Talking About Good Food in Ottawa Schools

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Author: Carolyn Webb

Posted: November 14, 2016

Categories: Edible Education Network / Good Food Ideas for Kids / GoodFoodBites / News from Sustain Ontario / Schools

ottawaschoolfoodposterThe energy and enthusiasm in the room on Wednesday October 26th, 2016 was infectious as people eagerly discussed their hopes and dreams for improving school food in Ottawa.  Teachers, community school food advocates, parents, chefs, farmers and health professionals gathered in the cafeteria at Immaculata High School for the evening event to talk about the opportunities and challenges relating to good food in Ottawa’s schools.

The Ottawa School Food Forum was organized by the newly minted Ottawa School Food Network, thanks to support from the Nourishing School Communities initiative. The Ottawa School Food Network is composed of a number of city-wide food organizations working on school food issues.  The Network had four goals for the evening: to connect people working on school food issues across the city; to share new school food initiatives; to discover what school food issues matter most to the people in the room and finally to identify how local food agencies can help support change.

The evening began with presentations from members of the Ottawa School Food Network:  Jen Coorsh from Growing up Organic; Alicia Martin with the Ottawa Food Policy Council, Pascale Messier with Ottawa Public Health, Carolyn Hunter from the Ottawa School Breakfast Program, Carolyn Webb with Sustain Ontario’s Edible Education Network and Moe Garahan with Just Food.  Tammy Whelan from Whole Foods also presented about the Whole Foods School Garden Grants.

ottawaschoolfoodforumpic2During the next portion of the evening forum participants were asked to discuss the challenges and opportunities they see in school food in Ottawa.

Challenges were a hot topic of discussion.  Many people talked about how they felt there was limited access to healthy food in schools and how they wanted to see improvement in the quality of food sold for school fundraising and encourage more whole, unprocessed foods in cafeterias.  Also missing, people felt, was adequate training and information sharing both for students and teachers.  The third most discussed challenge was a lack of leadership within schools working on food issues. Many people pointed to high teacher and volunteer burnout and the need for more outside help from external organizations.

ottawaschoolfoodforumpic1After discussing the challenges, participants proposed many exciting opportunities to support good food in their schools, and even in Ottawa as a whole.  The top theme was to provide training around topics of nutrition, cooking and food literacy to students, teachers and parents.  People also saw opportunities to engage students, parents and the local community in leadership roles. Many saw the building momentum around indoor and outdoor school gardens as an opportunity to engage schools, students and the surrounding community in growing and learning about real food.

The Ottawa School Food Network wanted to know what resources would help people working on school food issues.  Forum participants identified that the greatest need amongst those working on school food issues was for more opportunities to network and share information and resources.  Also high on the list was the desire for community collaboration, as many schools feel they are working on their own.  Again, the need for skill development, both for teachers and students, was seen as a priority.

The high level of enthusiasm lasted through the end of the evening with people sharing contact information as they grabbed a last delicious treat made by Café Urban at Saint Paul University.  The Ottawa School Food Network’s job now is to harness that eagerness and use the knowledge gained from this forum to move forward.  It is exciting to think where that will lead us next.

– Written by Allegra Newman, who coordinated the Ottawa School Food Forum –