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!).
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.
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!
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!