Growing a Green Community: EcoSource

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Author: Stephanie

Posted: April 4, 2012

Categories: Edible Education Network / Good Food Ideas for Kids / Words

In September 2011, as part of the School Food and Beverage Policy, Ontario’s new nutrition standards to provide students with healthier menu options came into effect. For Ontario-based environmental education organization, EcoSource, this added yet another incentive to bring healthy, local food into schools. Since 1979, EcoSource has strived to support Ontario youth and their families a they take action for sustainable communities.

In November 2006, EcoSource, with support from the Friends of the Greenbelt Foundation, launched its Youth and Local Food Program in Ontario’s Peel Region to link Ontario youth to the local food system by providing hands-on education on farms and in the classroom. When it became clear the processing sector was the limiting factor in the flow from field to table, EcoSource set out to recruit and work with processors to create new snacks using local ingredients.

Taste of Nature stepped up to the challenge of formulating an all-natural granola bar made with nothing but Ontario ingredients. The result: the Go Ontario! granola bar. A nutritious snack with no preservatives, additives or trans-fats, not only does every part of the process take place in Ontario, it is also possible to trace back every ingredient to the farm where it was grown.

Such products became more visible in secondary school cafeterias with the launch of the School Food Action Coalition, the first project of its kind in Canada. Facilitated by EcoSource and supported by the Broader Public Sector Investment Fund of the Greenbelt Fund, it brings together stakeholders influencing food procurement in Peel Region cafeterias, including the Peel District School Board, Chartwells (a division of Compass Group Canada), and Peel Public Health. The goal: identify opportunities for students to support local food purchasing in secondary school cafeterias. The program focuses on five ingredients: Go Ontario! granola bars, Ontario low-fat cheddar cheese, Ontario turkey pepperoni & sausage, and student-created menu items.

From its Youth and Local Food Program, EcoSource found that involvement is key to getting students to think local. Food outreach events, like the menu challenge and local food cooking classes, engaged students and got the creative juices flowing. As an important piece of the food chain in school cafeterias, Chartwells’ cafeteria staff were engaged through training and farm visits. In March 2011, staff travelled to the Holland Marsh to learn about locally grown foods and discuss ideas and challenges over a local lunch.

By engaging key decision makers along with those on the ground, the project takes a top-down and bottom-up approach. Coupled with experiential learning for students, the project has seen much success, and has been recognized as a 2012 Ontario Local Food Champion.