Good food in schools

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from Kemptville Campus

On April 11 2024, a Good Food in Schools Forum was held at Kemptville Campus. This one-day event brought together stakeholders working on school food education and programs across Eastern Ontario. Participants included educators from five school boards, students, volunteers, parents, and community organizations, all excited to share their passion for building healthy and positive school food environments.

The Forum was organized by Foodcore Leeds Grenville Lanark, a multi-stakeholder working group committed to building healthy, sustainable, and inclusive local food systems. FoodcoreLGL has created a Food Charter and related toolkits, maintains a local Food Inventory, and supports food events and programming in our region.

With growing understanding of the importance of food to our physical, mental and emotional well-being, incorporating food literacy in schools is essential. Schools today are active stakeholders in helping kids to build a healthy relationship with food, to understand where food comes from and how it is produced, and to build their own skills in growing, preparing and serving food.

Our keynote speaker, Sarah Keyes from Sustain Ontario, was thrilled to present the federal government’s recent commitment to a national school food program in this year’s budget. Sarah shared the ongoing work of Canada’s largest school food network, the Coalition for Healthy School Food, in support of this achievement, and what this funding could mean for schools, students and families across the country. She also shared Food is Science, a new module she helped to create for the Ministry of Education that supports educators in teaching about food and food systems in Ontario’s Science and Tech curriculum.

Next, we heard from educators at four local schools who shared their work in school gardens, greenhouses, and kitchens. The Upper Canada District School Board presented UCDSB Grows, a real-world learning initiative that engages students in food production and food access at schools and in their community. Teachers shared examples of students building their own hydroponic systems to grow greens in the classroom, partnering with the Food Bank to encourage more donations of key items, prepping and serving meals at a community food centre, and designing computer programs to operate infrastructure in a school greenhouse.

We were pleased to welcome three high school students and their teacher in the Hospitality program at St. Luke’s Catholic High School. The students shared their experience working hands-on with food in class, such as making preserves from surplus produce donated by local farms. It was truly inspiring to hear what is already happening in our own communities when teachers and students are supported to produce, process and serve food in schools.

After a delicious and fresh lunch from Catered Affairs, public health nurses from the Leeds Grenville Lanark Health Unit shared resources available to schools around food and nutrition. This was followed by an open group discussion where participants could learn from each other, share resources and ideas, and plan next steps to promote food access and literacy in our schools.

Participants left feeling energized and inspired, sharing comments like “it was great to hear what other schools are doing in this area – I had no idea” and “I learned about some great resources and new curriculum to support my work”. Connections were made that will continue beyond this event; for example, a number of schools and volunteer-run school meal programs in one town decided to organize a meeting to share and coordinate their work in that community. Organizers were encouraged to continue hosting the Good Food in School Forum annually, and look forward to welcoming more educators, students and community food supporters next year.

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