I asked my four-year-old son, Ethan, if he wanted to attend a weekend event with lots of activities for kids.
“I’m in,” he said without hesitation, while giving a thumbs-up.
He wasn’t concerned about any details; he was just instantly attracted to the prospect of many activities. Then I told him it would be at the London Children’s Museum.
“Yes!” he said emphatically. “That is the best place in the world to visit!”
Ethan never has any issues holding back his enthusiasm and, with his three-year-old brother, Jonah, equally excited, we spent the last Saturday in May at the Grickle Grass Festival. In its fifth year, the Grickle Grass Festival is a celebration of local organizations that promote sustainable and healthy living, with an emphasis on wholesome cooking, physical fitness, and environmental practices. It is a fun, educational day for families with loads of activities taking place both inside and outside the Children’s Museum. As evening rolls around, the same venue becomes a hotspot for adults to support the cause while being entertained by a lineup of Canadian musicians scattered throughout the auditoriums and exhibits of the museum.
And supporting the cause goes a long way. Growing Chefs! Ontario, one of the main recipients of the funds raised at the festival, is also one of its main contributors; this non-profit organization has been educating children with food, gardening, and cooking programs in local schools since 2008, and this event was tailor-made for them to expose their message to a broader audience outside the education system, while raising funds for their worthy cause at the same time.
The phrase Grickle Grass itself comes from the Dr. Seuss book, The Lorax, in which the children’s author makes an environmental statement in his own inimitable, rhyming style. The festival organizers are tapping into not only the ecological message of The Lorax, but also the reputation of Dr. Seuss stories being silly and cartoony for children, but deep enough to have moral lessons for adults and children alike. The Grickle Grass Festival is purposefully designed with this dual structure in mind, by providing child-oriented activities throughout the day and festivities for older kids at heart after dark.
My boys spent a lot of time in piles of dirt outside the museum. The Grickle Grass Garden is a permanent feature at the Children’s Museum and this festival got cucumber, tomato, basil and other plants started for the summer, all planted by children visiting for the day. The children also planted their own transportable garden in a bottle, to bring home. This is a logical extension of the Growing Chefs! being an integral part of the festival, since teaching children how to grow their own food in container gardens is one of the main components of the curriculum in their Classroom Gardening Project. My kids’ hands got equally dirty at the Insect Inspection Station where there were watery buckets of tadpoles and snails, and containers of ants and spiders. Resident insect enthusiasts handed out gummy butterflies for every real insect that a child brought to their booth to be investigated under magnifying glasses.
A “Yoga in the Yard” section had Candice Sheriff, soon to be opening Wholistic Hall on Richmond Street, demonstrating yoga postures throughout the day. Her headstands and sun salutations attracted kids to her sunny, grassy patch outside, as she guided children and parents through the yoga poses. Ecological tips about car-pooling, composting, and conserving water while brushing your teeth were taught using a giant Eco Footprint Game put on by the City of London and run by Masters of Environment and Sustainability student William Roberts.
Aside from the regular attractions inside the museum, most rooms had temporary booths set up with extra crafty or science-related activities, like button making, face painting, and post card writing. Also inside, the Growing Chefs! contingent were getting children’s hands dirty in a different way, doing what they do best by educating children with a hands-on demonstration. In this case it was making fresh salsa, with tomatoes, onions, garlic, cilantro, peppers, and lime juice.
After a few hours in the morning with kids and parents working up an appetite running from station to station, lunch-time promised to be a treat for this crowd. A food station was set up prominently in the centre of the yard by The Beet, an offshoot business of Growing Chefs! that hires young adults between the ages of 16 and 24 with an interest in gaining a variety of experiences in the food industry. They are mentored by London restaurant chefs who pass on their knowledge to a new generation of aspiring chefs. One of these mentors, Chef Katherine Puzara of The River Room, who has been volunteering with Growing Chefs! for three years, is credited with designing the Grickle Grass lunch menu. The Beet chefs prepared and served a healthy and delicious lunch of Braised Pork Tacos, Kale & Quinoa Salad, and Butternut Squash Mac & Cheese. Part of The Beet’s mission is to use local ingredients in preparing seasonal dishes – many of the vegetables were from Leamington greenhouses and pork shoulder from London’s The Hungary Butcher was used in the pork tacos.
After dark, I found myself back in the Children’s Museum with a different vibe going on. The first noticeable difference going into the whale room atrium of the museum was the Steam Whistle booth surrounded by the unmistakable green beer bottles. An exuberant crew of Steam Whistle reps were passing out bottle openers emblazoned with the Steam Whistle logo. The Beet chefs extended their service into the evening by offering snack foods for this crowd of music lovers. Along with four flavoured popcorn shakers to add to bags of fresh popcorn, the feature offering was a sophisticated, sweet, and smoky addictive snack – Bacon Bourbon Caramel Popcorn. A fresh salsa with nacho chips, similar to what the youngsters had been making during the earlier activities, was also available, and all the snacks paired nicely with “Canada’s Premium Pilsner.”
This year’s lineup of live music had eight different acts throughout the night, along with DJ Aaron from Call The Office spinning tunes all night in a block party in The Street Where You Live exhibit. Adults of all ages found themselves tapping into their inner child in a setting that was suited for playing – and apparently drinking and dancing too. Growing Chefs! has always been about the children, and Grickle Grass builds on that by extending it into an adult event to support the children’s programs. It was a fun vibe in a unique setting and I know Dr. Seuss would approve.