Farm to School Sprouting in Canada


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:

I would like to acknowledge the power of a dream.
We have a lot of dreamers in our movement but I would like to pay tribute to Michelle Lessard, affectionately dubbed the Farm to School Fairy Godmother. She must have sprinkled some kind of magic dust on that first pilot program because  it is still going strong – 4 years later. The clamour of 200 children as they line up twice a week to feast on a salad bar of local greens is a marvel to behold. That magic has found its way to more than 50 different communities in BC. And soon we hope to see it sparkle in the eyes of children coast to coast.


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.

Related Care2 Stories

The No-Cost Way to Double Kids’ Fruit Intake

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Burger and Fries with Your Surgery?


First Photo of Dragon Lake Elementary from Farm to School, Second Photo from adactio via Flickr Creative Commons


Jim Ven
Jim Venabout a year ago

thanks for sharing.

Sarah Metcalf
Sarah M6 years ago


K s Goh
KS Goh6 years ago

Thanks for the article.

Kath R.
Kath P6 years ago

If they grow it...they will most likely eat it.

Summer D.
Past Member 6 years ago

When kids have an opportunity to get actively involved in gardening - from seed to plant to 'fruit' - they adore consuming (and sharing) the results of their labour. Giving them free reign (with appropriate adult supervision, depending on their ages) in the kitchen is the next step to showing kids what food is about.

Summer D.
Past Member 6 years ago

My daughter, who's now a 27-year-old vegan by choice, loved fresh, raw, cut veggies for snack all through her daycare and school lunch years, as did all her friends. She never took a shine to cooked veg - but who cares? Peanut butter in the crevice of cut celery was her idea, and a homemade seasoned yogurt dip makes any snack a treat.

Denise L.
Denise L6 years ago

I think today's children can be very food savvy if given the opportunity. They will pick healthy food if given the option. I know 10 year olds who love Indian food and Thai food. I think all children deserve to be well fed with a variety of healthy food.

It would be wonderful to see edible gardens in every school yard

Carmen S.
Carmen S6 years ago

This is wonderful news, there is nothing like fresh produce, and good to hear that children are getting excited about fruits and vegetables.

Kamryn M.
Kay M6 years ago


Kamryn M.
Kay M6 years ago