From May 15-17, 2019, Farm to Cafeteria Canada and the Public Health Association of BC co-hosted the National Farm to School Conference. This event set out to illuminate the activity underway in this country to bring more of the local harvest into school classrooms and cafeterias, to celebrate the tapestry of programs connecting children to their food and their planet, and to inspire further action, particularly in the realm of evaluation and research.
The conference began with a day of tours to schools and shores, including a tour exploring urban farming and Campus Food Initiatives, a wild harvest foraging workshop, a visit to Salt Spring Island, an urban food systems walking tour, and a trip that highlighted approaches to Indigenous food sovereignty and ecosystem restoration.
Following the tours, participants enjoyed 2 conference days full of participatory activities, learning in breakout sessions, and engaging presenters. These included:
- Seven lightning talks, sharing the rich Farm to School activities happening across our borders, by representatives from BC and the Yukon, the prairies, Ontario, Quebec, the Atlantic provinces, and the United States.
- A fast-paced activity where participants shared their “big ideas” for Farm to School.
- Engaging poster presentations from over 20 farm to school projects (it was tough to get participants to leave the poster room!)
- Michael Abelman’s plenary presentation, where he inspired participants about educating children for a sustainable world.
- A range of breakout sessions where schools and organizations, projects and champions, shared their stories and insights.
- A plenary presentation from Dr. Wayne Roberts about the Power of Proof, and additional presentations about the possibilities we have in using evaluation for transformation.
- A process where participants informed the development of a Farm to School Evaluation Framework for Canada.
- Inspiring stories shared by Indigenous youth, in their own words.
The conference shared the impact that farm to school is having in Canada. We now have empirical evidence as well as rich case studies that demonstrate that F2S improves student eating behaviours and student food skills and knowledge, and that it has a positive impact on school and regional food systems. During the conference F2CC released a new Farm to School Guide, endorsed by Health Canada, that demonstrates that F2S is public health policy in action.
Other features of the conference:
- Canada’s Minister of Health, the Honourable Ginette Petitpas Taylor, provided a warm welcome, via letter, speaking about her support for F2CC and the national F2S activity that the organization is championing.
- At the close of the first day, Nona Evans, the CEO of the Whole Kids Foundation, and Grant Daisley, Associate Marketing Coordinator – Western Canada for Whole Foods Stores announced another $500 K investment to enable more schools in more provinces to bring more of the local harvest into their cafeterias.
- During the harvest reception dinner at the Songhees Wellness Centre, BC’s Minister of Agriculture, the Honourable Lana Popham, spoke about her support for farm to school and the way she is accelerating the realization of the F2S vision through her Ministry’s Grow BC, Feed BC, Buy BCinitiative.
- Canada’s Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, the Honourable Marie-Claude Bibeau, shared a videoendorsing the F2S vision of more healthy local sustainable foods on the minds and plates of students and went on to speak about the way Canada’s National Food Policy will support that vision though the provision of funds for local food infrastructure and through the commencement of dialogue towards a national school food program.
Participants left the event with stronger relationships; new ideas, tools and models to apply to their work; and the inspiration to continue their strong farm to school efforts across the country.
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We’re compiling all of the conference outcomes into a final set of proceedings – stay tuned for the report this summer!