Our Team

Merri Schwartz

Founder, Chair of the Board of Directors

Merri Schwartz has been working in the Vancouver 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 returning to Vancouver to fulfill 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 Growing Chefs! with the hope that sustainable practices will become part of the foundation of living and cooking in Vancouver, and in cities like it all over the world. After acting as the Executive Director of Growing Chefs! for four and a half years, Merri recently joined the board of directors as the Chair.

Helen Stortini

Executive Director 

Helen Stortini is the executive director of Growing Chefs! Chefs for Children’s Urban Agriculture. Previous to her role at Growing Chefs!, she was a professional fundraiser for five years, most recently as a Development Manager for the David Suzuki Foundation.

Helen’s no stranger to the classroom. She spent a year in Japan teaching English to elementary school children with the American Language School. She also possesses a deep passion for sustainable eating and urban gardening, and works part time as a chef at Swallow Tail Secret Supper Club, an underground restaurant that focuses on wild and foraged food.

Helen believes that there is no better way to empower and excite children about what they eat than by involving them first-hand in the growth of their own vegetables.

Jaydeen Williams

Development and Communications Director 

Jaydeen Williams is excited to join the Growing Chefs! 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.

Jaydeen loves growing her own garden, trying new recipes, tending to her backyard chickens, and exploring neighbourhoods and nature with her two dogs. She also roller skates with the Terminal City Rollergirls and volunteers at the Vancouver Farmers Market with Klipper's Organics.

Amanda Adams

Program Manager

Amanda is thrilled to be a part of Growing Chefs! 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.

Amanda grew up on the prairies but after migrating to Vancouver over 8 years ago has fallen in love with the west coast mountains and ocean. Before joining the Growing Chefs! team she spent three years working for the Canadian Parks and Wildness Society and the SeaChoice sustainable seafood program. 

With degrees in conservation biology and cultural anthropology she sees food as an important connecting point for building and sustaining thriving communities. Amanda also has a strong background in facilitation work, working with adults and youth of all ages in various educational settings. She recently completed the environmental education and communications graduate diploma program at Royal Roads University and believes that hands-on, experiential learning is the best way to inspire and empower others to make healthy choices for themselves, their community, and for the environment.

Selma van Halder

Program Coordinator

Selma’s food journey started very early. At three she was wielding knives, at 7 she was cooking multi course meals with her friends for their families. She knows the value of engaging kids in food first hand, and tends to think about food above all else. This is why, after two university degrees in Anthropology of Religion, and several years on the non-food related non-profit and NGO scene, she decided to dedicate her professional life to food.

She found her Vancouver food home at the Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts (PICA) and continued to work and train with some of the best chefs in Vancouver. She has extensive experience in teaching people about food, the food system, and cooking. In 2016, she started her own business called Fare Kitchen Literacy, which aims to connect consumers to their food in a more meaningful way. She writes and delivers workshops, teaches individuals and families, and plans and executes educational pop-up dinners and community meals.

Selma is of the opinion that nothing is more precious than being able to meaningfully go through the process of growing, harvesting, processing, and cooking your own food. So after volunteering with Growing Chefs for several seasons, she is happy to have joined the team as the Program Coordinator.