National Farm to School Network (NFSN) has a vision of a strong and just food system for all and seeks deep transformation toward this vision through farm to school – the way kids eat, grow, and learn about food in schools and early care and education settings. They seek to increase access to local food and nutrition education to improve children’s health, strengthen family farms, and cultivate vibrant communities. They envision a nation in which farm to school programs are an essential component of a strong and just local and regional food systems.
Whole Kids Foundation is built on a spirit of collaboration, and we act as a catalyst for change by investing in partnerships with respected experts in the fields of nutrition and education.
Together, we amplify each other’s efforts to improve children's nutrition and wellness.
Throughout 2023, we are spotlighting our current partners and how these organizations are growing the next generation of healthy eaters.
Our partners at Farm to Cafeteria Canada (F2CC) are working to transform how food is experienced, learned and celebrated in all schools across Canada. They support schools by sharing tools and resources, connecting them with partners and local food providers in their communities, providing funds through grant programs, and informing supportive policy that’s needed to transform school food systems.
In 2016, Whole Kids Foundation committed $750k CAD and partnered with the innovative F2CC to transform school food in Canada through our Farm to School Canada Grant Program. What was, at the time, the single largest investment in children’s nutrition in Canada became a catalyst for Canada’s federal government to invest in growing farm to school across the country, and for additional non-profits to commit funding and other resources and build capacity through infrastructure, training and knowledge sharing activities.
The Farm to School Canada Grant Program supports schools with getting healthy, local, and sustainable food on the plates and minds of students through a comprehensive approach. The grants:
- support school growing and harvesting activities by building and enhancing school gardens or food forests;
- encourage students to build their own bowls and create their own plates using a salad bar model;
- enable educators to teach nutrition and food system education; and
- support program evaluation and advocacy training for school communities.
We reached out to Jesse Veenstra, Executive Director at Farm to Cafeteria Canada, to get the scoop on how they are helping kids learn to love fresh, nutritious, whole foods.
WHOLE KIDS FOUNDATION (WKF): What is Farm to Cafeteria Canada’s approach to advancing children’s nutrition and wellness?
Farm to Cafeteria Canada (F2CC): F2CC envisions meaningful school food environments where all students feel welcomed and nourished in body, mind and spirit. We believe that food is a powerful connector, both to place and to others. Encouraging curiosity through food and food systems, and fostering these connections, allows children to learn how the health of their community and the planet is connected to their own health and wellness.
The Farm to School Approach: At F2CC, we grow the capacity of diverse school communities across the country to foster vibrant school food systems by connecting students to food and the local systems that produce it. We do this by focusing on three elements: 1) providing access to healthy* local food at school; 2) engaging students in hands-on food literacy; and 3) connecting students to their broader communities, including those involved in their local food system. We refer to this as the “farm to school” approach, or, to better reflect the diversity of local and traditional foods that can be enjoyed in schools from coast to coast to coast, the “local food to school” approach. Evaluations of our programs have demonstrated that, when a farm to school approach is taken, students consume more healthy food, have more food literacy skills, have more knowledge about gardening, agriculture and the environment, and are more excited about healthy eating. At a school level, schools also purchase more local food, increase their capacity to grow food, establish and strengthen partnerships with the broader community and have an overall greater sense of vibrancy.
*We understand “healthy food” can mean different things to different people. We define it as food that provides the nutrients needed to maintain health, feel good, and enjoy life, and we believe that it should consider people’s physical, mental, emotional and spiritual needs, including being culturally appropriate and responsive.
WKF: What has been the impact of the partnership between Whole Kids Foundation and Farm to Cafeteria Canada?
F2CC: Our partnership with Whole Kids Foundation has allowed us to demonstrate how making positive changes in school food environments can lead to broader change. What started with an investment in grant programs for 2 provinces and 50 schools has led to a nation-wide movement and helped catalyze additional investment, allowing us to leverage more than $6M to date from a range of funding and implementation partners to transform school food in Canada.
Partnerships are the heartbeat of F2CC, and our partnership with Whole Kids has been instrumental in growing not only the capacity of school communities across the country, but it has also contributed to building capacity of our many regional partner NGOs as well as that of F2CC itself. It has really inspired those involved in Canada’s growing farm to school movement to think big about how, together, we can make lasting systems change for the health of our communities and the planet, now and for future generations.
WKF: What do you think is the most important thing for people to know about F2CC’s work partnering with Indigenous Communities and honouring Indigenous food and foodways in schools across CANADA?
F2CC: As an organization that seeks to connect young people to food and where it comes from, we must do so in meaningful partnership with the diverse First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples who have stewarded this land since time immemorial. Canada’s colonial history includes many traumas created by both residential schools and harms done through food. Building and strengthening our relationships with Indigenous people and communities is necessary for the future of Canada.
In 2021, F2CC hosted a series of virtual sharing circles to hear from Indigenous school communities about their vision for food sovereignty projects and barriers to reaching these visions. Participants spoke about how F2CC could support schools to provide Indigenous food in schools and rebuild Indigenous knowledge among youth. We heard that there is a role for F2CC to play in helping to bring people together, facilitating connection and sharing, and providing access to a variety of resources and administrative supports that could enable communities to bring their visions to life. We’re committed to continuing to listen to Indigenous and all school communities with openness, empathy, and a continued commitment to learning and unlearning. We approach relationship building with this mindset and we believe that positive change is created when we lead with respect, kindness, sharing, and reciprocity.
WKF: What current or upcoming project or program is your team excited about right now?
F2CC: We recently defined four key priority areas for our future efforts. We’re excited by how they intersect and complement one another, and we’re dreaming big about what’s possible within each of them. These include
- Growing our grant offerings to meet the many and diverse needs of school communities where they’re at in their farm to school journeys.
- Creating a first of its kind Farm to School Training Institute to equip educators with knowledge, tools, resources, connections and inspiration to grow their capacity to design and implement engaging, equitable, and evidence-based food literacy programs that reach thousands of students across Canada each year.
- Building on our Nourishing Relations work, collaborating with Indigenous school communities to support efforts to get more Indigenous food and foodways into schools while also introducing a diversity of educators, food service personnel, and administrators to new and different ways of understanding the complex relationships between Indigenous food and foodways, reconciliation, healing and education.