Farm to School: Canada Digs In! Report 2022

ABOUT THE INITIATIVE

Canada’s First National Farm to School Initiative

Farm to School: Canada Digs In! (Canada Digs In!) has been a multi-sectoral partnership designed to prevent chronic disease. Launched in 2017, Canada Digs In! has set out to improve student nutrition and food literacy while building community and strengthening local food systems.

This interactive report tells the story of this 5-year initiative and builds on our 2020 report. It celebrates the champions who made it possible, provides links to practical resources developed along the way, and showcases the project’s impacts.

$6M Invested

$3M Gov’t
~
$3M matched cash and in-kind

20 Project Partners

1 Federal Gov’t
~
1 Provincial Gov’t
~
1 Private
~
17 NGO

9 Provinces 1 Territory

AB
BC
MB
NU
SK
ON
QC
NL
NB
NS

83,000+ Students

62,000+ K-12 
~
21,000+ campus

176 Schools

166 K-12 grant recipients 
~
10 campuses 

$1,558,500 granted to schools

Up to $10,000 granted to each K-12 school

What is Farm to School?

Farm to school gets students eating, cooking, growing, and embracing healthy, local food. Through farm to school activities, students connect with their communities and develop food literacy, all while strengthening vibrant, sustainable, economically viable regional food systems. 

“Local Food to School” is a term that may be used interchangeably with “Farm to School” to reflect a broader range of food systems unique to each community.  Within this definition, “local food” can include seafood, game and other wild foods that connect schools with fishers, Elders and other knowledge keepers who can harvest and prepare these foods safely and in a culturally meaningful manner.

In order to celebrate and amplify the many ways that farm to school takes shape in different communities, and to show how farm to school involves the whole local food system, we developed the 2 visuals below:

The Farm to School Approach

Graphic Recording: Carina Nilsson

Graphic Recording: Carina Nilsson

Project Goals

The goal of Canada Digs In! has been to scale up Canada’s farm to school movement and enable students to develop the life-long knowledge, skills, and habits to support their wellbeing, their communities, and the planet.

The project has worked to:

  1. Implement farm to school programs across Canada in elementary, middle, and secondary schools through the Farm to School Canada Grants program, and on campuses through the Good Food Challenge.
  2. Build capacity among school communities and project partners by providing training, resources, and knowledge-sharing activities.
  3. Evaluate the initiative, providing the first-ever empirical evidence of the impacts of farm to school in Canada as well as a framework for consistently evaluating this work.

The Power of Partnerships

This partnership has made us feel part of a bigger movement, and provided evidence-based best practices to help guide our efforts.”
– Regional Partner on Canada Digs In!

Canada Digs In project partners came together to get more healthy, local food on the minds and plates of students to promote healthy living and prevent chronic disease.

The Public Health Agency of Canada’s $3.0M investment in Canada Digs In! is the largest federal investment in school food in Canada to date (excluding emergency funding during Covid-19). With this initial investment, Canada Digs In! has been matched by an additional $3.0 M of cash and in-kind contributions from its 19 other project partners.

In a recent partnership survey, 100% of respondents indicated that their partnership with Farm to Cafeteria Canada has increased their organization’s:

  • Inspiration
  • Knowledge about different themes relating to farm to school
  • Sense of validation for their efforts, and the importance of their work in this space

National
project 
management  

(click to visit)

Government
financial
partner

(click to visit)

Sponsor of the Farm to School Canada Grants program

(click to visit)

British Columbia project coordination and support to participating schools through their Farm to School BC program 

(click to visit)

Sustain Ontario

Ontario project coordination and support to participating schools through their Edible Education Network

(click to visit)

Québec project coordination and support to participating schools 

(click to visit)

Newfoundland and Labrador project coordination and support to participating schools

(click to visit)

Government of New Brunswick

New Brunswick project coordination and support to participating schools

(click to visit)

Meal Exchange

Campus project coordination and support to participating campuses across Canada

(click to visit)

Heart & Stroke

Project planning and 2019 conference sponsor

(click to visit)

SPARC BC

Evaluation lead and F2CC administrative sponsor

(click to visit)

School food map database collaborator & co-host of the Indigenous School Food Circle

(click to visit)

Collaborator and producer on the Connecting Food to the Curriculum video series

(click to visit)

Learning Circle host organization and support to participating schools as a Salad Bar community partner and champion of farm to chool programming

(click to visit)

Alberta project coordination and support to participating schools

(click to visit)

Manitoba project coordination and support to participating schools

(click to visit)

Learning Circle host organization

(click to visit)

Nourish Your Roots

Nova Scotia project coordination and support to participating schools

(click to visit)

Learning Circle host organization & development of the Seed to Harvest Indigenous Food Sovereignty video series

(click to visit)

F2CC Regional Leads

Regional Leads are members of the Canada Digs In! project implementation team and are the go-to contact for Farm to Cafeteria Canada in their region. Throughout the initiative, the Regional Leads have worked as a team to advance farm to school initiatives in their regions and across the country by facilitating capacity building, network development, knowledge translation and exchange and evaluation. The Regional Leads typically work for a partner organization based in the geographic region they represent. These individuals have held the Regional Lead position in their respective provinces.

Claudia Páez Varas

CLAUDIA PÁEZ

British Columbia

Marcus Lobb

Marcus Lobb

British Columbia

Melodie
Ho

Manitoba

CAROLYN WEBB

Ontario

Nicole Hambleton

Ontario

GENEVIÈVE CHATELAIN

Québec

Melanie Cormier

Melanie Cormier

New Brunswick

Dawn
Hare

Nova Scotia

Genevieve Drisdelle

New Brunswick

Suzanne Hawkins

Newfoundland & Labrador

Advisory Council

In 2021 we expanded our Advisory Council, which is responsible for stewarding Farm to Cafeteria Canada’s direction, success, and ensuring long-term sustainability. Members provide guidance and support projects and program development, while helping to grow our national network and strengthen partnerships. F2CC is committed to building and sustaining an Advisory that is representative of the unique individuals, sectors, and communities we serve

Meet our Advisory Council

“There is real strength in connecting with — and sharing information with — leads in other provinces. We have a lot to share and also to learn from them.”

“F2CC has created a network of like-minded people and organizations across Canada and there is enormous value for our local organization, and nationally, by bringing us all together.”

IMPLEMENTATION

Farm to School Canada Grants 

The Farm to School Canada Grants program provides 2-year grants of up to $10,000 each directly to K-12 schools to deliver farm to school programs by:

  • Serving local food in a farm to school salad bar, or other meal service that allows students to create their own plates or build their own bowls. 
  • Engaging students in hands-on learning by growing, preparing and enjoying healthy, local food.
  • Building connections between the school and community members to bring local skills, expertise and connection to the work and to build multi-generational relationships.

Over the 5-year Canada Digs In! initiative Whole Kids Foundation provided funding for 4 rounds of grants. Farm to Cafeteria Canada has administered the program and regional partners have provided on-the ground resources and supported participating schools.

Round 1

Round 2

Round 3

Round 4

Sept 2016 - Jun 2019

2 provinces

Sept 2018 - Jun 2020

5 provinces

Sept 2020 - Jun 2022

9 provinces + 1 territory

Sept 2022 - Jun 2024

9 provinces + 1 territory

Learning Circles

Learning Circle Grants are valued at $50,000-$70,000. They support multiple schools, individuals, and organizations across the local food system to come together to collaborate and build, strengthen, and/or expand collective farm to school / local food to school efforts within a local community. 

In 2019, F2CC, in partnership with the Social Planning & Research Council of BC, provided Local Food to School Learning Circle Grants to two communities: 

  • Q’wemtsín Health Society (QHS) supported Sk’elep School of Excellence, from Tk’emlups te Secwépemc, and Skeetchestn Community School to hold learning circles in their communities – Watch the video “Learning Circle Stories: from Tk’emlups te Secwépemc and Skeetchestn Indian Band”

  • Comox Valley – read Growing a Movement: Farm to School in the Comox Valley

In 2021 funding from Whole Kids Foundation enabled two other organizations, Headwaters Food and Farming Alliance in Ontario and Food For All NB, to receive Learning Circle Grants that are now under way and will complete in early 2023. Learn More.

Campus Good Food Challenge

F2CC partnered with Meal Exchange from 2017-2019 to support the Good Food Challenge initiative. This on-campus campaign empowered post-secondary students to work with their university or college to provide food that is accessible, community-based, ecologically sound, socially just, and humane.

Campuses signed the Good Food Campus Commitment to show leadership and innovation in the food system and accountability to the well-being of their student community. By signing the commitment, they agreed to increase their procurement of Good Food to 20% by 2025 and make Good Food more affordable and accessible for all students.

Learn more about Farm to Campus and the Good Food Challenge.

CAPACITY BUILDING

To support schools, campuses and organizations engaged in farm to school we developed resources and offered training and knowledge-sharing opportunities.
We directly supported our grantee schools

Designated Regional Leads across different provinces were responsible for coordinating and supporting schools. 

During the Canada Digs In! initiative over 225 representatives from the participating K-12 schools received training on implementing and sustaining their programs. This training, which included presentations from chefs, farmers, local knowledge keepers and past grant participants, shared how to:

Source local food for the meal service

Prepare and run a smooth salad bar service

Engage students in hands-on food literacy activities

Promote the meal service and broader farm to school program

The two initial rounds of grantees received training in person. The majority of the 2020 round of grantees received training virtually to account for the reality that grants were now being distributed to schools across the country and to meet restrictions in light of Covid-19.

We offered additional training and supports including:

Regular regional community of practice meetings

Webinars

Visits to schools by the regional leads 

1:1 phone and email supports

Sharing of school stories

Private regional Facebook groups

(some provinces) 
We developed and curated resources and documented stories

We created and supported the development of a wide range of resources to fill gaps in information and to profile the great work happening in school communities to connect students to healthy, local food and opportunities for food literacy at school. 

Blog

During the Canada Digs In! initiative we provided stories on a wide range of farm to school themes. Our blog includes feature posts such as How farm to school supports climate action and Food forests – edible landscapes that do more than feed us, event recaps such as our Conversation on land-based learning, community stories, and a wide range of resources. 

Users can visit our full blog or search for specific content using our Blog post filter, which allows you to search our website’s news and stories by different thematic issues such as Outdoor Learning, Evaluation, Indigenous Foodways, Local Food, or a combination of tags (e.g. stories from Ontario). 

Resource Centre

Our Resource Centre is a go-to site that curates videos, webinar recordings, toolkits, case studies, and other resources that answer school communities’ most common questions on a range of farm to school themes:

Teaching the Curriculum Through Food

These short (5-20 min) videos have been developed, in a partnership with Growing Chefs! Ontario, to help educators and volunteers feel inspired, to have more confidence, and to gain ideas to bring food literacy into the classroom and link it to the curriculum. The videos focus on hands-on activities and concepts and are aimed towards Kindergarten – Gr 8 classrooms.

Videos on Implementing Farm to School Programs

These short (3-5 min) videos are of past grantees sharing their top tips on a range of themes, from salad bar logistics to the impacts of their programs. These videos are available throughout the different themes in our Resource Centre. 

Q’wemtsín Health Society’s Indigenous Food Sovereignty Video Series

In collaboration with three communities: Skeetchestn Indian Band, Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc and Whispering Pines/Clinton Indian Band, our partner the Q’wemtsín Health Society (QHS) has created a series of videos to promote growing and sharing food in their communities.

Case Studies

Glossary of Terms

We use a lot of specific terms in our work and so developed a glossary so that everyone can have a common understanding of what we mean when we use different terms. It has been developed for any audience – to serve as a reference for those who are new to our work, as well as for those who are experienced in this area. 

Check out the Glossary here.

Edible Education Community of Practice

In early 2021 we launched the Edible Education Community of Practice (CoP) to provide a supportive space for those working on Edible Education initiatives (e.g. farm to school programs, land-based learning, school gardens, cooking programs, outdoor education) to connect with, learn from, and collaborate with other practitioners across the country. The CoP cultivates relationships and encourages the sharing, exploration and development of resources and experiences to inform, inspire and amplify impact. 

The CoP has held 5 meetings to bring practitioners together: 

  • Walking Forward: Learning from Place (May 24, 2022)
  • Decolonizing Your Garden (March 2, 2022)
  • Conversation on Land-Based Learning (Nov 16, 2022)
  • Presentations from CoP members (June 2, 2021)
  • About the Community of Practice (March 10, 2021)

Presentation recordings and information about the CoP are available on the
Community of Practice page.

School Food Map

In 2022 Farm to Cafeteria Canada updated its School Food Map so that more schools and community partners can share their school food activities and connect with each other.

Check it out and put yourself on the map! (coming soon!)

Youth Engagement Strategy

Through F2CC’s 2021 strategic planning process we 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. In spring 2022 we reached out to youth aged 15-20 across the country and developed two paths in which young people could participate: 

  1. Joining a youth voices working group; or 
  2. Sharing a personal story about their own experience connecting to food or food systems 

Throughout March 2022 F2CC hosted a series of 4 workshops with 12 youth from across Canada to listen to their experiences with food at school, and hear how F2CC can better engage youth in its work. From the workshops youth gave us 4 key recommendations. Additionally, youth also submitted some great stories about their experience with food in their school community.

Read More

5 National Farm to School Month celebrations

Farm to Cafeteria Canada, Farm to School Canada, Farm to School, Farm to School MonthFarm to School Month is celebrated each October. It invites school communities, from pre-school to campus, to “Dig In” to farm to school. The month is intended to showcase the many diverse farm and local food to school activities happening across the country, while inspiring others to join the movement. 
Check out our Farm to School Month Campaigns:

2021 Farm to School Month

Celebrating Land-Based Learning

2020 Farm to School Month

Celebrating Impacts

2019 Farm to School Month

Healthy People Healthy Planet

2018 Farm to School Month

Photo Gallery

2017 Farm to School Month

Photo Gallery

Canada’s first National Farm to School Conference

Farm to Cafeteria Canada, Farm to School Canada, Farm to School, Farm to School Conference

2019 Farm to School Conference

300 delegates

from students and teachers, to academics and policy makers from across Canada and the United States gathered in Victoria, BC in May, 2019, to INSPIRE, INNOVATE & organize for IMPACT to close the distance between farm and fork and bring more healthy, local & sustainable foods to the minds & plates of students.

View the conference proceedings report here. 

NOURISHING RELATIONS

The farm to school approach can complement the work of those who are bringing traditional Indigenous foodways into schools. F2CC has funded many projects where, from remote communities to urban centres, educators including Elders and Knowledge Keepers are teaching about food and traditional food systems and are incorporating traditional foods, practices and traditions throughout the school day. 

We are proud of what we have enabled so far; however, we know that we need to do much more to better honour the Indigenous peoples, histories and lands on which we all live today.

F2CC has been working within our own team to envision how our mandate, operations and institution can better include, reflect, honour and amplify Indigenous voices, perspectives, values, and ways of knowing. We are doing this with the spirit of nourishing relations.

Virtual Sharing Circles
In February and March 2021, F2CC and its partners hosted 3 virtual sharing circles facilitated by Alderhill, an Indigenous owned and operated company of leading experts in Indigenous community planning.

The objectives of these sharing circles were:

  1. To hear from Indigenous school communities and/or those who work directly with Indigenous school communities about their vision for food sovereignty projects and what barriers exist to reaching these visions.
  2. To provide a platform for Indigenous school communities to connect and learn from one another.

During these conversations participants shared stories, spoke about challenges, shared concerns with the “Farm to School” term and made recommendations for how F2CC could support Indigenous communities so that people who are looking to integrate Indigenous foodways and healthy, local foods into their school communities have more resources and connections to do so. Participants recommended that F2CC hire an Indigenous person onto the team, expressing that for programs to be successful, Indigenous leadership needs to be present.

Taking our Next Steps
Since we held our sharing circles F2CC has: 

Hired Christina Smith into the role of Indigenous Lead: Local Food to School

Feature Box Item Caption

Christina connected with schools in Indigenous communities / that serve Indigenous students to hear about their successes and challenges and to share their stories. As a core member of the project team, Christina played an integral role to advance all aspects of F2CC’s Nourishing Relations Commitment.

Learn more and access stories and resources on our:

Nourishing Relations Site

EVALUATION

Canada’s First Ever Evaluation Framework for Farm to School

From August 2020 – March 2021, with the input of over 140 individuals from diverse sectors across the country, F2CC developed the Farm to School Evaluation Framework for Canada to inform our own evaluation work and to give school communities, as well as researchers and policy makers, guidance on how they can measure what matters.

The final framework articulates 18 outcomes, 9 high-priority policy/community level indicators and 11 high-priority indicators that people have said that they want to see measured at the school level relating to 4 impact areas: Public Health, Education, Community Economic Development and the Environment. It shares a full list of 45 priority indicators as well as other Indicator ideas that people wanting to evaluate their programs can select from.

Download the full Evaluation Framework

Evaluation Framework Tools

How can programs get started with measuring the indicators in the Framework? As next steps coming out of the Framework F2CC has started to develop tools that school communities can use:

This spreadsheet shares a list of the Framework’s indicators and outcomes

Ideas for use: You might download it and add columns for comments and insights when you’re planning your own evaluation.

Staff and student surveys to measure priority indicators

Ideas for use: Adapt either of these survey templates to measure the framework’s priority indicators.

Food procuremement tracking sheets

Ideas for use: This tool can be useful to track the ingredients used in your meal service each day/week and can help you calculate the percentage of local food you’re purchasing.
Webinars: Sharing Evaluation Tools to Support Farm to School Programs

The full evaluation framework and tools are available here.  

Evaluation of the Farm to School: Canada Digs In! Initiative

Canada Digs In! led the first-ever comprehensive evaluation of farm to school in Canada. Between June 2017 and June 2022 our project team planned and delivered the following evaluation activities:
0+
student interviews (grades 4-6)
0
student surveys (grades 4-12 students)
0
Campus Good Food audits
0
rounds of school progress reports
0
rounds of key informant interviews
0
partnership reviews

The results are in, and demonstrate that farm to school benefits:

Data from 2016 & 2018 grant recipients

Public Health

Students gain the skills and habits needed for a lifetime of healthy eating when they participate in farm to school programs.

100%
of schools and campuses prepared and served more healthy, sustainable, local food
96%
of schools reported increased student consumption of healthy food

Education & Learning 

Farm to school brings curriculum to life and enables hands-on student learning. 

95%
of schools reported students had greater knowledge and were more aware about gardening, agriculture and the environment
33%
of students reported their focus in class had increased

Community Economic Development 

Farm to school connects schools with farmers and increases local food procurement.

91%
of schools recognized themselves as leaders among other institutions in the procurement of healthy, sustainable, local foods
83%
of schools increased the amount of local and healthy food they procured and provided to students

Vibrant School Communities 

Farm to school supports student wellbeing and connection to their community. 

87%
of schools reported they had increased connections within the school and the broader community including with Indigenous communities, local farmers and chefs, other schools, neighbouring preschool programs and seniors residences, and groups such as the local Boys & Girls Club
82%
of schools reported that the salad bar created a greater sense of vibrancy and excitement

For more impacts access the full series of info-sheets:

And check out what our grant recipients achieved between 2020-2022 during Covid

2020-2022 Farm to School Grants

Growing a Movement

Farm and local food to school activities build resilient, connected communities that nourish people and the planet.

Momentum is growing!

33 more schools
(9,745 students) in
9 provinces and 1 territory 

begin their Farm to School Canada Grants journey in September 2022
Read Past Stories
Join the movement to bring more healthy,
local food to the minds and plates of students. 

Together, we can transform how food is experienced, learned and celebrated in ALL schools across Canada.

CONTACT

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

STUDENTS

Educators

Principals

Parents

Food service staff 

Community partners

Community volunteers

Chefs, farmers, fishers, hunters, foragers, elders

Public health practitioners (dietitians, nurses, health inspectors) 

Contributors
This report was prepared by
  • Jesse Veenstra, National Director
  • Tracey O’Neil, Design & Communications
  • Carolyn Webb, Research & Knowledge Translation Lead 
  • Christina Smith, Indigenous Lead, Local Food to School
  • Danielle Côté, Advisor
  • Jyotika Dangwal, Grants & Evaluation Coordinator
  • Monica Petek, Researcher, SPARC BC
  • Juliette Clochard, Translation
  • Clara Canac, Translation
  • Geneviève Chatelain, Translation
See the full list of project partners and team members here.