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Primrose Elementary School & Local Food … A Love Story

Primrose Elementary School, Primrose, ON
Total student enrollment: 520
2017-2018 (Year 2)

The Salad Bar at Primrose ES has made a big impact at the school. Starting with the visual impact, it is served in our main foyer, where people coming in and out of the school see it in progress, enjoy the bright colours and smells of fresh, hand-made foods, ask and rave about it and leave with smiles. It provides a point of pride for our school administrators to share in reports. And our students love it! We have kids who bounce down the hall chanting “I love salad!”, or “ooh yay, it’s taco day!”, or see our salad bar volunteers in the halls and excitedly ask “is it salad day?!” We have many regular “customers” and always have a handful of curious newcomers who are eager or willing to try, making us grateful for the policy of “no child turned away”.

The Primrose Salad Bar has just completed its second year of service under this three-year grant from Farm to Cafeteria Canada. The grant has allowed us to purchase equipment and set up processes to launch, and it’s been great to realize that the revenue from salad bar sales will cover the costs of food going forward plus some other costs, so thank you F2CC! The timeline also allows for experimentation with different approaches without concern over the budget or delays encountered through the school board procurement process. It also allows for the salad bar program to get established as part of the school culture, ensuring support from teachers and staff for the education component, and improving its position as a priority of parents and school council ongoing.

Before I joined the Primrose salad bar team I was already a big local food lover.  I’ve been a member of a CSA farm for many years and shop locally.  Promoting local food, especially to people who are used to going to a grocery store and buying California strawberries in the middle of February, is important to me.

Jen Payne, my enthusiastic, go-getting, tireless friend is very active at Primrose, getting the local food word out. For the last 4 years she has co-run a local food club for the school, a program that distributes local food ingredients with a recipe that kids take home and make for supper.  She is an ardent local shopper and sees everything as an opportunity to learn and share knowledge in an inclusive, positive, really engaging way.  We have a small group of salad bar volunteers, all of whom are dedicated and positive concerning healthy local foods.

The salad bar program clearly benefits the students and staff – in the obvious ways, by providing healthy lunch options and teaching them about food sources close to them, and to parents, who hear from their kids about shopping/eating locally, but in other ways too. It has become a bit of a hang-out for some students, while others are always keen to “help out” by eating the leftovers!

A few times this year, our program has benefited students who have needed a little “boost”. Students pass by the salad bar on their way to the vice-principal’s office, whether they’re in trouble, or hungry and looking for a snack. In several cases this year, a nod from the vice principal tells us that the student could use a little pick-me-up, so we engage them in conversation, show them around the salad bar and invite them to try something. We’ve discovered that one student in particular who often has little packed for lunch and does not order salad bar, has a real passion for food and tells us about different flavour combinations they love. The principal has asked us to keep this student “on the list” and they have come to every salad bar, often eating multiple helpings, and sticking around to talk to the adults about food, making suggestions for future salad bars. We love that we can accommodate and encourage this passion in a student who may have a different experience at home.

Our primary farmer-suppliers “Farmer Amy” and “Farmer Graham” are enthusiastic about the program and frequently accommodate our last-minute requests for “whatever is available”. Luckily, their son Owen is in Kindergarten at Primrose and sometimes even brings us food from their farm on the bus!

We live in the middle of a wonderfully bucolic area of southwestern Ontario, in Dufferin County, filled with passionate local food producers. Some of our salad bar suppliers are a few minutes’ drive from the school. Our local suppliers can provide us with root crops from their farm all the way into mid-winter. We have also had great success and enthusiasm from classrooms growing sprouts for our lunch services using a light table owned by the school. It has been in high demand among teachers, and the classes are very proud of their sprouts. When available, we have also served food grown in our school garden, where more teachers are taking initiative to spend class time exploring and learning what grows.

One problem we have encountered is the tricky process of estimating how much food is needed for a given number of orders and walk-ins. We often end up with leftovers, some of which can be put in our chest freezer and saved for some future concoction. Last year, for example, we turned frozen leftover vegetables into delicious hearty Moroccan stew at the last salad bar of the year.

We can also avoid food waste by putting leftovers into the existing Breakfast Program. Thanks to our incredible BP coordinator Nicole Patton we not only have someplace to redirect food and avoid waste, but also supplies, dishes and help from her kitchen.

Our newest addition is a real attention-grabber: a bicycle blender! This is a pedal powered attachment that outfits a standard bike with a stationary stand. We can use frozen greens, berries and fruits in healthy, fun smoothies, with a bonus: kids get active by pedalling the smoothie bike…there is always a line-up of eager pedallers on Smoothie Days.

Submitted by Tani Mogensen, Primrose Salad Bar Coordinator


2016-2017 (Year 1)

Love is in the air – and in the bellies and in the fields of Mulmur, Ontario in Dufferin County – as Primrose Elementary School reflects on Year One of our new Salad Bar program.

With our official “first date” on Valentine’s Day 2017, it’s no wonder that our students hit it off so well with the scrumptious salad bar table that was all dressed up with local food for the occasion.

We always had an inkling that it would be a perfect match. Primrose has had a very compatible food culture for a number of years, starting out experimenting with the Great Big Crunch, moving on to adopting local food fundraisers of many kinds, and even using a local dairy for its milk and student nutrition programs.

But this year, things are getting even more serious between Primrose and Local Food. Now they’ve joined bank accounts and became joined in contracted matrimony by the power vested in the Farm to School Salad Bar Grant. Now we see a bright future of bright colours, many rainbows served and eaten and many, many happy, healthy children.

At this small rural school with no commercial kitchen facilities, over 369 meals have been lovingly served in the first 9 salad bar “dates”, including over 77 pounds (or 35 kg) of local food, most of which was “hyper local”, from farms and food producers within 10 to 25 km of the school. Our local food supplier relationships have been matches made in heaven.

No less than five local farmers have shown their love by visiting the new couple to show students important life skills like growing sprouts, preparing foods, educating students about where food comes from and why and how to eat local. Program coordinators are always on hand to provide guidance to student volunteers, and ensure the important aspects of salad bar service are delivered, encouraging but not serving little eaters, and providing lots of informative signage and promotion.

In one particularly heartstring-tugging story, a boy in grade five – let’s call him “Alex” – came to the salad bar on February 14th with no container, no fork and no direction saying “I think my dad signed me up but I don’t know what I’m doing”. With a quick introduction to the options available, and some warm encouragement from the coordinators – using skills from our Salad Bar training – Alex tried a tiny bit of this, a little bit of that and found that it “wasn’t so bad”. Once he discovered the salad dressing (made locally) his heart was won, he came for seconds and he never looked back. The second date was assured, and he’s attended every salad bar service since. “I LOVE salad bar!”, exclaimed Alex.

Check that…an 11-year-old boy said “love” and “salad” in the same sentence. And he’s not the only one. This project has been proving wrong all those who would doubt that a love between kids and vegetables could be possible, true and lasting.

Alex has refilled his borrowed bowl, and watching this new love grow has filled our hearts. It’s a fairy tale ending for our Salad Bar story. Stay tuned for the sequel. We can’t wait to start up again next school year!

Thanks Farm to Cafeteria Canada for helping our love bloom!

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