An overview of the 2022 Farm to School grant recipients meeting in Quebec!

In 2022, five primary and high schools in Quebec received the Farm to School Canada grant to implement sustainable food programs. The initiatives developed have led to the creation of salad bars, culinary workshops involving the students, greenhouses and school gardens and many other activities, all inspired by the Farm to School approach!

Équiterre, a founding partner of Farm to Cafeteria Canada (F2CC), is the regional leader for F2CC in the province of Quebec. In addition to the support grant recipient schools receive from F2CC, the Équiterre team helps the schools during the two years of the Farm to School Canada Grant implementation. They host three training sessions at each stage of the schools’ initiatives and follow up with check in calls.

The first training session is designed to connect the teams and guide them to handle the first steps to get their food programs off to a good start (including setting goals, identifying needs, building a solid team and partnering with local suppliers). The objective of the second training session is to help strengthen the programs by enabling the schools to share expertise and experiences, and deepen their partnership with local suppliers (and/or the food service provider at their school, if applicable). 

In 2023, the second training session was aligned with F2CC’s theme for the 2022/23 school year : “Food Connects!” and this post shares what unfolded.

A day of inspiration and knowledge sharing

The meeting was held on February 21, near Trois-Rivières, on the unceded lands of the Attikamek and Innu nations. It began at Louis-de-France Elementary School, a primary school that received the Farm to School Canada grant in 2018 and was supported by the Équiterre team in setting up a salad bar.

Context of the Louis-de-France School food program

The program at Louis-de-France School was propelled by the local food innovation project “L’agroalimentaire s’invite à l’école”, which began with 23 garden boxes in 2016. It then seemed logical that students could eat what they grew in a salad bar, implemented through the Farm to School Canada grant in 2018. At the same time, indoor and outdoor gardens involved all students in hands-on activities.

This large-scale project, which also received funding from the Ministère de l’Agriculture, des Pêcheries et de l’Alimentation (MAPAQ), led to the creation of an non-profit organization, AgrÉcoles. This organization started by coordinating the food program at Louis-de-France School and then grew to take on a new dimension :  in 2020, AgrÉcoles enhanced the school’s curriculum and implemented the construction of a four-season greenhouse. Today, AgrÉcoles has expanded its mission to reach more schools in Quebec.

A morning complete with school visit and practical learning

Initial discussions were shared by the teams over a breakfast full of Quebec products. Sophie Cormier, who has long worked on the salad bar initiative at Louis-de-France, and is now a project manager with AgrÉcoles, then offered a guided school tour.

The school teams and Sophie discuss their programs in the Louis-de-France daycare kitchen.

School teams were able to learn more about the salad bar, the kitchen that regularly serves students from all grades (which is located in the daycare facility), the outdoor classroom and the four-season greenhouse!

The four-season greenhouse welcomes students throughout the year, during school hours, to participate in curriculum-linked activities. It is filled with flowers and beautiful plants, even in the middle of winter!
Sophie explains that when she offers workshops in the greenhouse, she always begins by listening to the students’ desires and curiosities.

The morning ended with a hands-on lacto-fermentation workshop led by Sophie. Beets, cucumbers and carrots from a local farm were transformed by the participants who could leave the meeting with their own fermented creations! In addition to learning a new preservation technique, the participants went home with inspiration and a framework to offer this workshop to their own students. Indeed, according to the satisfaction survey, all the participants intend to repeat this experience with the youth in their school community.

Sophie wanted to give the participants the same experience that she offers to her students: by giving them freedom to create unique interpretations of a recipe.
An afternoon dedicated to knowledge exchange and training

After the fermentation workshop, the school teams headed to the AgrÉcoles offices, located right next to the school, to share a meal provided by a local caterer. The afternoon focused on sharing experiences and best practices.

Julia Grenier, who worked for the Louis-de-France School before founding the AgrÉcoles and becoming its Director, gave a presentation on the history of the initiative and its mission.

AgrÉcoles’s purpose

The mission of AgrÉcoles is to mentor schools to integrate local food production and processing into the curriculum over the long term. In concrete terms, the organization offers the schools it works with ready-to-use teaching modules on agriculture and food for all levels of preschool and elementary school, adapted to the Quebec curriculum. It also provides them with assistance in installing garden containers and school kitchen spaces that are designed with the intent of preserving local, seasonal crops.

Their team, made up of 9 project managers in five regions of Quebec, currently supports 18 schools.

Afterwards, Équiterre’s team explored some key factors for success to enable strong, lasting food programs. They did this by sharing examples and proven successful practices from other schools regarding how to avoid food waste, promote and engage all students in their students or promote the initiative. These factors are outlined in the Implementation Guide : Improving Local Food Procurement in Quebec Schools

Équiterre’s training session is based on the feedback of participating grant recipient schools. It also goes further by sharing innovative solutions observed in other supported schools.

The training session also highlighted local food procurement, including partnership development with local suppliers. To encourage local procurement and highlight their efforts, all schools supported by Équiterre benefit from the Aliments du Québec au menu recognition program. Initiated in 2016 by Aliments du Québec and Équiterre, this program encourages and recognizes the efforts of Quebec institutions purchasing local food. By keeping track of their food supply throughout the year, schools can find out how much local food was served during the school year, as both a dollar value and percentage. They also receive an official recognition certificate and customized recommendations from Aliments du Quebec. To learn more about this program, check out this case study.

An inspiring moment of reflection

At the end of the day, the school teams left inspired and thrilled to have met their peers in-person, especially after several years of the pandemic that limited these opportunities to connect.

In a post-training survey, all participants said that this training session will be useful for the continuation of their programs. The networking, the greenhouse visit and the discovery of AgrÉcoles’ work were particularly appreciated: “The greenhouse was amazing and to see what can be done was very inspiring!”, shared one of the participants.

Équiterre warmly thanks the AgrÉcoles team, Julia and Sophie, for hosting the meeting and participating in its facilitation, as well as all the school teams who contributed to the event by sharing their ideas and energy. Équiterre would also like to thank Farm to Cafeteria Canada and Whole Kids Foundation for their support in making this event possible.

About Équiterre

Équiterre’s food program aims to accelerate the transition of organizations and institutions towards best practices in sustainable food (healthy, local and eco-responsible food). This objective involves reinforcing food education for all the students and mobilizing Quebec’s public institutions to increase the proportion of sustainable food in their food services.

Since 2018, Équiterre’s team has supported about 50 schools across Quebec to implement sustainable food programs and educational activities. These schools received funding either through the Farm to School Canada grant or through provincial calls for projects coordinated by 100°. To learn more about Équiterre’s sustainable food projects,  visit this page.