Candice Kumai Gets Down and Dirty

May 09, 2011 | by —Perry Santanachote | Homepage


Candice Kumai, national ambassador of the Woodbridge by Robert Mondavi Giving Through
Growing program


Anyone who’s ever tried to sprout a seedling in New York City knows it takes significantly more time, patience, resources and money than anywhere else. In this space-strapped metropolis, community food gardens have a lot going against them, but this year’s Woodbridge by Robert Mondavi Giving Through Growing program wants to give gardens a helping hand. In partnership with the American Community Gardening Association, Giving Through Growing will bestow a total of $40,000 to four “gardening heroes” by searching the nation for the best food-garden ideas. Applicants have until May 22 to enter.

Winners will also get to meet Giving Through Growing’s national ambassador Candice Kumai, the Stiletto Chef, Top Chef alum, TV personality and cookbook author. She will visit the hometown of each “hero” to lend a helping hand at the project site and host a pop-up Giving Through Growing cooking school, with gardening tutorials and recipe demonstrations. We caught up with Kumai recently to chat about the program, what they’re looking for in a “hero” and her creative gardening tips for New Yorkers.

Have you always been an avid gardener? 
CANDICE KUMAI: Since I was four years old! I absolutely had a knack for getting my hands a little dirty. My parents kept my sister and I very active in the local community, particularly with farming and produce. I have the fondest memories of picking apples, strawberries, persimmons, berries, oranges and avocados at local farms in my hometown of Carlsbad, California.

Your dishes emphasize healthy cooking and you’re considered a healthy-lifestyle expert. How is community gardening essential to achieving this?
CK: Gardening can play a huge role in your community’s health. It helps promote a more active lifestyle, and once the community collects their harvest they are able to cook together and share fresh, local and pesticide-free ingredients. They will find cooking much more gratifying, personal and delicious—I can guarantee that! Healthy cooking, along with community gardening, not only makes for a leaner and healthier you, it also helps with community development and education.

You recently moved to New York City, where people need to get creative with their limited space. Any clever gardening tips for us?
CK: You can pot fresh herbs in the kitchen with mason jars, re-usable Tupperware containers and even a shoe rack can work wonders.

How to Pot Fresh Herbs

What is the Giving Through Growing looking for in their gardening “heroes”?
CK: We want the most inspiring, most unique and most grassroots individuals who are truly making a difference in their everyday communities. We are looking for unique, clever leaders and teachers that inspire others and bring their local communities together. I’d personally love to see those who give back to the community out of the grace of their hearts because I find that too many people live only for themselves these days, especially because we are in such financially tough times. My father always taught me that when you are able to help, help! Even if you are out of a job, volunteer work can be some of the most gratifying and graceful of its kind. I would love to find those with the biggest hearts across the U.S. 

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