Rethinking the Menu

Pilot project aims to place more organic foods on kids’ plates

We can all picture it: a plastic, mustard yellow compartmentalized lunch tray sliding across the metal cafeteria counter; one modest serving of wobbly red jello accompanied by a ration of spaghetti and meatballs, a white roll with margarine, perhaps iceberg lettuce with ranch dressing. School lunches, like many institutional food menus, can be notoriously underwhelming in quality and not something that students are involved in the preparation of.

In the pursuit of feeding students in both a nourishing and affordable way, the Queen Elizabeth Elementary School (QEES) in Kensington, PEI is taking part in a comprehensive pilot project that will examine the obstacles to incorporating organic and locally sourced foods into school lunch programs. Cost, logistics, and fulfillment are the key indicators of whether or not institutional buying of locally produced organics is a realistic endeavour.

Bev Campbell, QEES Lunch Program Manager, the PEI Certified Organic Producers Cooperative (PEI COPC), and Krista Schurman of Schurman Family Farm and Atlantic Grown Organics are working together to create a model for schools to incorporate locally sourced organics into their lunch programs. Over a two-month trial period, from January through February of 2018, students in the QEES lunch program will have locally sourced, organic meals, daily. The project, funded by the Department of Agriculture’s Community Food Security and Food Education Program, has a strong emphasis on food security.

“We are excited to work with staff, students, and parents at the school, as well as many exceptional food producers from the area,” said Karen Murchison of PEI COPC. “It is encouraging for us as an industry organization to know that the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries is committed to ensuring the highest quality of nutrition for students in our Island schools.”

The lack of adequate spending on locally sourced and sustainably grown food is directly related to the perception that such food is not affordable. And for many, it is not. With over one in every five children in PEI being deemed ‘food insecure’, livable wages for individuals is considered the number one goal to putting food in homes. In the interim, government programs such as the Community Food Security and Food Education Program are essential to increasing food security.

Students had the opportunity to interact with the farmers growing their food and experience the connection between themselves and their food itself through their Organic Christmas Veggie Box Fundraiser in December. Students sold boxes of organic vegetables from the farmers who will be supplying their lunch program this winter. By intentionally forging a relationship between student and farmer, the program is also working towards a food-secure generation by instilling a deep appreciation for, and connection to, food at an early age.

“I think that it is very important to use as much local, organic ingredients in children’s lunches [as possible] so that they can learn where their food actually comes from- that the food comes from land or sea, versus a can,” said Bev Campbell, QEES Lunch Program Manager.

QEES is an ideal pilot school because it is already using local produce and consciously working towards food security, therefore comparison of cost, distribution, and supply fulfillment between local organic and local non-organic are highly accurate and the community is on board with localizing food buying.

“At our school, I like to pride ourselves on the fact that no child goes hungry. To start the day off we offer a breakfast program to anyone who needs it. We also have a well-stocked snack cupboard. We are lucky enough to offer a hot lunch program, and if anyone needs a lunch for whatever reason, they will receive one. Also to help out on the weekends we have a program called It Takes A Town. With this program, we deliver non-perishable as well as fresh fruit, and fresh vegetables every week to those who need it,” said Bev Campbell of the existing food programs at QEES.

QEES’ new organic, locally-sourced food pilot program is designed to demonstrate the viability of organic agriculture in institutional settings, particularly school lunch programs. It is not to advocate for replacing the purchasing of non-organic foods with organics, rather, it is intended to determine whether or not organics can be equally considered by institutions and distribution systems as an economically-sound option.

About Hanna Hameline

Hanna is a graduate of UPEI with a B.A. in Sociology. She has completed trainings in Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, Shambhala Meditation, and Maritime Yoga College 200-HR Yoga teacher training program. Hanna currently works as the communications coordinator for the PEI Certified Organic Producers Co-operative and has volunteered with PEI Food Security Network, ECO PEI, The Voluntary Resource Centre, and Sierra Club Atlantic Chapter. She warmly invites you to contact her with any food lovin’ stories or ideas you would like written about.

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