Bringing locally-grown produce to Hamilton Students with Tastebuds’ Local Harvest Program

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Author: Josie Di Felice

Posted: February 2, 2015

Categories: Edible Education Network / Edible Education Project Profiles

from Tastebuds' Facebook PageEver imagine having fresh, local produce delivered right to your students? Enter Tastebuds.

Out to improve student success and support heathy growth and lifelong eating habits, Tastebuds Hamilton envisions a future where all students in the city have universal access to healthy food.

Through 3Acres, their Local Harvest Program, they deliver locally grown fruits and vegetables right into student nutrition programs operating at schools or community centres. The name 3Acres emphasizes the three-way relationship that’s developed between local farms, student eaters and Tastebuds.

This love-food triangle supports local farmers while encouraging students to try new, healthy local food (like kohlrabi)!  Along with the food, they also provide recipes and information about the produce, understanding that a connection made between student eaters and local producers provides important opportunities for food education.

Ultimately, the program enables SNPs to purchase more produce than they might typically be able to afford to serve, resulting in students eating more healthy food.

It was in the fall of 2013 that the pilot project began at 7 different student nutrition programs in Hamilton, with the goal to bring local fresh produce into schools using a sustainable delivery system. 3Acres originally reached this goal through the hiring of The Hammer Active Alternative Transportation Co-op cyclists, who delivered the local food orders by bicycle each week. Since last year, 3Acres has grown to include more programs and a wider variety of local food, and the food is now delivered by a driver from the Good Shepherd Centre in Hamilton.

Bringing along with her a strong dedication toward linking food and agriculture education, Grace Evans has been at Tastebuds as a Community Development Worker for a year and a half, specifically working with 3Acres. Her role in particular is to increase partnerships with local farmers and food producers in order to serve more nutritious and local food in the Tastebuds’ student nutrition programs – serving approximately 27,000 students a day in Hamilton. Grace is also responsible for starting new programs in some of the 90 schools that are without one.

Before Tastebuds, Grace was actively involved in the Slow Food movement, with Slow Food Toronto, Slow Food USA and Slow Food Canada. (She’s also got to know food from another angle, having completed Chef Training at George Brown College!)

Grace’s position to develop the farm-to-school program was supported through a grant from the Cloverleaf Family Foundation. Since the grant has run out, her position has been supported by Area Rating money through the municipal government.

Grace explains that Tastebuds sprouted a connection with schools and the community fairly naturally – the community development workers from Tastebuds simply made a list of all SNPs that had strong volunteer support and an interest in serving local food. Grace then visited each program and asked for their input as to how the program might work.

They then held a 3Acres kickoff at a local farm for the program coordinators and volunteers to come and experience the farm, which was a great success, as the kickoff really helped get the volunteers who were ordering, menu planning and coordinating the program involved and excited about serving local food to students.

The farmers and community members Tastebuds have partnered with include: ManoRun Organic Farm, Heart’s Content Organic Farmstead, Carluke Orchards, Lincoln Line Orchards, and Round Plains Sweet Potatoes.Tastebuds' Photo

Grace advises that, “the biggest lesson learned from our first year was to make sure the buy-in at the school/program level is from the person planning the menu and ordering the food. There was lots of enthusiasm and buy-in from principals and directors that did not translate to the program coordinator, and did not result in many local food orders.”

And of course, there were other challenges along the way. Grace shared some with us:

  • Originally our flow through agency did not approve of including what they deemed “non-traditional student nutrition program foods” such as garlic and apple cider. We were allowed to continue offering both items as items on our order form.
  • An ongoing challenge is getting programs to regularly order. It is difficult for farms to plan when the order volume is not consistent.
  • Though we used bikes for delivery in our first year (2013/14), we were told we’re not allowed to use bicycles for transportation in year two, due to food safety concerns from the Food and Farm Specialists from OMAF. One of the reasons our program had received so much attention within our community was because the bicycle delivery encouraged active lifestyles for students and is sustainable. In addition, this also delayed our program as we found an alternative transportation solution; we missed out on September and October (the two months with the most amount of local food that coincide with the school year) and started in November.
  • We put forward an idea with the bike co-op that we worked with for a mobile food hub that would facilitate easy transportation for farmers and for schools, but this idea also came up against barriers from the Food and Farm Specialists from OMAF.
  • Lack of cooking facilities in some schools can also limit options for food preparation.

But, like any project, it’s a learning process, and that’s part of the experience. And since 3Acre’s beginning, they have received plenty of positive feedback that speaks volumes:

“I want to thank you so much for the 3Acres experience,” Laura Laverty from the WAVE program told them.

“The kids loved all the food (and the fact that it arrived by bike). They were pretty excited if they managed to catch Abram doing a delivery. They don’t often get fruits and veggies at home (especially in the winter) so they were introduced to a number of new foods and [our program coordinator] spent a great deal of time coming up with ways to present and cook the food. They LOVED the apple cider! They had apple pancakes, roasted turnip and kohlrabi and believe it or not they really dug in. I almost forgot the sweet potato cookies; they were a HUGE hit! If we could have 3Acres year round we’d be very happy (no pressure)!”


Want to get involved in Tastebuds’ Local Harvest Program next year?
Get in touch with:

Grace Evans, Community Development Worker, 3Acres
905-522-1148 ext. 315


This profile is part of a series of profiles for the Ontario Edible Education Network.
Be sure to check out more profiles from the Network here!