Hi. My name is Richie. Some kids call me Chef Richie. I’m a chef. But I’m not a chef. I run a school garden-kitchen program and I’m the school’s head gardener. But I’m not a gardener. I’m a teacher. I teach. When I leave my house each morning, I don’t think or say I’m going to work. I think and say, “I’m going to school”. And if you ask me, I have the best job in the world.
My students/employees/co-workers are ages 4-14. If you work with adults all day every day, I’m feeling really sorry for you right now. Actually, I’m feeling a little sorry for the old me. The regular-old-chef me…the lucky-to-be-alive me. In 2010, after 25 years on the line working up the ranks from dishdog to exec chef, my whole life changed. I found a way to change careers and when I got it I grabbed it so tightly it was like I was holding on for dear life…like Buster Keaton holding onto the back bumper of car racing through the city. Now, in my 6th year as Garden-Kitchen Program Leader at Sherwood Montessori K-8 Public (no-tuition!) Charter School here in li’l ol’ Chico, California, I’m still holding on for dear life. In August 2010, right before the school opened its doors for business, during my 3rd interview to get the job, I told the school’s Director, Chairman of the Board and 7 lead teachers that I was changing my life…my career…and that I wanted this to be the last job I’d ever have. And then I cried…in front of all of them. I’m not saying that’s what got me the job…I’m just sayin’…
Fast forward to today…April 23, 2016…Earth Day. And…having nothing-yet-everything to do with Earth Day (I didn’t think once about it being Earth Day, this is just how we roll), my 1st-2nd-3rd grade students and I (Montessori classrooms are multi-grade so the olders can mentor the youngers and so the youngers, I like to believe, can slow the olders down from growing up too fast) went to the garden, picked snap peas, kale, calendulas and red mustard stems, went to the kitchen, washed our hands and the just-harvested treasures and set to making our veggie train.
The kids did all the work…using 10-inch chef’s knives, making the tracks out of aluminum foil, cutting the tressles from the red mustard stems, halving and hollowing the bell peppers and cutting a thin slice off the bottom so the halves wouldn’t roll around when placed on the tracks…enthusiastically cooperating with a rare and free focus that apparently only kids have…this is my job. Last week during “Richie Time”, during a little break for “Free Play” (God I feel sorry for adults) I was swinging on a swing next to a kid named Zac, one of my older amazing student mentees who often helps me with the very youngers and I turned to him and said, out of the blue, “I’m getting paid right now”.
I’ll also get paid, one way or another (sometimes/usually I earn something much more valuable than money), for bringing the cookbook I wrote this school year with my students and then published in March, to Slow Food International’s Terra Madre Conscious Food Conference in Torino, Italy (for the second consecutive time!), to present it to the Slow Food USA National School Garden Programs coalition, and to the world. People from 168 countries will be there, last time was the opportunity of a lifetime, I hope to go every time (it’s every other year) for the rest of my life and yes, sigh…I’m crying again. From that experience, I have standing invitations to help put in school gardens in Uganda, Kenya and Nigeria. I was also awarded a full Slow Food National School Gardens Program scholarship to attend the garden-kitchen educator Edible Schoolyard Summer Camp in Berkeley, in late June.
You are invited to Sherwood Montessori any time! Please, show up. Get your hands in the dirt…the earth…the world. Grow, cook and share! The school is moving, and will make my garden bigger. That’s already in place as well as a significant part of its infrastructure. If, as I’ve heard, there will be a (more) professional kitchen in the house ‘adjacent’ to the school, I envision stepping up our program…expanding community involvement, our farmers’ market and publishing a ‘real’ (hardcover or at least fancy/professionally published) cookbook. I’m dreaming of replicating Dr. Montessori’s Casa. Beyond dreaming, now I’m planning…
Always feel free to email me with any questions or to discuss anything. Oh…and maybe I’ll see you at the Edible Schoolyard’s week-long summer camp.
Here is a sneak peek at a favorite recipe you’ll find in our cookbook; our kids love it, and yours will too!
To get your copy of Grow-Cook-Share, send a check for $13 payable to Sherwood Montessori with “Cookbook” on the memo line (includes shipping in the continental US) to:
746 Moss Ave
Chico, CA 95926
By Richard (Chef Richie) Hirshen
Garden-Kitchen Program Leader
Sherwood Montessori K-8 Public No-Tuition Charter School (501c3 non-profit, FEIN 80-0490627)
746 Moss Ave.
Chico, CA 95926
The warmth of the sun for pardon
The song of the bird for mirth
One is nearer God’s heart in a garden
Than anywhere else on earth