The Sooke School District is calling on the provincial and federal governments to implement a universal healthy school food program.
In letters sent to government ministers at both levels, SD62 endorsed the efforts of the Coalition for Healthy School Food, an organization that advocates for a national school food program.
“In June 2019, the federal government announced that they would begin working alongside provincial governments and nonprofit organizations towards the creation of a national school food program. The time to implement this program is now,” the letters read.
SD62 board chair Ravi Parmar says his hope is for a national program, but that one the district can tailor to its students.
“Having a flexible and adaptable program is really important to school districts like us because obviously, we support urban and rural students,” Parmar said. “Life is very different for students in Port Renfrew than it is for students in Langford.”
The federal government recently announced they were starting consultations to “develop a pan-Canadian school food policy and explore how more Canadian children can receive nutritious food at school” – more than three years after they announced they were beginning work on the problem.
“Too many children at school are trying to learn on empty stomachs, and too many Canadian families are not able to reliably access healthy food,” federal Minister of Families, Children and Social Development Karina Gould – one of the ministers that received a letter – said in a statement.
“We know that a pan-Canadian approach to school food has the potential to improve the overall health of our children as they learn, leading to better futures for them and for Canada.”
A number of school districts have some form of food program, often run in collaboration with local food banks. Greater Victoria School District hands out 10,000 meals a week to 1,000 students and families via several hub schools in the form of a pick-up school lunch. The program was amped up as schools closed when the COVID-19 pandemic was first ramping up. School districts in Nanaimo and the Cowichan Valley also run programs.
Since the start of 2020, Matthew Kemshaw, the garden coordinator at Edward Milne Community School Society, has been working with students at EMCS, Belmont and Royal Bay Secondary schools on their garden programs to teach students about sustainable food growth.
“We do kind of believe in the importance of food as like a way of leveling the playing field for everybody, in some ways,” Kemshaw said. “If everybody is well-fed, then they can learn well. But food also presents so many interesting opportunities to connect, cross-curricular beyond the walls of school into the community.”
That food is often used in the respective school’s culinary classes, with Kemshaw eyeing an expansion of the garden’s offerings to make them more productive for use in a food program.
“A school garden is never really going to be able to provide a meaningful amount of food to a universal school food program. What is really meaningful about the garden is, is that it’s a learning grounds, it’s a place for students to be able to witness where their food comes from.”
Canada is one of the only members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) without a national school food program, according to the Coalition for Healthy School Food.
Recently SD62’s trustee board voted for the district superintended to create a one-time $25,000 staff affordability fund, to help staff struggling with the rising costs of living.