Zen Seekers: #OkanaganExploring with Start Fresh

As you have likely realized: we are all about community. The Okanagan (and in a biased way, Kelowna) is a treasure trove of incredible experiences and inspiring people and spaces. Sharing what we love about our hometown and encouraging others to explore the west, even if it’s in their own backyard, is important to the food industry, but really important to all our hospitality and tourism cheerleaders. Zen Seekers is a Canadian company that does just that, their mandate is “to inspire, to enlighten, and to tempt you to explore what is there for you to discover.” We were honored to host them recently, which you can read about here. Wet your appetite by watching their fantastic footage of the journey — it’s truly an immersive experience!

On September 25th we will be hosting another of these “Sourced and Cycled” experiences with Giro Okanagan. Tickets are limited, click here to get yours now.

We are so grateful to Zen Seekers and Tourism Kelowna for searching out gems in the Okanagan and including us in telling the story of this beautiful valley that we love.

An Okanagan Based Non-Profit Program

CAFE Program: What’s It All About?

For us here at the Start Fresh Project, we are more than just a place to grow and cook food. We are about people, family, and community. Our mission is to inspire others to grow and cook fresh, healthy foods, all while gaining self-confidence and building a stronger community for themselves.

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START FRESH - Our Newsletter - Spring 2018

Eighteen months into nonprofit management (and six months into its sister business venture) it goes without saying that we’re learning A LOT.

Yes, there is plenty to consider in the making of non-profit magic — strategic direction, organizational efficiency, budget balancing, community engagement, and of course teaching farming and cooking. But what we’re learning about being successful, feeling successful, and promoting success for others has become a central focus this past year. 

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It can be easy to believe that success is the same for everyone, and that getting there is a simple straight line if the doors are opened for us. Yet the truth is, helping others requires a great deal of listening and providing support in the ways that support is genuinely needed, not simply in the way that might suit the structure we’ve created. So while we thought we had the answers to every question as leaders of the programming, we found that we have garnered far more — by listening to the stories of our participants and our community — than we ever expected. Success really does appear more often in the small moments, and sometimes the goal simply acts as a great magnet that pulls us forward. 

From Board President Michael Buffett, “One of our participants said something that sticks with me on a daily basis. She said that when she started in the program, it was mostly because she needed to find a job. Yet in the process of committing to the program, and coming every week to meet with the Start Fresh team and the other participants, that theProject has become a much bigger part of her recovery. It gave me goosebumps! The Start Fresh Project was started to help people struggling with life get the skills they need to get jobs. It turns out it’s more than that — we really are building a healthier community, in more ways than we realized.”

All Together Now (You Are the ‘We’ in this Next Bit)

Considering that we only started our work in 2016, we have seen massive growth. With the support of federal and provincial funding, we first turned our pop-up cooking education classes into a complete Culinary Arts and Farming Education (CAFE) Training Program and launched in July, which is completely free for people in our community that need it. We have completed a successful farming season on land generously shared with us by Davara Holdings, seeds gifted by the community at Seedy Saturdays throughout the Okanagan, along with three summer students employed through the Government of Canada’s Summer Jobs Program. Through the season we were able to develop and improve the farm thanks to the efforts of an outstanding fundraising soirée at Quails’ Gate Winery (for which we’d like to thank the Stewart family, Winery Chef Roger Sleiman and his great brigade, Top Table Restaurant Group’s Executive Chef Quang Dang from Araxi Restaurant in Whistler, the Okanagan Chefs’ Association, and the many folks who contributed so generously to our auction) and our local Interior Savings, which provided the means to diversify with bee keeping equipment and a chicken coop!

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We have been able to provide our program participants with an incredible location to study in each week —the Start Fresh Kitchen — which is a source of consistent and long-term funding for the Project, as the farm’s produce is purchased directly by the Kitchen. Telus Community Grants has provided us the ability to sustainably employ our Program Co-ordinator to continue her work with our participants and strengthen our community partnerships through the winter. The Central Okanagan Foundation stepped forward late in the year and provided essential funding to continue the efforts of our community awareness initiatives and work towards our second program enrolment for Spring 2018. And certainly, our partnerships through Third Space Life Charity and Third Space Coffee have allowed for many beautifully aligned community partnerships to form, and our participants to thrive.  Most recently, Trinity Baptist Church has offered to provide support through their annual Christmas fundraising. Special thanks also to seed money.org, Kelowna’s local Acro-Jam Yoga community, and to each and every individual who has donated or supported us along the way, via your mentorship or by attending one of our regularly scheduled dinners at The Kitchen.

It was a Year of True Growth

The donations have gone a long way to building the full year-long curriculum that is the basis for the Start Fresh Project’s CAFE program. They were also used to create our teaching farm where we grew over  1000 lbs of produce, raising over $3,000 for the project. We learned a lot about our land and what it loves to grow, and in 2018 we expect that number to triple. The farm was supported by 16 amazing volunteers throughout the season for an average of 15 hours each, totalling 240 hours of farm work donated. Between the kitchen and farm, we employed 15 people in our food service and farming initiatives. In our community classes we taught 156 people about healthy eating, and enrolled 9 individuals ready to change their lives in our pilot CAFE Program. And here’s a wow - at over 50 dinners at our Kitchen, we hosted 1000 guests, and catered over 100 events feeding 2500 in adjacent office towers and elsewhere.

During the first four months of the CAFE Program, participants receive weekly training on all aspects of cooking and farming, and they are able to build their resume skill-set by providing them with a strong theory-base and practical certifications, including:

FoodSafe, Level I - The gold standard of food service industry accreditationss, covering safe food handling, storage, and rotation practices;

Serving It Right™ -  BC’s mandatory course educating food service employees about their legal responsibilities when serving alcohol;

Kelowna Fire Department - Fire Suppression Training, for use in both farm and kitchen safety;

AgSafe BC - on-site farm safety training, providing training on proper equipment use, animal handling, WHMIS awareness, and self-care on the farm.

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Five of our participants have successfully completed Level One, and are currently working in hospitality or are in our Level Two training course. Level Two will also provide a full hands-on application of their skills as we begin formal employment through the Kitchen and begin to plant the farm in early spring. 

And we are getting really excited about our Second enrolment of participants in May 2018! Through a year of learning during the Pilot Program, we have adapted the program to make it better suited to our participants’ goals and needs.

We’re always telling folks that they can get involved simply by eating good food, and it’s true! 

The Start Fresh Kitchen provides funding for our non-profit by purchasing vegetables grown on the farm, by providing instructors and teaching space for our weekly classes, and most importantly, by creating community awareness of what we do.. One of the joys of the past year has been meeting so many  socially-consciousfolks at work in our beautiful city. Their example is impressive. So whether you join the Start Fresh Kitchen for a cooking class, host a special event or board meeting in our private dining room, or invite us to cater for you — you really are helping your community. 

It is simply incredible for our team to meet the people in our community that reach out every week with ideas of how to involve their school, their place of work, or their family in what we’re up to. So if you have an idea or special way you’d like to help get involved, please reach out to volunteer@startfreshproject.com and we will be happy to partner with you in all ways possible!