As students across Canada begin their first full week of classes, CBC Vancouver released a new film that features LunchLAB, a great example of the Farm to School Approach, providing students with access to healthy food, hands-on learning opportunities, and community connections.
Directed by Ben Cox, this film explores Lord Roberts Elementary School’s lunchroom and garden, where LunchLAB is bringing kids into the kitchen! Lord Roberts, located in Vancouver, BC’s West End, is a 2018 Farm to School Canada Grant recipient. The salad bar program developed through the grant is a central component of the LunchLAB service model, an innovative, educational school food program developed in partnership with Growing Chefs and Fresh Roots.
The film also highlights the work of the Coalition for Healthy School Food (the Coalition), Canada’s largest school food network. The Coalition has advocated for public investment in universal healthy school food programs since 2014.
The Coalition is currently celebrating the BC Government’s recent historic investment in school food. “For the first time this 2023-24 school year, all school districts in BC have received dedicated funding for school meal programs in the BC budget, through the Province’s new Feeding Futures funding,” says Samantha Gambling, Coordinator of the BC Chapter of the Coalition for Healthy School Food. “The Coalition and its 58 members across BC encourage school districts to use this opportunity to work with community partners and develop a comprehensive vision for school food programs that align with key guiding principles.” This includes supporting school food programs to be integrated into curriculum – enabling food literacy and experiential food skills education – and encouraging purchasing from local farmers and food producers.
LunchLAB demonstrates what is possible when teachers and school communities partner with chefs and community-based non-profit organizations to offer comprehensive programs that support student learning and access to nourishing food at school. Brent Mansfield, Edible Education Teacher and LunchLAB Co-Founder, highlights this opportunity that school districts have to “work with the community that they have to imagine programs that are not just feeding children, but also engaging children.”
“LunchLAB is an integral connecting point for students, staff, parents and teachers: it engages students in the kitchens alongside our chefs; creates a positive eating environment for all students; and involves all aspects of the school community”
–Amanda Adams, Co-Executive Director, Programs and Operations, Growing Chefs.
In addition to inspiring programs across BC and beyond, advocates hope this film will put pressure on the Federal Government: “The Government of Canada has an opportunity to advance the health and wellbeing of all Canadian children and youth through the 2024 federal budget,” says Adams.
“School food programs have far-reaching benefits, including enhancing children’s access to nutritious food; supporting physical and mental health; improving behaviour and school performance; and promoting positive eating habits,” emphasizes Debbie Field, National Coordinator of the Coalition for Healthy School Food. “Yet, Canada is the only country in the G7 without a national school food program. UNICEF’s 2017 report card ranks Canada 37 out of 41 among the world’s richest countries regarding providing healthy food for kids.”
The Coalition is also calling for the Government of Canada to “negotiate independent School Food Policy agreements with First Nation, Inuit and Métis leadership to ensure long-term and sustainable funding for Indigenous school nutritious meal programs.”
“I’ve seen firsthand the tremendous impact of Indigenous-led school food programs and how they serve such a fundamental role in community food systems. We trust that our governments and Indigenous leaders will drive initiatives needed to progress this meaningful work, ensuring all Indigenous community schools have funding and access to nutritional school food programming.”
-Sue-Anne Banks, Indigenous Lead of the BC Chapter of the Coalition.
The government included this issue in two federal mandate letters which direct the responsible Ministers to “develop a National School Food Policy and to work toward a national school nutritious meal program.” The Coalition and its members are hopeful that the government will honour their commitment to the $1 billion over five years in 2024, as promised in the Liberal electoral platform.