Scaling up Through Food Procurement Learning Labs

Newfoundland, a province known as The Rock, is not known for its farmland but is known for its culinary creativity and for making the most of resources on the edge of the Atlantic.  When the School Lunch Association, a charitable school food service provider on the Avalon Peninsula, decided to join the local food movement, they knew there would be obstacles.

Local food procurement Learning Labs provide an innovative way to navigate these types of obstacles. These Labs, modelled after those of US School Food FOCUS, bring together key stakeholders to articulate their vision and goals. Participants then agree on a handful of priority actions that can realistically be accomplished in a short time frame.

Newfoundland Learning Lab_sm

A key strength of Learning Labs is that they fully reflect the community in which they are housed. That reflection begins through the choice of who is seen to play a role in the school food system as community champions. A different mix of individuals and roles are invited in each community depending on relationships, history, values, and aspirations.

Three incredibly different Canadian school districts have launched Learning Labs. Vancouver School Board, a large urban school district, launched the first one in 2013, followed by remote Haida Gwaii – a primarily First Nations region off the coast of Northern BC. On the Atlantic coast, the Avalon Peninsula on the east side of Newfoundland launched their Lab in 2014.  By virtue of pioneering this particular convening methodology, the Labs have also connected and united the three communities who have trained each other and now share ideas and strategies.

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After the first meeting of the Newfoundland Learning Lab was held in St. John’s, the group was still in a nebulous phase of not knowing what would come next. That uncertainty is typical when trying to tackle something that seems overwhelmingly complex. However, by the end of the second meeting, there was excitement and optimism about the ideas being discussed. Participants recognized that the Lab was providing an opportunity to tackle critical actions they had wanted to see for a long time, but had not had time to address.  Everyone was grateful that there was a structure and a lead through Food First NL to help move ideas forward.

Within a packed day of visioning and goal setting, tangible actions were outlined (see sidebar). The group was also keen to collect baseline data about food purchases and to analyze and adapt menus to incorporate Newfoundland produce and seasonality. The great news was that the suppliers were completely on board. Local foods have become quite trendy and the suppliers were optimistic that any changes to the School Lunch Association’s purchases would also be helpful for other food service operations.

While Newfoundland’s Learning Lab is still at an early stage, the two meetings have already provided unexpected opportunities for creative collaboration. Eastern Health’s upcoming vegetable and fruit campaign will be linked to the Learning Lab’s actions. As well, Island Rooms’ Fishing for Success will work with the School Lunch Association to fulfill their mandate to live, share and celebrate traditional fishing knowledge and culture. These outcomes result when opportunity is provided for relationship building, sharing, and idea generation.

Changing school food systems is difficult work. Doing so asks stakeholders to go beyond what most institutions and what most individuals do in Canada. The Newfoundland Learning Lab is a good example of how a group of stakeholders can tease out these difficult issues and put in place steps to move forward. The most remarkable outcome is always that novel and realistic solutions emerge that are supported by everyone involved in the process.   

For more information:

Food First NL: www.foodfirstnl.ca

School Lunch Association: www.schoollunch.ca/

www.farmtocafeteriacanada.ca/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/Learning_Lab_EN.pdf English and

www.farmtocafeteriacanada.ca/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/Learning_Lab_FR.pdf French

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2 Responses
  1. […] Newfoundland, a province known as The Rock, is not known for its farmland but is known for its culinary creativity and for making the most of resources on the edge of the Atlantic.  When the School Lunch Association, a charitable school food service provider on the Avalon Peninsula, decided to join the local food movement, they knew there would be obstacles. Local food procurement Learning Labs provide an innovative way to navigate these types of obstacles. Farm to Cafeteria Canada post. […]

  2. […] Newfoundland, a province known as The Rock, is not known for its farmland but is known for its culinary creativity and for making the most of resources on the edge of the Atlantic.  When the School Lunch Association, a charitable school food service provider on the Avalon Peninsula, decided to join the local food movement, they knew there would be obstacles. Local food procurement Learning Labs provide an innovative way to navigate these types of obstacles. These Labs, modelled after those of US School Food FOCUS, bring together key stakeholders to articulate their vision and goals. Participants then agree on a handful of priority actions that can realistically be accomplished in a short time frame. Farm to Cafeteria Canada post. […]

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