Urban Vegecation - For Growing Minds


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Urban Vegecation - For Growing Minds

About Urban Vegecation

Urban Vegecation gets kids excited about good, healthy food. In our Classroom Gardening and Cooking Program, chef volunteers are paired with elementary school classrooms (grades 1-3 for the primary program, 4-6 for the intermediate) to give students hands-on experience growing and cooking their own food.

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Our Mission

For Kids!

Urban Vegecation's mission is to show you that growing, cooking and eating vegetables is easy and fun!

Once you take our program, we know that you'll think so too!

Our Mission

For Teachers

Urban Vegecation is a registered charity, based in Toronto, Ontario. Our mission is to educate children, families, and community members about healthy eating and healthy food systems.

A world with healthy, sustainable food practices.

To teach healthy, sustainable food practices.

Mission Statement
Urban Vegecation's mission is to teach children, families, and the community about healthy food and healthy food systems.

Charitable Purpose
Urban Vegecation's mission is to educate children, families, and community members about healthy eating and healthy food systems by providing programs, seminars, and workshops

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What We Do

For Kids!

  • Show you how to grow and cook your own meals!
  • Play fun and challenging games with you!
  • Get you excited about gardening and healthy eating!

What We Do

For Teachers

Urban Vegecation runs a Classroom Gardening and Cooking Program in elementary schools to get kids excited about growing, cooking, and eating good, healthy food. In our program, volunteers are paired with Grades 1-3 classrooms for the primary program and Grades 4-6 classrooms for the intermediate program to give students hands-on gardening and cooking experience.

  • Over the course of three and a half months, the chefs visit the classroom every two weeks, helping the students plant and tend to indoor vegetable gardens.
  • The chefs engage the students in games, lessons, and activities focusing on plant growth, local and urban agriculture, sustainability, and nutrition.
  • The students harvest their vegetables, and the chefs teach them to cook delicious, healthy meals with what they have grown.

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How We Started

Our Origin Story!

Urban Vegecation was founded by Merri Schwartz, a professional chef.

In the fine dining kitchens where she worked, Merri saw vast amounts of knowledge about food sustainability, nutrition, and local agriculture—but that knowledge stayed trapped behind kitchen walls.

She founded Urban Vegecation as a tool to connect chefs and growers—along with their valuable knowledge—to local communities through a fun, empowering, educational program.

How We Started

Our Timeline

Merri Schwartz founds Urban Vegecation and incorporates it as a non-profit society.
The Urban Vegecation Classroom Gardening Program is piloted in 2 elementary school classrooms in Toronto: Champlain Heights and McDonald Elementary.
The program has 4 main volunteers.
The Volunteer Orientation Program is developed.
13 chef volunteers are trained in basic classroom management and sent out into 4 elementary school classrooms.
30 chef volunteers visit 8 Toronto schools.
A French language program is piloted at a French language school.
A satellite Urban Vegecation Classroom Gardening Program runs in Penticton, B.C.

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Our Founder

Merri Schwartz

Founder, Chair of the Board of Directors

Merri Schwartz has been working in the Toronto food community since 2002. Inspired by an adventure-filled summer in Paris at the age of 20, Merri completed a degree in Visual Art at the University of Toronto before fulfilling her dream of becoming a pastry chef.

After attending the Baking and Pastry Arts Program at Vancouver Community College, Merri jumped into a whirlwind career. Her resume includes assistant positions at Sweet Obsession Cakes and Pastries and Cocoa West Organic Chocolatier, and pastry chef positions at C Restaurant, Quattro on Fourth, and the award-winning King Pacific Lodge.

In the fall of 2006, with a generous scholarship from Les Dames d’Escoffier, Merri travelled to France, where she trained at the world-renowned Valrhona Chocolate Institute, outside of Lyon. That same year, Merri further develop her pastry technique with travel and training in Italy, Switzerland, and France.

Merri founded Urban Vegecation with the hope that sustainable practices will become part of the foundation of living and cooking in Toronto, and in cities like it all over the world. After acting as the Executive Director of Urban Vegecation for four and a half years, Merri recently joined the board of directors as the Chair.

Our Team

Jaydeen Williams

Acting Executive Director

Jaydeen Williams is excited to join the Urban Vegecation team in the role of Acting Executive Director. Jaydeen holds a degree in Psychology and Biology from UBC. Her passion for travel and adventure lead her to working for cruiseline Royal Caribbean International, both on and offboard cruise ships overseeing children and family programming. She then spent five years working for the Take a Hike Youth at Risk Foundation in the roles of Program Director and Executive Director. There she led the organization through significant growth whilst enabling at-risk youth to reach their full potential.

Helen Stortini

Executive Director - On leave until December 2016

Helen Stortini is the executive director of Urban Vegecation. Previous to her role at Urban Vegecation, she was a professional fundraiser for five years, most recently as a Development Manager for the David Suzuki Foundation.

Amanda Adams

Program Coordinator

Amanda is thrilled to be a part of Urban Vegecation as an urban agriculture and local food enthusiast and enjoys feeding family and friends home cooked meals made fresh from the garden and foraged from the local forest. She also relishes a good food pun, no matter how corny.

Christina Boliszczuk

Fundraising & Marketing Assistant

Christina Boliszcuzk is the newest member of the Urban Vegecation team. She has worked with children in many capacitites, including life skills coaching for special needs children and running educational programs and tours at the Vancouver Police Museum. Much of her volunteer experience includes planning and running fundraising events and serving on various boards including a number of years with Port Moody's Golden Spike Days Festival.

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Board of Directors


  • Richard Banner
  • Valdine Ciwko
  • Colin Haddock
  • Lindsey Davis Boyle
  • Graham MacLennan
  • Bill Schwartz
  • Merri Schwartz
  • Shannon Washbrook

Board of Directors


  • Richard Banner
  • Valdine Ciwko
  • Andrea Carlson
  • Dagmar Kafka
  • Graham MacLennan
  • Bill Schwartz
  • Maria Pacella
  • Merri Schwartz
  • Shannon Washbrook

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