Cook Together, Grow Together


In fall 2009, Greenest City launched Growing the Future, a weekly program focused on food and environmental issues for 13 to 15 yr olds. The design of that program included a team of 5 to 8 Youth Mentors who would act as assistant facilitators and peer mentors to the younger participants. As Growing the Future gained momentum and the attention of the community, it has become clear that there is significant demand for more involved youth mentoring opportunities and for more communal cooking and gardening space for young people too old for the program. Since fall 2009, Growing the Future has engaged 100 young people aged 13 to 15 in 125 hours of hands-on skills development and knowledge building in the kitchen and the garden. Feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, with one participant reporting _‘I had such a fantastic time this year. It would have been a lonely and hungry year without this program,’_ while a parent told us that _‘having [my child] take part in the program has been wonderful – her new interest in helping in the kitchen and cooking has been really helpful.’_ Cook Together, Grow Together will create more opportunities for youth who want to remain involved once they have completed the program, or who are new to Greenest City but over 15 years old by creating an innovative community food hub for improving the health and well being of the young people in the community. This is done through two program areas that promote gardening, cooking and healthy lifestyles while incorporating active discussions on environmental health and sustainable food systems. The two program areas are the Youth Mentor Team and the Youth Community Kitchen and Garden Drop-ins. The Youth Mentor Team will build on the existing youth mentor format, increasing in size to 12 to 14 participants and adding monthly leadership development sessions in addition to the training they receive for their work with Growing the Future. These development sessions will provide an opportunity to improve communication and facilitation skills while discussing the complexities of the social and environmental issues facing them and the community. They will be mentored by staff to increase their role with Growing the Future to act as youth food educators, leading special sessions of the program to introduce their younger peers to food issues in a way that is relevant and meaningful to them. The mentors will also be provided with expanded opportunities to act as leaders in the community, including leading the Youth Community Kitchen and helping with Greenest City’s new after school program for ages 7 to 12 years (launching in fall 2011), for those participants wanting to gain experience working with younger children. The second part of the program is the Youth Community Kitchen and Garden Drop-ins, in which we will provide a safe space for young people aged 15 and up to come together and develop their cooking and gardening skills while connecting with others with similar interests. This aspect of the program will focus less on structured teaching and more on providing the resources and space for young people to take the lead on identifying recipes or activities of interest and to work together to teach other new skills and to problem solve their way through new techniques under the guidance of program staff. The community kitchen will take place from bi-weekly from September to June, with three preserving workshops in July and August and the Garden Drop-ins will run weekly from May to October. Greenest City has a reputation for delivering high-quality, inclusive programming in Parkdale and as a result, many of our participants come to us by word of mouth or after witnessing our programs in the neighbourhood. As a community-based charitable organization dedicated to building healthy, inclusive neighbourhoods through community gardening and the celebration of food, we are focused on engaging participants of all ages in hands-on programs that build community, develop skills and knowledge, promote active and healthy choices, and create opportunities for social and environmental change. Built on the values of Diversity, Respect, Leadership, Personal Growth and Collaboration, Greenest City embraces the commonalities and the contradictions inherent in a diverse urban community and strives to facilitate experiences in which all participants can find meaning and relevance.