Good ideas have a way of spreading like a healthy virus. October is National Farm to School Month, and although it celebrates U.S. initiatives, Canadian communities are catching this virus too.
That’s none too soon. In “School Lunch”, a new video from Nourish, Michael Pollan says, “Most school lunch programs in America are a scandal.” Canada, on the other hand, has the dubious distinction of being the only G8 country without a national school lunch program.
Community nutritionists with grit and persistence have refused to accept that status quo. In 2001, Debbie Field, Executive Director of Toronto’s Food Share, launched a salad bar program in city schools. She was inspired by the Farmers’ Market Fresh Fruit and Salad Bar she visited in a Santa Monica school and brought the idea north.
A colleague in British Columbia, Joanne Bays, envisioned launching the program in her home province. Dream became reality in 2007 with the launch of the first Farm to School Salad Bar Pilot Project at Dragon Lake Elementary School in Quesnel, B.C. Of that first successful year, Bays says:
Children excited about vegetables — now there is a sight to make anyone believe in the possibility of change. Here is the way Bays describes Farm to School Salad Bar:
The Farm to School Salad Bar concept is refreshingly simple! A relationship is developed between a school and local farms. Foods are grown, harvested, processed and served up in a salad bar twice per week in participating schools….Children, parents, school staff, farmers – whole communities – benefit from a program that broadens knowledge and experiences growing, harvesting, preparing and tasting fresh local greens.
B.C.’s health sector has provided the largest share of dollars for the program. Funding partners have included the Ministry of Health, B.C. Healthy Living Alliance, the Public Health Association of B.C., and the province’s regional health authorities.
One Success Leads to Another
Provincial funding allowed more schools to set up facilities, connect with area farms, plan field trips and involve teachers, administrators, parents, students and community nutritionists. Bays developed a provincial Web site with tips and resources and connected with people all over B.C. Success inspired other schools and farms to come on board.
After trying the program, the principal of Mountview Elementary in Williams Lake reported students had more energy and better concentration. In an interview with the Globe and Mail, he said, “They’re happier kids, they’re more stable and we don’t have things like arguments and fights. We just think it’s because they’re well fed.”
In Chetwynd, nestled in the foothills of the Rockies, the program inspired the community to produce more fresh food. Now the town has a farmers’ market and a growing interest in cooking among local youth.
Though provincial dollars dried up, the program continues to flourish. For 2011, more than 50 schools are participating. Now Bays has her eyes on a bigger prize, a national Farm to Cafeteria Canada initiative. The Public Health Association of B.C. and the Alberta Public Health Association have just received funding from the J.W. McConnell Foundation to launch the network. Bays says:
Over the next 18 months regional Farm to Cafeteria leads will roll up their sleeves to survey the Canadian Farm to Cafeteria landscape and to develop a strategic plan to further the Farm to Cafeteria movement. We will be calling upon farmers, gardeners, chefs, teachers, principals, health care workers, parents, students, elders, and our policy makers to share their vision for Farm to Cafeteria Canada. We will be asking Canadians ‘What will it take? ‘What are the top three priorities that a national organization can undertake to further the Farm to Cafeteria movement?”
There will be many ways Canadians will be able to have their voices heard – from online surveys to townhall meetings. And we will be listening! Their ideas will form our plan of action. We will then share this plan with the public and our partners who have the influence and resources to put the plan in action.
British Columbia’s commitment was confirmed May 17, 2011, when Premier Christy Clark announced:
$2.5 million from the Ministry of Health’s healthy eating in schools budget has been allocated to support student access to fruit and vegetables for the next two years. One-time grants will also be available to schools to purchase fridges and salad bar equipment to support local solutions to increase fruit and vegetable access for students.
Farm to Cafeteria Canada is a large vision. This group will make it happen.
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First Photo of Dragon Lake Elementary from Farm to School, Second Photo from adactio via Flickr Creative Commons