Oakwood Public School, Oakville, ON
2017-2018 (Year 2)
Oakwood Public School is located in Oakville, ON. We are a JK-Gr. 5 school with a current student enrolment of 222, in the GTA- Greater Toronto Area. Town of Oakville is ranked 6th, in top 10 best cities to settle in Canada as new immigrants. Our journey to THINKING and EATING local at Oakwood Public School started on April 11, 2017. As one of the winners of last year’s $1500 grant from Farm to School BC for increasing the amount of local food served and eaten in our school corridors, for ~ 30+ Tuesdays, we have been serving a variety of veggies, fruits in green,red and orange colours, assortment of protein and other grains and sides of hummus, multigrain crackers, fresh whole wheat pita bread,olives,hemp,chia and sunflower seeds to our children and staff. What started as a conversation of eating healthy is now a fully bloomed Salad Lunch program – hopefully a permanent fixture at Oakwood for years to come.
Every Tuesday morning, the breakfast room at Oakwood is abuzz with parent volunteers, moving along in batches of 2 -3, chatting, exchanging healthy recipes (like beetroot cupcakes, yum) with busy hands – washing, cutting and prepping that day’s menu list. Our little munchers eat them with generous dollops of their favourite Ranch or Italian dressing. It’s been a fruitful journey so far with the children almost settled into their Tuesday Salad Bar Lunch routine.
Our Oakwood brood self-serves from our ‘Red Devil’(nickname for our Salad Cart) in reusable plates starting @ 11:45 am, with the JKs – Grade 1 in round 1, our older group of Gr 2- Gr 6s come at 12:30 pm and we pack up by 12:50 pm. Our cleanup includes preparing leftover Ziploc for our volunteers and dishwasher runs for washing/cleaning the ~120+ plates and cutlery. Environment-friendly, aren’t we!! Wednesday is the day for another menu list to prepared- our deadline day to order fresh produce for next Tuesday.
With the starter 10 sessions being an adrenaline rush anticipating, how the menu will be received by our ‘little customers’ and guesstimating how much to buy, the Session 2 started differently with one of our Core members – Kaitlyn ( Public health nurse with Region of Halton) off on her maternity leave. We re-started with knots in our stomachs but those were a fabulous ~20 Tuesdays, where we explored and experimented with winter veggies and fruits and googled spring produce. We were able to include variety of recipes like Slaw salad ( slaw mixed with feta cheese, pumpkin seeds and dried cranberries), everyone’s favourite chickapea pasta( chickpea pasta mixed with green and black olives,bite-size red,orange,yellow and green peppers,cucumber bits, olive oil and Italian dressing) and chickpea salad along with Taco Specials, into our Salad bar menus. The children and staff relished them and we enjoyed seeing their amazing smiles. We introduced our kids to broccoli, spiralized beets, sugar snap peas, a variety of beans, lentils, honeydew melons, minty-lemony watermelon-cucumber salad and nutrient-packed microgreens, grown by our kids in their own classrooms.
The children’s response was phenomenal and the staff had been craving Salads even before we started. Session 2 saw an increased student and staff enrolment and we passed the magic number 100. By the time, we were winding down for winter, children who met in the hallways, were already asking, when are we back again? Our Session 3 was a breeze in terms of morning preps and afternoon cleanups with all the volunteers knowing their assigned jobs each Tuesday. This is a tremendous achievement, given that we have a small but a dedicated group of parent and community volunteers who help run this program.
Our student enrolment is at a record number of approximately 120 kids & staff (including ~30 kids who are being offered complimentary salad lunches,for reasons varying from financial to encouraging kids to make healthy choices) This support is made possible, thanks to our incredible community partner, Halton Food for Thought (HFFT). They have been a tremendous support for us in many different ways, from helping us get the local produce which is certified and safe to eat, to help us maintain our kitchen and other supplies needed for the smooth run of the Salad bar.
HFFT celebrated the ‘Feeduary’ in February 2018, where special guests including donors, community partners, politicians, press and dignitaries were invited into our School Breakfast and Salad Bar lunch so they can see our programs in action. Oakwood Salad bar program was mentioned in our local newspapers, thanks to this campaign. The Oakwood Salad bar team was awarded the ‘Inspire award’ by the Halton District School Board for going above and beyond to support our children at school.
In the coming new school year, we will be trying hard to raise the bar on our Salad lunches. In order to tie up our Salad lunches to our community gardens, Oakwood school has applied for a Whole Foods Garden grant. Our goal is to string the pieces of Food cycle, from the seeds to waste reduction by inviting various community partners in our school community to demonstrate various aspects of the Food cycle and raise awareness of food wastage in our country.
2016-2017 (Year 1)
“Hey, did you hear about that Farm to Cafeteria Salad Bar Grant? Wouldn’t that be perfect for Oakwood Public School?”
It began in March 2016 as a quiet conversation in a cubicle at a health department.
Then an email from Oakwood’s principal, “Go for it!”
Then a flurry of emails with parents, volunteers, and community members, “Who’s on board?”
It didn’t matter that the deadline was mere days away. During March Break. And we didn’t really know what we were doing!
That week was a blur of activity: meetings with our co-applicant, Halton Food for Thought; consultations with public health; phone calls between volunteers; emails with the school board; wild drives across the city to get signatures people before they left the country on vacation!
Then a few months later, the news….we were successful! Our initial excitement was followed by a pang of panic – now we had to make this happen!
Fast forward a year later to today. We have been running our Farm Feast Salad Bar for 8 weeks, and our numbers of participants continue to grow by the week. Each Tuesday, our students have the opportunity to eat a fresh meal consisting of at least 7-8 vegetables, 3 fruits, 1 grain, and 1-2 source of protein. On average, approximately 40% of the food selections are from local sources!
Students literally run and bounce their way down the hall to get their lunch. In fact, on our first day of the program, the principal said in astonishment that he could barely manage the “mobs” of students as he went class-to-class to call students to the Salad Bar!
And it’s not just about the eating. Oakwood’s students have been learning about where their food comes, and why eating local food is important for our own health and for a sustainable food system. We invited a local community gardener to help us understand what living things need to grow, and teach students to become “mini-farmers” by growing micro-greens in the classroom. We had a member of Halton Environmental Network show a video and lead activities that
taught students about the many steps in the process of our food system, from the time the farmers plant their seeds, to when it arrives on our plates. Finally, we invited a local Farmer to tell us stories about her farm and the types of foods that grow right here in our region.
The impact has rippled into the rest of the school. Our Healthy School Club is planting vegetables in bucket gardens, and one class trying out vermi-composting. Many teachers have worked with our Salad Bar kitchen coordinator to integrate food skills into their classroom learning – such as making “la pizza” for French class, or blending hummus to learn about food groups in health class. Healthy food is beginning to be on our minds and on our plates here at Oakwood Public School!
And the ripple effect goes beyond our little school community. Schools around us are taking an interest, and our co-applicant, Halton Food for Thought, will be working with several schools in our region over the next few years to introduce additional Salad Bar programs.
What started as a quiet conversation has turned into lots of loud and enthusiastic CRUNCHES across our region!