Farm to School Takes Root in Canada: Major funding announced to help bring the local harvest into school cafeterias

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Author: Josie Di Felice

Posted: October 4, 2017

Categories: Edible Education Network / GoodFoodBites / News from Sustain Members / News from Sustain Ontario / Schools

MP for Toronto-Danforth, Julie Dabrusin; Federal Minister of Health, Ginette Petitpas Taylor; Chief Public Health Officer, Dr. Theresa Tam; Whole Kids Foundation Program Director, Kim Herrington; and National Manager Farm to Cafeteria Canada, Joanne Bays

It’s October and that means Farm to School Month is upon us, and this one sure kicked off with some exciting news!

At a special Farm to School Month launch event held yesterday (October 3, 2017) at Norman Johnston Secondary Alternate Program in Ottawa, Canada’s Minister of Health, the Honourable Ginette Petitpas Taylor, announced funding for the Farm to School: Canada Digs in! Initiative — the Public Health Agency of Canada will invest over $1.2 million over three years! The new national program will work to bring more of the local harvest into school cafeterias, empower and educate students about healthy eating, and evaluate the impacts of these programs.

Farm to School initiatives then received even more support at the event when Kim Herrington with the Whole Kids Foundation announced an additional $330,000 for Farm to Cafeteria Canada to deliver Farm to School Salad Bar grants in Canada!

The incredible impact of Farm to School, and the value in investing in it, is certainly becoming realized.

“Healthy living and the prevention of chronic diseases starts with making good choices, including becoming educated and exposed to healthy food options. Teaching kids about healthy food can have a tremendous impact on their health and wellbeing, and forms the basis for making positive, healthy lifestyle choices that can help prevent obesity and chronic disease,” shared Dr. Theresa Tam, Chief Public Health Officer, who was also at the event yesterday.

Along with the funding announcements, the afternoon at Norman Johnston brought together high school students, campus students, preschoolers, teachers, government representatives, community members and volunteers, all to celebrate farm to school and highlight its achievements.  This included time to enjoy the school’s fresh salad bar, which had been prepared by Norman Johnston students and largely sourced from the school garden.  During the event the school’s students and staff also gave tours of their impressive cooking and gardening facilities.

Check out the hashtag #DigInCanada on twitter for photos and videos from the afternoon.

Sustain Ontario and our Edible Education Network is thrilled to see this sort of support and momentum for such an important movement. And the Farm to School movement is clearly booming.

According to data tracked by Farm to Cafeteria Canada, the organization spearheading the national farm to school movement in Canada, Farm to School is thriving. More than 755,000 students in more than 1,100 preschools, schools and campuses have been identified as having an opportunity to experience Farm to School in Canada (75,618 students in Ontario specifically)! And across the country, 507 schools report they have an on site garden or green house and 511 report they offer local foods cooking classes. Approximately one third (or 313) are serving up the local harvest in school meals or snacks. Together these preschools, schools and campuses report they are spending nearly $16 million on local foods annually.

Canada’s Farm to School movement was given a significant boost around 2 years ago when the Whole Kids Foundation partnered with Farm to Cafeteria Canada to create a Farm to School Canada Grant process that would see over $722K in funds delivered directly to Ontario and BC schools during the 2016/17 school year.

You can get a taste of the impact that this funding has already had from the inspiring stories shared by the schools that received grants to implement fresh, locally-sourced salad bars in their school cafeterias.

For some more Ontario Farm to School grantee inspiration:

  • St. Dominic Catholic Elementary School in Oakville, one of the 23 schools in Ontario to receive a Salad Bar Grant, has been documenting their journey on Twitter, offering wonderful photos and updates of their salad bar.  This week their students are enjoying gala apples and fresh apple cider from nearby Drummond Farms in Waterdown.  The Oakville Beaver also shined the light on St. Dominic’s excitement for bringing fresh Ontario food into schools.
  • The Golden Horseshoe Food and Farming Alliance highlighted Regency Acres Public School in Aurora, another grant recipient, and their enthusiasm for a fresh salad bar.
  • And this video from Eastdale Collegiate in Toronto discusses how a fresh salad bar in schools helps students build hands-on skills, while also instilling healthy-eating habits.

If your school is looking to ramp up your Farm to School efforts, there’s no better time than Farm to School Month. For the month of October, any Canadian school (including preschools and campuses) that participates in Farm to School month and registers their activity with Farm to Cafeteria Canada will be eligible for a draw to receive a grant worth $1,500 to support their F2S initiatives. You can learn more here.

The time is now to join the movement. Farm to School supports healthy schools, students and communities, as well as local farmers, environments and economies — and that’s what farm to school month is all about celebrating. We are so excited to see where this growing movement leads us next!

Emerging impact and benefit assessments of Farm to School in Canada reveal trends similar to neighbouring US studies: students who participate in farm to school eat a wider variety of foods than their peers, including more fruits and vegetables. Students are also more knowledgeable about their foods and they are more likely to try new foods.

“There is nothing more empowering than teaching children how to grow food. The act of planting a seed is simultaneously an act of hope for the future, the developing of the means for personal food security and an act of community and bringing people together with food,” says Jamie Richards, Farmer, Primrose Elementary School, from Mulmur, Ontario.

For more information about Farm to School or the Farm to School Month Canada campaign, contact Carolyn Webb, Coordinator of Sustain Ontario’s Edible Education Network.  If you’re not from Ontario, find your regional lead at Farm to Cafeteria Canada.