Abbey-Landry School is an elementary school (K-8) located in Memramcook, New Brunswick with a student population of approximately 400. Memramcook is a village with a population of about 5000.

The school successfully implemented a salad bar with the support of several local organizations such as Semer dans la Vallée, Apprentis en Action and the réseau des cafétérias communautaires. These community partnerships led to a $10,000 farm to school grant in 2018 and a successful salad bar program.

Before we get into the Q&A, let’s learn a little more about the school (all the information is from a time pre-COVID):

At Abbey-Landry School, the salad bar is served about once a week. In the first year of operation, the school managed 15 services during the school year while in the second year of operation they had a goal of more than 20 services before the arrival of COVID-19.

The food served at the salad bar is mostly provided by the cafeteria service. Some of this food, such as meat, vegetables and apples, is sourced locally. The school’s garden and greenhouse also provide some of the food served at the salad bar in season. The salad bar service is run in partnership between the school and the cafeteria service. Food ordering and preparation is done by the cafeteria staff prior to service. They also clean up afterwards. Students serve themselves, and some older students are responsible for helping younger students with this.

Q&A

Mr. François LeBlanc, a teacher at Abbey-Landry School who is leading the farm to school project, shares with us the importance of community partnerships to successfully implement a salad bar:

How have you worked with your community partners to support the implementation of your farm to school program?

It all started with an idea from the Semer dans la Vallée group of which I’m a member. We approached the school administration and the réseau des cafétérias communautaires to apply for a Farm to Cafeteria grant.

Semer dans la Vallée is a sub-committee of the Comité de Mieux-Être de Memramcook (JMEM); a group of volunteers who work to make Memramcook a vibrant community in which to live, play, work and age because everyone cares about their own health and well-being and that of others. They care for the school gardens, the school greenhouse and the gardens of the local seniors’ homes. They have been very supportive of the salad bar and offer cooking classes to students. This partnership has also encouraged sharing in the heart of the region. The students of the school are in charge of planting the plants for their garden. With students’ support, the school is now very well equipped to continue its culinary exploration.

The partnership with Semer dans la Vallée and JMEM also provides funding opportunities such as hiring summer students to tend to the garden. In summer 2021, two students were hired through the Student Employment Experience Development (SEED) program and the Canada Summer Jobs program. In order to offer a competitive salary and to increase the number of weeks that the students were hired, we reinvested the profits from the sale of soup and surplus vegetables from the garden in 2021.

L’organisme Apprenti en action – Labo éducatif en alimentation, a dynamic lab of educational food initiatives in schools and communities with a priority on the development of culinary skills, came to give training on food safety and to give a basic training on how to prepare a salad. This experience was enriching and educational for the students.

There is also incredible support from the réseau des cafétérias communautaires (RCC), which runs the cafeteria service at the school. The RCC is a self-sufficient social enterprise that serves over 20 schools in the district scolaire francophone sud. They aim to serve healthy meals made with local products. In addition, they try to create as many meaningful learning situations as possible for students, teachers and staff in connection with different partners. At Abbey-Landry School, RCC supports the salad bar by doing the food preparation and clean-up. This has been a much appreciated help.

In addition to the salad bar, the school’s garden and greenhouse are constantly evolving. We continue to explore the possibility of providing a number of foods for the salad bar. Students grow vegetables in the school’s greenhouse and garden during the school year. To enjoy the harvest as much as possible in the fall, we plant the gardens late in the spring. When the students return to school in September, they are busy harvesting. This year a cold room was set up to keep the vegetables, such as potatoes and carrots, even longer.

We are always ready to undertake new projects with our harvests. For example, during the 2020-21 school year, in partnership with a community chef, the youth prepared soups made almost entirely from vegetables picked at school. In order to maintain quality, the soups were frozen and sold to parents and the community. The proceeds were then reinvested in projects, such as hiring summer students as mentioned above!

Our big goal is to successfully introduce our youth to an ecological circular economy with different initiatives here at the school with the help of our community partners.

What challenges have you encountered in implementing your Farm to School project and how have you dealt with these challenges?

  • We have had challenges getting staff to be open to trying new foods and with them letting youth participate in food preparation. With time, testing and the support of the RCC, it is getting better.
  • There is a lack of space in the preparation area of the school cafeteria so this limits how much students can participate in preparing food for the salad bar. Students are involved in many other areas such as planting and harvesting the gardens, promotion and cooking classes.
  • The salad bar competes with other items on the menu. Sales have increased with the promotion to students and parents.

If you could give other schools some tips for implementing a successful salad bar program, what would they be?

  • Make sure you have realistic and achievable goals
  • The support of your cafeteria service is essential
  • Find partners in your community who have common goals with you and involve them in your projects
  • Be patient!

What were the highlights of your Farm to School project for you?

  • Taking students from kindergarten to grade 5 through all the stages of a garden year
  • Being able to offer food safety and food preparation classes to students
  • Forming a youth committee that was present during the service to support the students in their salad creation

Why was it important for you to adopt a Farm to School approach in your school?

The salad bar is a very important part of our mission to have our students experience the full cycle of food. From preparing the garden, to planting, to tending, to harvesting, to tasting, to returning to the soil to start the next year with the preparation of the garden once again.

Future plans:

  • Next year we plan to incorporate soups made from food from our garden to serve a soup and salad bar. It is easier to store the vegetables needed for the soup, such as potatoes, carrots, garlic and onions for use during the winter and spring.
  • Create a good system to produce compost from vegetable scraps. 
  • Eventually, we plan to have chickens on the school grounds!

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