Pilot program for nine schools across PEI to be in place by fall 2019

Students’ access to nutritious food in PEI’s schools and meeting the challenges of implementing a province-wide school food program are one step closer, following a government announcement in mid-November.

Minister of Education, Early Learning, and Culture, Jordan Brown revealed the government’s plan for a pilot project in nine schools to begin in the fall of 2019, with initial testing of some of the pilot’s goals to occur early in the new year.

The heart of the pilot is based on a centralized kitchen model, where food would be prepared at a central school and then delivered to satellite schools in that area. “Nine champion schools have stepped forward to pilot the model in September 2019, including East Wiltshire Intermediate, which would prepare meals for students at Eliot River; Kinkora Intermediate and Senior High, which would supply meals to Somerset Elementary and Amherst Cove; and Montague Regional, which would deliver to Montague Consolidated, Montague Intermediate and Southern Kings Consolidated,” Brown announced in the Legislature.

Along with the centralized kitchen model, the school nutrition policy will be updated and efforts to create meals from scratch using fresh local Island foods will be at the heart of the pilot.

Last year Morgan Palmer was hired through the Community Food Security and Food Education Program as a School Food Environment Project lead.

A joint effort with a number of provincial departments, the program was created to promote good nutrition and healthy food choices, build community self-reliance, link farmers to consumers, and build pride and joy in preparing foods. Announced in late November 2017, the successful groups and schools were given funds to create and run activities to achieve these goals by the end of March 2018.

Palmer, who is a both a Red Seal chef and registered dietitian, worked with three schools across the Island and her experience with that grant program evolved into her new role as a Food Environment Officer with the Education, Early Learning, and Culture Department. Though she jokes that “I don’t have any badges,” in reference to the title, it’s clear that her passion to see a change in the school food environment across PEI is great.

“One of the benefits of being so connected with the other grant programs was that we were all reaching similar conclusions. So we ended up making recommendations that were really similar and I think that’s why my position was extended. They didn’t want that information to be lost,” Palmer said.

“One of the great things about being internal to the public schools branch now is that I’ve been able to chat with people and really understand where all those opportunities to link together those objectives lie, in the school system. And there’s so many of them, so from that perspective, we have a lot of strengths to draw from as we roll out a program that supports that.”

“We can be leaders in anything that we put our minds to because we are small,” Palmer said, speaking to PEI’s size advantage when implementing any new policy or plan.

The new pilot will be not only see new menus and food in schools, but ultimately be an economic boon to some. “As we move away from volunteer-led programs,…the idea is to create better quality jobs in food service,… and as a system it could be really, an actual inspiring institutional position to have a cook,” Palmer said. “If we’re talking about feeding kids or addressing hunger in PEI, then really, what we need to be talking about is poverty reduction, and less emergency food relief, and one of the ways to get there is better quality jobs for parents.”

Recognizing that a comprehensive school food program needs to address poverty issues as well, Brown said in his announcement, “A pay-what-you-can, or similar model, will allow families to anonymously pay what they can when placing orders online…we will have a comprehensive community-based program that will help students learn to eat healthy at a young age; provide youth with healthy meals to support their learning; create equity for students living in food insecure conditions so that they can belong and thrive along with their peers. We know that schools have great capacity to impact our children’s health and well-being and this initiative is a key plank in our new Poverty Reduction Action Plan.”

The announcement was met with praise from Peter Bevan-Baker, Leader of the Green Party, “Good policies should solve problems, and great policies—and I think this is a great announcement containing a great policy—they solve multiple problems at once and they create long-term benefits in a number of areas, and that’s exactly what the universal local food program does in our schools.”

The PEI Home and School Federation (PEIHSF) has been pressing the provincial government to implement a province-wide school lunch program for years. In 2015 they adopted a resolution to ‘establish a provincial school lunch program for all Island children that adheres to the school nutrition policies and regulations.’ PEIHSF stated on their website that they are “pleased with this announcement and will continue to advocate for a universal provincial school food program in PEI schools.”

About Cheryl Young

A “Jill of all trades” describes Cheryl to a T. From operating her own handyperson company, to selling luxury cars, to working as a film and TV crew member, her resume is diverse. But her dream as a kid was to be a journalist and she started down that path many years ago at CBC Charlottetown. Returning to her journalism roots, she’s excited to be editing Salty’s content and occasionally writing herself.

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