Staff Profile

A Growing Team at Growing Chefs! – Introducing Christine

Hello! My name is Christine and I have just joined the Growing Chefs! team as a Program Assistant on Vancouver island to help support the Victoria programs. I started off with volunteering for Growing Chefs! in 2013 while living in Vancouver taking a year and a half break from my studies at UVIC in the School of Child and Youth Care. I was two years into my degree at the time and I had just come back from a trip to India that had blown my mind in regards to food, health, and the world we live in. My senses were heightened and I was really looking at things differently.

Living in Vancouver at the time, I found out about the Growing Chefs! Program. It was an ‘aha’ moment for me... I could combine my love for working with kids with this whole other world of food that really intrigued me and radiated importance. When I started volunteering with Growing Chefs! I had never planted a seed, and had not grown up thinking critically about where our food came from. However, I did grow up immersed in the food industry as my parents owned a family restaurant and I started working in the industry myself at 14 years old. From a young age, I had the opportunity to spend many hours after school and on weekends in the restaurant and felt very at home in this environment. I was able to witness the power that food had to connect people and build a sense of community. But being able to volunteer with Growing Chefs! was a pivotal moment for me in connecting with food systems on a deeper level. After that first spring session in the classroom with Growing Chefs!, I decided to go back to Victoria to finish my undergrad degree. I moved into an apartment with a South facing balcony, and planted an epic patio garden and we reached out to a neighbour to ask about creating a food garden in their unused space.

I continued to work in restaurants while I finished up my degree, and was saving up money to go on a trip with my partner. We eventually moved out of our apartment and left our jobs to go live and work on a little farm in Hawaii for a few months.

When we returned to BC, we were both looking for jobs and my partner found an opportunity to live and work on Southlands Heritage Farm in Vancouver. We moved into a tiny little home (175 sq. ft) and although I was working elsewhere at first, it was not long before I was working on the farm full-time. My main role was as the Program and Volunteer Coordinator. Southlands Farm offers many school and community programs and I was able to continue to witness the great impact that teaching kids about food, and where it comes from had. It was evident to me that visiting the farm was a very special experience for many kids and families in Vancouver who did not really have the opportunity to engage in this environment otherwise. I loved sharing these experiences with the farm visitors and being able to educate them about different aspects of farming, sustainability and food systems.

While back in Vancouver and living on the farm, I jumped on the opportunity to join Growing Chefs! again in the classroom as a volunteer, and even got to collaborate together on a couple of events with the farm. I really got to see all these passions of mine merging together.

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One of my favourite parts of the job was hiring Workaway/WWOOFer’s from all over the world to come and stay on the farm. It was great to bring different cultures into our community, and we had many potluck dinners sharing favourite recipes from around the world. Some of my fondest memories at the farm were our outdoor dinners during golden hour and staying to chat and eat until after dark (normally followed by some music around the campfire).

Growing Chefs! was really the catalyst that started it all for me, in my adult life, and I am very grateful to now be able to support the Growing Chefs! programs here in Victoria. I think that ‘planting the seed’ young is so very important, and I am looking forward to growing the reach of the program here on the island. Not only am I excited about supporting the programs in the classroom, but also to be able to support the volunteer experience. Growing Chefs! was such a game-changer for me, and I really value the opportunities that volunteering in the program provided. I look forward to being able to work with the volunteer teams, in hopes that their experience is as meaningful as it was for me. I really look forward to getting to know you all in the Growing Chefs! community and will always be happy to meet over a cup of coffee and talk all things related to food, farming…and dogs!

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A Growing Team at Growing Chefs! – Introducing Cayley

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Hi! My name is Cayley, and I’m stoked to be working at Growing Chefs! as the new Program and Operations Assistant! While it was my combined love for food and teaching that drew me to the organization, the Growing Chefs! staff, volunteers, teachers, and children are what keep me excited to come back each day. It’s awesome to be able to help make food literacy more mainstream in childhood education, alongside all of these superstars!

My love for delicious food began at a young age, and came full circle through a litany of weird and wonderful experiences. It began while “helping” my grandparents in their garden in rural Alberta. I like to think I was an indispensable asset, but I likely only assisted with making all the berries disappear… before they made it into any pies! The only vegetables I ate without complaint were from that garden; harvesting them right from the plant somehow made them much more interesting and delicious. Mom and Grandma, who are still my two favourite cooks, eventually taught me that vegetables maybe weren’t the worst thing in the world – they showed me that with the proper skills and ingredients, I could turn them into healthy, delicious meals!

After finishing university, I had a severe case of wanderlust, so I began brainstorming ways that I could combine skills and passions while seeing the world. Teaching and a fascination with the ocean took me to Southeast Asia to teach scuba diving. Everywhere I went, food was my comfort zone. I found it was the best way to learn about new cultures and customs, and to get involved with local communities. I learned about so many spices and flavours, some of which I’m certain I’ll never find again… my quest for a delightful bulb-shaped crunchy white vegetable that I found in a Chinese stir-fry is ongoing, nine years later (any information relating to this appreciated – and no, it isn’t any standard onion!).

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I eventually ended up in the Caribbean, where I was fortunate to spend a couple years aboard sailboats, teaching youth how to scuba dive and sail. I was (and still am!) amazed at how much young people were able to connect to new concepts through tactile learning. Experiential education enabled students to really engage with the material… “doing the things” allowed different students with a huge variety of learning styles to actively achieve all sorts of awesome milestones! I also met my partner, Jack, while doing this, and he was more than willing to keep up the adventurous lifestyle.

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Through a series of chance meetings and opportunities, we were hired onto a charter sailboat, where I was a chef tasked with cooking food for people as they joined the yacht for their vacations. It was a valuable experience to reconnect with the kitchen, and great to finally join a whole bunch of my interests. After a couple of years, though, I really missed the reward that came with teaching. I decided to come back to Canada and pursue a Masters of Environmental Education and Communication, to further explore opportunities for unconventional learning experiences. Through this program, I was lucky to be introduced to Growing Chefs!

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My time at Growing Chefs! so far has ticked all the boxes. Watching the faces of children and volunteers light up as they learn, or teach, how to grow a garden from seed while getting their hands in the soil is beautiful. I’m feeling very fortunate to be able to help out however I can.

Outside of work and school, I spend a lot of time adventuring with my dog, Oso, and trying to take full advantage of all that dry, steady land has to offer. I run, ski, and cycle every chance I get, but am otherwise usually finding excuses to be in the kitchen. Lately I’ve been on a sourdough kick, testing out my hypothesis that it’s impossible to grow tired of freshly baked bread. No conclusive results yet - I’ll keep trying!