October is Farm to School Month across Canada and the U.S.A . and it comes at a time of year when, in a more agrarian past, every child would have been aware of the harvesting of produce from local farms and orchards.
In today’s increasingly urbanized society, we’ve all become increasingly divorced from the source of what we eat, according to Patrick Gale, a teacher at Edward Milne Community School (EMCS) who is a driving force behind a program to increase the food literacy of students.
The program, Farm to School B.C., is part of a North American initiative . In B.C., it’s a diverse and expanding provincial network that links schools and communities working to bring healthy, local, and sustainable food education into B.C. schools. In Sooke, the program is made possible, in part, through financial support of Farm to Cafeteria Canada and the Whole Kids Foundation.
“We teach food awareness to students who, prior to our efforts, may have had no real idea of where the food they eat comes from in any real sense. For example, we have a berry patch where we raise blueberries, currants, and strawberries and a lot of students are surprised at how much work it is to cultivate and harvest berries. They don’t just magically appear in those plastic containers in the store,” said Gale.
The program is largely involved with the Foods and Culinary Arts program at EMCS, a program that allows students to plan, prepare, tend and harvest produce that, in turn, is used to help create the 500 meals a week supplied in the school cafeteria.
“A couple of weeks ago we made spaghetti with garden fresh tomatoes, garlic, onions and fresh herbs from the garden. Next week we are having roasted potatoes with herbs and we have a supply of fresh fruit and a salad bar that is largely stocked by what we grow,” said Gale.
He went on to explain that, in addition to learning about the amount of labour required in food production, students are learning about the complex relationships we have with our food as well as the connections that food has to our environment, culture, community and economy.
The gardens at EMCS have existed for more than 15 years, but every year they are improved and expanded. This year, the school was the site of a greenhouse in which eight garden plots were contained, 15 outdoor garden plots, a berry patch, and an orchard. They also had a pumpkin patch, a perfect fit for Halloween.
While the program primarily targets about 170 grade 9 to 12 students, they have accommodated field trips from grade four classes from Sooke’s elementary schools.
Gale said that students who take part in his classes are not only building a knowledge base that will allow them to become future food system leaders but are getting the opportunities to try new foods and appreciate the importance of food security.
“We go beyond simply growing and harvesting food. We also do workshops on composting, organic baking, urban agriculture and a whole host of other related topics including work on indigenous food systems and indigenous community engagement,” said Gale.
A youth food conference scheduled for October 20-22 will allow Gale and others within the network to share their experience and ideas in the first conference of its kind.
“This is a growing movement, and it’s going to keep growing,” said Gale, adding that programs like the one at EMCS are a way of re-establishing links we all once had with the land, and an appreciation of where our food comes from. He said it’s important it is to safeguard that knowledge in future generations so they can make informed choices when it comes to food policies and behaviours.
More information on the program and the Farm to School movement can be found at farmtoschoolbc.ca.