Farmers in the Playground school salad bars gives kids the opportunity to create healthy food futures. Credit: Kelli Ebbs.
Across Ontario hundreds of groups are trying to bring about a healthier, more vibrant future. These groups have identified that connecting children and youth with good food (healthy, local, ecological) has tremendous potential to improve the future of our province.
- Groups concerned with health agree that directly providing kids with healthy food in schools and teaching them to grow, cook, and eat healthy food is critical to reducing chronic disease.
- Groups concerned with the future of farming agree that teaching children to grow, eat, and value healthy food is key to ensuring Ontario’s agricultural future and that feeding children local food in schools can strengthen Ontario’s economy.
- Environmental groups see that food is a great tool to teach children about why environmental stewardship is important, how to be good stewards, and that through school gardens, composting, and local food they can take action to reduce their environmental impact.
- Educators all across the province know that children learn better when they are not hungry, and many are learning that they can help children learn better when they integrate food into the curriculum.
- Finally, community groups that are working to build safe, inclusive, and welcoming communities are seeing that they can use food programs based in schools to help newcomers and socially excluded groups to gain opportunities for healthy social interaction, relationship creation, and skill building.
These groups include educators, non-profit organizations, student nutrition providers, farmers, social enterprises, foundations, and more.
Peetabeck Academy Greenhouse in Fort Albany. Photo from NAN’s “Get Growing” video at ontariofoodvideos.ca.
Many of these groups work in their communities to develop and deliver effective programming while others develop dynamic resources to accompany that programming.
- Those that have developed innovative programs and useful resources want to share them.
- Those that are starting up or struggling want access to those resources and inspiration.
- Those who have funds and training available want to make sure their resources get to where they are needed while those in need don’t know where to find them.
- Those who have figured out what school board and municipal policies work are happy to share their successes while many are struggling to figure out what the policies should be and how they can get them passed.
- Finally, those groups that have visions for how connecting children and youth with good food can improve Ontario’s future want to work with the Provincial Government to create and pass effective policies, while many within the Provincial Government are looking for solutions that will ensure a better future for Ontario.
Based on discussions and survey response we have heard a clear desire for a network that connects these groups and initiatives with one another.
Our Hope for the Network
A little reminder of what was to come in the Evergreen Heights school garden in Emsdale. Credit: Kelli Ebbs.
As a result of this network and the collaborations it supports, we hope that groups across the province will have easier access to one another and to the resources, energy, and expertise that they share.
- The network will reduce efforts that need to be spent “reinventing the wheel” and will enable the easy transfer of knowledge, resources, and experience.
- The Network will make convening, organizing, and advocacy easier.
- This network will lead to more initiatives across Ontario to connect children and youth with good food; those that already exist will be stronger and will expand; and school boards, municipalities and the Province will make decisions which will better support these initiatives.
- Further, it will lead to all of the benefits outlined above including healthier children with better eating for life who are more engaged in education and able to learn; a thriving local food economy; and reduced environmental impacts.