Farm to Cafeteria Canada (F2CC) works towards realizing vibrant and sustainable food systems by supporting school communities to get more students get more kids growing, cooking, serving and eating local food at school.Through a recent strategic planning process, F2CC identified a need to create a National Youth Engagement Strategy that amplifies the voices of the Youth in Canada who are impacted by our work.

We decided that to develop a youth engagement strategy, we had to go right to the source by inviting youth to participate in shaping the strategy from the get-go and foster an environment where they felt comfortable exchanging ideas and feedback.

We developed two paths in which young people could participate in to share their perspectives: joining a youth voices working group or sharing a personal story about their own experience connecting to food or food systems. Although our work to collect feedback will be ongoing, we’ve already learned so much thanks to all of the individuals who took the time to contribute to either one, or both, of these two paths. We’re thrilled to share a few updates on our work with these youth so far.

 Youth Voices Working Group: Bright Minds Come Together

During the first two months of the year, we invited youth ages 15-20 interested in vibrant and sustainable regional food systems to participate in our Youth Voices Working Group. 

The following 4 workshops were held over 3 weeks in March:
   •  Workshop 1: Getting to know each other
   •  Workshop 2: Challenges and opportunities
   •  Workshop 3: Solutions and actions
   •  Workshop 4: Recommendations

The goal of the workshops was to create a space where youth felt comfortable and inspired to share how they felt F2CC could best support them to connect with, learn about and participate in their food systems.

We recruited 12 youth from across Canada who expressed interest in collaborating with us on this project, and held four 90-minute workshops with them throughout the month of March. Whether they were passionate about food systems, youth engagement, health, social justice or environmental issues, each youth brought something unique and valuable to the workshop table. 

From the very first workshop, the participants uncovered ideas and reflections that centered around the challenges to improving food systems, the potential solutions for each challenge, and the concrete actions that can be taken as part of a collaborative approach to these solutions.

One of the activities that took place during the first workshop on March 8th, 2022. Youth were invited to bring a picture that represents what they love about food or food systems. Youth took the time to share why they felt food and food systems are important to them personally, giving a bit of backstory to each picture. 

 

One of the activities held during the second workshop on March 10, 2022. We invited youth to answer the following question: “If money was no object, how could school food systems be improved?”. Their answers encouraged us to start thinking about the challenges youth felt important to address.
Outcome of the fourth workshop held on March 22, 2022. After multiple brainstorming sessions, during which small groups looked at the obstacles to improving food systems for schools, communities, and the planet, participants determined what they felt were the leading challenges and solutions for each.

By the end of the month, the seed reflections which emerged from the workshop activities had grown into concrete ideas that we used as a guide to develop the following recommendations:

F2CC should work to support youth by:

  1. Engaging decision makers and people in positions of authority to create channels and opportunities to listen directly to youth about their wants and needs on how to improve food systems. 
  2. Raising youth awareness of their personal connection to food systems and how youth involvement can positively influence food movements.
  3. Working with schools to create more opportunities for students to experience hands-on learning making school connections to their local food system.
  4. Sharing youth volunteer and/or employment opportunities in roles that will contribute to a healthier food system in their community and deepen their community connections.

Youth Stories: What Food Personally Means to Youth

Through the “Youth Stories” path, we invited youth to share their experiences, hopes and dreams relating to growing, harvesting, cooking, eating or sharing food in their school community in the form of a story. The story could take any form: a photo essay, a video, a voice recording or even a poem. 

So far, five youth have shared stories, including Juliana, Audrey and Nasion, Ashiana and Nicholas. Below, we share just a few snippets of what these five youth shared with us in their stories:

Juliana

“My school has a greenhouse, and one of the reasons I chose it was specifically for that. I’m in the horticulture – now a Natural Science – program at my school, which basically means that I get to hang out with plants everyday and nerd out about all the cool environment-y things that I love!” Juliana, 17, Alberta

Audrey and Nason

“There has been a large learning curve with our hydroponic towers […]. Some of the issues included leakage, over watering, underwatering and the growth of algae in the towers. Although, with these issues, there has been a also an awesome opportunity to collaborate with [our] peers and learn how to make our school a better place” Nason,16, New Brunswick 

“In the future, we hope to have more sustainable options for students to have food that was grown by their peers.”Audrey, 15, New Brunswick

Nicholas

Hi My Name is Nicholas. I am Fifteen years old and live in Edmonton, Alberta. I have always been into farming and cooking. It started to really blossom though when I was seven and we had a really late start to the growing season and all I planted was some early harvest cucumbers, which I turned into pickles. Ever since then it has been a tradition to make pickles at the end of fall. This passion has continued with me and is why I decided to take a Horticulture class that was offered at my High School. In this Horticulture class I have started a project that I am very excited about. Me and a few other of my fellow classmates have started a hydroponics system called the Bato or Dutch Bucket System. This is a hydroponics system that improves on the typical system that people use with buckets, like the deep water culture, the bato bucket system uses an air stone pump and reservoir, but all the buckets are connected so they can use one reservoir. This will lower the overall cost making it more economical. This should make the price points of the products a lot cheaper. This is nowhere near where we would like but this is a trial we are working on and are optimistic that we can expand over the next year or so. Thank you for listening to my story.

“In [my] horticulture class I have started a project that I am very excited about. Me and a few other of my fellow classmates have started a hydroponics system called the Bato or Dutch Bucket System. This is a hydroponics system that improves on the typical system that people use with buckets, the Deep Water Culture System (D.W.C).” Nicholas, 15, Alberta

Ashiana

“As youth, we are going to have to learn how we can vote and advocate for issues that tie into food. Knowing how food overlaps and plays a role in each of these issues [such as culture, climate change, equity, science, diet, and health] is something that we can all relate to and all help to create change.” Ashiana, 19, Ontario

Students and youth who are still interested in submitting a story and participating in the development of F2CC’s youth strategy are welcome to do so! You can find the link to the story submission toolkit here.

Click here to submit your story

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