From Farm to School: B.C.’s Example

A kid who eats better learns more. So why not bring farm-fresh food to school cafeterias? That’s what Joanne Bays is doing in British Columbia. Not too long ago, Québec’s Équiterre organization invited her to share her experiences with those who’d like to see the same done in this province.

Normand Charest         File : Health

Bays comes from a family long active in farming and community gardening. She’s a trained nutritionist. With a British grandfather, a French-Canadian grandfather and two First Nations grandmothers, she has a long and varied family farming and food legacy on which to draw.

Her first jobs were in B.C.’s co-operative kitchens, where she worked to set up a network dedicated to encouraging nutritional eating habits. She also helped establish community farms to provide folks with fresh vegetables.

All this led her to her crusade to bring nutritious food to her province’s schools. She heads up Farm to Cafeteria Canada (F2CC), an organization dedicated to bringing fresh produce to hospitals and prisons as well as to schools.

Getting fresh food from small farms to schools takes logistics and organization. But you can always grow vegetables on site, she points out. In far-flung remote communities where bringing in agricultural produce is costly (such as on some native reserves), setting up community gardens tended by a number of families is a realistic and desirable alternative. Schools can do the same: her group’s Farming School effort has helped establish agricultural programs at 16 B.C. schools.

The B.C. health ministry is also pitching in, out of enlightened self-interest. When kids get their veggies they’re sick less, which means reduced health care costs for the province. Their Salad Bar Program benefits 20,000 kids; their Fruits, Vegetables and Milk Snacks Program helps 450,000 children across British Columbia. An apple a day, with a bit of broccoli on the side, does keep the doctor away!

And that’s a good lobbying point for those in other jurisdictions who’d like to see similar projects introduced beyond Canada’s west coast. Studies prove that a well-nourished student performs better at school. Needless to say, the same principle works for adults, by the way.

When she showed up at the Maison du développement durable last year at Équiterre’s invitation, Joanne Bays pledged her readiness to support Québec’s nutritionists in their efforts to make their schools veggie-friendly zones.

Sadly, for the moment Québec’s provincial government policy on encouraging nutritious eating appears to have been left on the backburner. But Équiterre supports a number of worthy efforts, including Montérégie’s Croq’Plaisir program, which promotes sane eating in nurseries; and their own Family Farm Network (Réseau des Fermiers de famille) which, since 1995, has been bringing fresh, local organic veggies to your table.

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