How We Started

Growing Chefs! was founded by Merri Schwartz, a professional pastry chef. In the fine dining kitchens where she worked, Merri saw vast amounts of knowledge about food sustainability, nutrition, and local agriculture—but that knowledge stayed trapped behind kitchen walls. She founded Growing Chefs! as a tool to connect chefs and growers—along with their valuable knowledge—to local communities through a fun, empowering, educational program.

  • Merri Schwartz founds Growing Chefs! and incorporates it as a non-profit society.


  • The Growing Chefs! Classroom Gardening Program is piloted in 2 elementary school classrooms in Vancouver: Champlain Heights and McDonald Elementary.
  • The program has 4 chef volunteers.


  • The Volunteer Orientation Program is developed.
  • 13 chef volunteers are trained in basic classroom management and sent out into 4 elementary school classrooms.


  • 30 chef volunteers visit 8 Vancouver schools.
  • A French language program is piloted at a French language school.
  • A satellite Growing Chefs! Classroom Gardening Program runs in Penticton, B.C.
  • Growing Chefs! Ontario is piloted in London, Ontario.


  • 65 volunteers visit 16 Vancouver classrooms.


  • Executive Director Helen Stortini was hired.
  • 65 chef volunteers visit 17 Vancouver classrooms.
  • The Classroom Gardening Program pilots in Richmond, B.C., and Burnaby, B.C.


  • More than 100 chef volunteers in 28 classrooms in Vancouver, Richmond, Burnaby, New Westminster, and West Vancouver.


  • An intermediate program for Grades 4-6 is piloted.
  • Launch in Comox on Vancouver Island with two classes.
  • More than 750 students participate in program.


  • 34 classrooms in British Columbia, including 29 in the Lower Mainland, three in the Comox Valley, and two classes in Kelowna.
  • More than 120 chef volunteers.
  • 850 students participate in the program.