Cultivating Cooks at Woodroffe Avenue Public School

When Carley Schelck from Cultivating Cooks approached Woodroffe Avenue Public School with the idea of piloting a series of healthy food workshops, Grade 5 teacher MacArthur Millen didn’t know what to expect. Over the next 10 weeks, he and his students were blown away by the incredible learning and delicious food knowledge that Carley and her team brought into his classroom.

Cultivating Cooks is a hands on, classroom based elementary school level program that teaches about growing, cooking, preserving and eating healthy local food. This innovative program makes a strong connection between where our food comes from and how it is prepared. It is the brainchild of Ottawa Entrepreneur Carley Schelck and Chef Anna March both from urban element cooking school. Carley and Anna have made this program adaptable to the needs of each school that they work with. They bring their extensive connections with local experts to add even more value to an already jam packed program. In the Spring of 2017, as part of their first year pilot project, Cultivating Cooks led the students of Woodroffe Avenue Public School through an intensive program of growing, preparing and eating healthy, nutritious food.

Cultivating Cooks Partner Chef Anna March began the workshop series by introducing the students to different parts of vegetables that we eat: seeds, roots and shoots. Simon Bell from the Parkdale Food Center then worked with the kids showing them how to safely use knives to make a delicious salad.

The next workshop had students constructing and planting a new school garden under the guidance of local master gardener and general handyman Tom Marcantonio. Kids learned about using drills and saws and how to ensure the soil is healthy and ready to receive plants. They also constructed a moveable compost bin.

Chef Anna began the next workshop by talking to the kids about what grows where and when. They discussed preserving local food when it is in season for use later in the year. Sue Hall, a registered dietician from the Parkdale Food Center then talked with the students about processed versus whole foods. She also discussed the sugar content in soft drinks. Together with Chef Anna, the kids then made healthy juices from fruits and vegetables.

Trish Larkin from Buchipop began the next workshop by talking about her experience as a beekeeper and the importance of bees in our food systems. The students learned about what kind of flowers they could plant to attract pollinators. Trish also had the students do a honey tasting. They discovered that honey made from the nectar and pollen of different flowers has a different taste.

During the final workshop, Cultivating Cooks brought back Simon Bell to talk about kitchen health and safety. The kids then packed waste-less lunches by layering salads in jars.

Teacher MacArthur Millen says that before this workshop many kids had not grown or cooked before. “Some of the kids didn’t know that carrots come out of the ground.” Teaching kids where their food comes from and how to make healthy meals is the motivation behind this program. Carley believes that teaching food literacy is a vital life skill. Before initiating this program she noticed a knowledge gap. Many schools have school gardens but there is little education around food literacy connected to the growing vegetables.  Carley and Anna want to take this program “anywhere and everywhere that there is an audience”. With that in mind, Cultivating Cooks is hoping to grow over the next few years, visiting more schools and cooking and growing with more kids. In order to serve a wider population, they have developed materials and workshops in both French and English. Carley also sees lots of opportunity to collaborate with other organizations such as Growing Up Organic and ONFE’s Indoor Classroom Garden Program to allow even more schools to take part in Cultivating Cooks.

MacArthur Millen of Woodroffe also has dreams around healthy food in school. His vision is that his students will one day be more connected to the school’s breakfast program. He envisions the students using use local produce to cook and prepare food such as blueberry muffins or strawberry jam to serve at the breakfast program.

Story: Allegra Newman

Photos: MacArthur Millen