When Farm to Cafeteria Canada’s invitation to apply for a salad bar grant arrived, the opportunity to bring healthy, fresh, local food into Open Roads School was enthusiastically received. However, as we sat around the table drawing up our plans, it became apparent that there were at least two significant hurdles to be overcome. First, we knew that Northwestern Ontario relied heavily on importing food into the region. For many communities, fresh fruits and vegetables were simply unavailable or too expensive. Second, because our population tends to be very transient, families moving back and forth between remote Northern fly-in communities and our small urban centres along the Trans Canada, we knew some of our students had never before tried lettuce with real flavor or tasted carrots that were sweet and crisp.
Yet, despite the knowledge that there may be roadblocks, our northern “can do” attitute prevailed. We decided to take the leap to join Canada’s Farm to School movement. That was last fall. Today, 6 months after the grant arrived, we happily to say Open Roads Eats Local!
The experience has been transformative in many ways. What did we learn?
Farms, Farmers, Farm Coops Exist in Dryden
In Dryden, a local food industry has grown in recent years, supported by the Cloverbelt Food Coop. Cloverbelt became natural partners in our efforts and have been invaluable in making our salad bar a reality. What we have found through this process is that there are more local providers than we originally knew about, some so close to home that one of our key farmers even works for our school board!
Students Are Excited About Salad
We also found that despite the initial misgivings about how well students will accept a salad bar offering, the students are excited about what they are eating!
Farm to School Fosters Community
This program has fostered, not only great community connections, but also leadership skills in students, staff, and parents. And this is only the beginning. We envision coming together with the Dryden Native Friendship Centre, the local high school, chefs from local restaurants, and even more food producers to create educational connections that will grow these changes beyond the school level.
School Food Policy is a Natural Next Step
Without the grant support none of this would have been possible, but now that the ball is rolling, we are expanding the ideas to include changes to our school’s policies to limit junk food and turning the focus of fundraising campaigns to healthier, local food offerings. This has opened up other funding opportunities that will help sustain the program for years to come.
Finally, one of the most important benefits to having a salad bar program has been that we can provide a nutritious, healthy lunch to students who often go without. They can be a part of the program without the stigma associated with receiving a hand-out. This has made for some very happy children!