He bravely tried the salad dressing and made an unimpressed face.  He said it needed to be sweeter and that they should add more honey.   So our chef volunteer added more honey.   The student liked it so much that he asked for a whole plate of spinach to dip into his salad dressing. 

That’s the power of Growing Chefs visiting classrooms and opening new opportunities to children who might not have gotten that huge breath of inspiration.  It takes chefs passionate about their art and imparting their skills, volunteers dedicated to giving to their communities, teachers supportive of innovative nutrition classes and students engaged in knowing more about the world. Exploring the process from seed to plate and getting kids excited about wholesome food is what Growing Chefs! Ontario is all about; and that’s pretty exciting to be a part of. 

If you were wondering....

The Classroom Gardening Project by number:

 23 Classrooms

18 Community Partners (see list here)

49 volunteers

400+ hours volunteered

500+ students

Until next time, see you in the classrooms!


Melissa Friesen

Project Coordinator (Classroom Gardening Project)



  The Clark Family Foundation
 Urban Harvest Landscape
zdybThe Wilson Family FoundationThe Joanne and Tom Cowan Fund
The William and Katharine Kostuk Family FundLove Alchemy Cornerstone
TillsonburgLFHSGoodlife Fitness