The term “Local food to school” can be used instead of “farm to school.” This term is preferred in some regions and Indigenous communities. It reflects the diversity of local and traditional foods that can be enjoyed in schools from coast to coast to coast, many of which are not sourced from a farm.
A Farm to School Learning Circle is an action-oriented community of practice within a local community that works collaboratively to build, strengthen, and expand collective farm to school efforts.
One of the first steps in advancing the learning circle process is to bring together interested and influential individuals and organizations from across the local food system. Together, participants articulate a shared vision and key short-term goals that reflect the context, needs and values of the community. The group then agrees on priority actions they can realistically achieve together.
Participants are brought together at regular points (often every six months) to review progress and to reflect on the group’s action plan. After each session, participants leave with achievable objectives.
The Learning Circle allows the group to test new ideas over defined periods and then report back to one another. If ideas are successful, they can be celebrated and built on. If ideas are unsuccessful, the group can learn from that experience and move on to the next strategy or action.
Since 2013, Farm to Cafeteria Canada has supported five Learning Circles in Canada.
The Vancouver Learning Lab (BC) focused on providing tools to change buying practices through large-scale contracted suppliers, while also engaging and supporting schools to buy directly from local urban farms. It was the first Farm to School Learning Lab in Canada and influenced institutional supply chains across Metro Vancouver. Read their story.
The St. John’s Learning Lab (NL) helped Food First NL and the School Lunch Association to establish valuable partnerships in the drive to make cafeterias better champions of healthy eating and local food. Read their story.
The Haida Gwaii Learning Circle (BC) worked with food suppliers, courier services and school district administrators to develop a workable food delivery process. They created a pantry to source food, secure infrastructure to preserve and process local food, and develop food safety processes and regulations to ensure the foods served met regulatory requirements. Workshops were held on topics such as canning, smoking fish. Read their story.
The Comox Valley Learning Circle (BC) has been organized from 2019-2021 to grow farm to school in the Comox Valley. The Learning Circle has focused on four goal areas: (1) Centralized School / Food Coordinator and Hub, (2) Food Programs at Every School, (3) Food Literacy Curriculum Development, (4) Community Supports for School Food (adopt a farm, University students etc). Read their story (p. 24).
Learning Circles from Tk’emlups te Secwépemc and Skeetchestn Indian Band
In 2019 the Sk’elep School of Excellence, from Tk’emlups te Secwépemc, and Skeetchestn Community School from Skeetchestn Indian Band started to hold learning circles in their communities to increase the amount of food in the schools that is local, and healthy while being reflective of Indigenous cultural practices. These efforts grew into an ever-growing vision for a community food system that encompasses school health, education, food security, social development, economic development and more. See a video that shares their story.
Many communities might be interested in adapting and adopting the Learning Circle Model.
If your community is engaged in activities that bring more local food to the minds and plates of students, a Learning Circle could help you expand your efforts.
From time to time, Farm to Cafeteria Canada has the capacity to fund Farm to School Learning Circles. However, we are always happy to support communities who want to fundraise themselves to initiate a Farm to School Learning Circle. Each Learning Circle typically has a budget of around $50-70,000 for the 18+ month process.
Reach out if you want to explore your idea with us. We’ll be happy to provide guidance and inform your fundraising efforts.
And if you’re a funder who would like to support or partially fund a Farm to School Learning Circle please get in touch!