A provincial organization that wants to make it easier for children to avoid unhealthy snacks and instead consume local, healthy food, is spreading into communities of the Bulkley Nechako region.
Since 2017, Silverthorne Elementary in Houston has received $2,600 in Farm to School funding, which it has used to buy equipment, utensils and cutlery for its salad bar and breakfast and hot lunch programs.
Farm to School aims to source schools with healthy food produced by local farmers, or provide funding for schools to help them prepare nutritious meals for their students.
Since 2007, the provincially-funded scheme – under the Provincial Health Services Authority – has helped more than 160 schools and reached almost 30,000 students across British Columbia, as representative Margo Peill explained to a meeting of the Regional District of Bulkley-Nechako on April 4.
Peill is the Northwest Community Animator based in Terrace and her area of responsibility covers the communities between Terrace and Houston.
“The vision for Farm to School BC is healthy, local, and sustainable food for all students in B.C. The core goals of Farm to School BC are healthy local food, hands-on learning and school and community connectedness,” she said.
The function of the program depends on the school and it could be schoolyard gardens, harvesting wild and traditional food, salad bars, or breakfast and hot lunch programs.
Its hands-on learning goal takes the form of gardening at school or in greenhouses, kitchen activities and field trips to local farms and foraging.
With school and community connectedness, the program emphasizes the relationship between local farmers, community members and supporting organizations.
“It’s about understanding the resources in each area and understanding how to cultivate those,” Peill said.
In the northwest, nine schools have joined Farm to School since 2014, including schools in Smithers and Telkwa, and the Terrace hub was set up in January of this year.
Two schools in Quesnel, one in Prince George, and one in Vanderhoof receive Farm to School funding.
“A portion of their food is local and grown indoors for their salad bars,” as Richard Han, Provincial Manager with Farm to School BC told Black Press.
Schools that want to join the program can apply for up to $3,500 in grants and that usually goes towards the purchase of cooking infrastructure and equipment, or in some cases fuel for school bus field trips to farms. Top up grants of $1,000 are available for schools that have already received funding.
Ideally, Farm to School would like all schools to receive food from local farms, “but we recognize that in some remote and rural communities there aren’t farms nearby. In the application they have to indicate how the schools would source food locally, for example they would list a local farm. Or they could say they’re going to start a school garden to source food locally,” Han said.
To qualify for the grant, a school should be ready to commit time and resources to making healthy food programs successful.
“Silverthorne is doing a salad bar program, but that takes teacher time and staff support to operate it. It needs a lot of communication and synergy with the different stakeholders. They demonstrated that they were ready to receive it. We want to see schools that have the capacity.”
“We look to see how community is becoming involved and want more people coming together. Then it becomes stronger,” explained Han, who added that farmers who want to provide schools with their produce can co-apply with a school to the program.
No schools in the Burns Lake area have applied to Farm to School yet, but Han and Peill said they hope to bring on more schools in the region between Houston and Prince George.
“There’s a lot of appetite from teachers and parents to encourage healthy eating. We encourage them to be on the lookout for our program and check us out on the website and social media.”