by Lily Hu
COOK & GROW was a weekly after-school cooking/gardening program that Green Thumbs ran every Thursday during the 2017/2018 school year at Nelson Mandela P.S. and Winchester P.S.
At Nelson Mandela P.S., it was run by myself, Natalie Meyers, GTGK Garden and Food Educator Hilda Nouri, volunteers, and teachers including Karrin Huynh (former Garden and Food Educator at GTGK).
It was a shared teaching and learning experience with the students who signed up and who returned weekly with enthusiasm and openness.
We explored different foods and ingredients ranging from nasturtium leaves to rice paper. We wanted to create a space that promoted the cultural exchange of ideas that reflected the participants, volunteers, and guests.
It was so exciting to see kids try foods they had sworn they disliked, but gave a second chance through some convincing that maybe if prepared or used in a different way might just be delicious!
We really wanted to make approachable food. Recipes can be flexible. We were able to do things like make biscuits, simmer flavourful stews, and do a lot of playing with food because that’s how it becomes less intimidating.
We always welcomed parents, siblings, and other students to join in and volunteer on our sessions. This helped create a stronger sense of communal participation. It was such an honour and joy to be able to have the kids share with their families what we all made together that day and want to help out in the kitchen at home.
Having the opportunity to be creative with food, and experiment is a huge confidence booster. With food, we were able to have conversations revolving around their triumphs and fears.
Our after-school sessions began with an exercise called “Roses, thorns, and buds.” We would sit in a circle, and share (depending on comfort level that day) a great thing, a not so good thing, and something we looked forward to.
By creating an environment that gave room to talk about our experiences, we were able to reinforce respect for one another’s thoughts and expressions.
Sharing was such a beautiful thing to witness. Strangers became friends, by overcoming differences in age, different social groups and unfamiliarity. It was really amazing to watch personalities develop, and different characteristics shine through.
Who knew cutting an onion could be a means of bonding?
How connected are we to our food?
I think it is important to be able to have first-hand experience with your food. To see it from start to finish. Even if it is just once.
Industrialization has made it possible to have quick access to ingredients from far and near, but perhaps lost in the convenience is the important piece about how do we appreciate the time and energy put in to the things we consume.
Nelson Mandela had a little school garden that we were fortunate enough to be able to use and spend time in. Maybe it is worth waiting the weeks before we pick the tomato off the vine, so we can see how its flavour is different from last year’s harvest, and so much better than store-bought. And why that is. Hilda, the Green Thumbs Children’s Garden and Food Educator, helped the kids access the garden for its many lessons.
Our last day celebrations concluded with a Filipino-inspired spread called a “Kamayan.” We laid out roasted meats, fresh fruits and vegetables to be eaten with different leaves as a wrap.
It was a pleasure to be able to reflect on our shared experience and enjoy seeing all the faces that contributed to the program’s success.
We are so grateful for the opportunity created by the Ontario Trillium Foundation through our Seed grant.