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Richmond chef imparts food knowledge to children

Richmond chef Ian Lai has spent the last few years digging in the dirt with elementary age children. He couldn't be happier.

Richmond chef Ian Lai has spent the last few years digging in the dirt with elementary age children.

He couldn't be happier.

Lai is the founding director of the Richmond Schoolyard Society, a nonprofit organization that encourages elementary school children to get down and dirty, and learn about growing food.

Six years ago, Lai began the society, then called the Terra Nova Schoolyard Society, in order to bring children into the "outdoor classroom" where they connect with the earth and their community.

"Our vision can be summed up in a simple equation: Kids + gardens + healthy food = stronger communities," added Lai.

As an instructor at the Northwest Culinary Academy of Vancouver, Lai said he was frustrated by his students' lack of knowledge about how the food cycle works.

"So, I embarked on a quest to introduce children to where their food comes from," he said.

Lai began with a small plot of land donated by the Sharing Farm and his daughter's Grade 3/4 class at Quilchena Elementary.

Soon, the Schoolyard Project expanded from 30 students in one school to 120 students in two schools and two community centres. By the third growing season, the project included two more elementary schools and a First Nations youth program.

Today, nearly 500 students participate in the Schoolyard Project.

Besides the classes at Terra Nova rural Park, the society visits schools to set up their own outdoor gardens, which enables the school to create its own garden program.

However, as a farm-to-table proponent, Lai is determined to get even more children on board. He is planning on doubling the number of participants this year.

To do that, the nonprofit organization has put together its first Richmond Schoolyard Society's Golf Tournament and Dinner at Greenacres Golf Course.

"We already have 80 golfers signed up, and we are hoping to have either 100 or 120 golfers," said Lai. "I hope we can raise at least $25,000 so we can work with many more children."

The fundraiser happens on Thursday, Sept. 6 beginning at 1 p.m., with dinner featuring the bounty from the society's own gardens, as well as a live auction with Bill Chalmers and many prizes.

"Bill mentored Anthony Robbins (celebrity American self-help guru and motivational speaker)," added Lai.

Registration begins at 11 a.m., followed by a 1 p.m. shotgun start and dinner at 6:30 p.m.

For tickets ($125/player which includes dinner or dinner only for $75/person) or for more information, call Peter Birks at 604-240-4840, or email or online at

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