A local program is providing healthy and local meals for students through various programs in the community of Dufferin and Caledon.
The Headwaters Local Food Club is one of the Headwaters Food and Farming Alliance’s (HFFA) Farm to School programs. Parents as well as staff can sign up for a membership which will allow them to receive a “meal-in-a-bag”, which are delivered to the students at their school for them to take home.
HFFA is supported through their registered charity, Headwaters Communities in Action.
All meals are locally sourced from different distributors in the Headwaters region.
“It encourages families to explore nutritious, local and often novel foods together, helps get kids in the kitchen to learn essential food skills and connects families directly with the people who grow their food,” says Allison Whitten, Registered Dietitian and Farm to School Coordinator.
The Local Food Club was developed shortly after HFFA. Members of the community sought a program that would provide their children and families with healthy food options, while strengthening the local food system in Headwaters as well.
Additionally, educational programs and workshops followed after to teach children where food comes from, how to grow and cook it in a way to connect to the farming communities in Dufferin-Caledon.
“We started providing Education Workshops, where farmers visited classrooms and students experienced hands-on food and farming activities. The Local Food Club extended the learning and farmer connections to the home and brought parents and caregivers into the conversation,” said Jennifer Payne, Executive Director, Headwaters Communities in Action.
According to the Local Food Club they aim to “create connections between families and the food growers, value-add processors and retailers in their neighbourhoods, to make healthy local foods more accessible to busy families in Headwaters, to grow food literacy in our communities and to promote awareness about our local food system.”
The standard price is $25 per bag, with the opportunity to pay more to donate towards the program and memberships. Members are able to select a price that works better for them if unable to pay the full standard amount.
The Local Food Club runs all year round, and provides one healthy family meal along with recipes, nutritional information about the ingredients, information about where the food came from and the locally sourced ingredients. Each bag has enough food to feed a family of four.
“Local Food Club, and cooking with foods literally grown in our backyards, has such a positive impact on children’s relationship with food. When they see where the food comes from and have the education and skills to grow it and then use it to make a meal, they are much more interested and open to trying new foods and exploring the bounty of what is available here in Headwaters,” says Whitten. “It really is an all-round win.”
The program is funded through revenue made from the Farm to School programs, but additionally from a grant provided from the province called the Local Food Grant and fundraising through the Headwaters Communities in Action, The Children’s Foundation of Guelph and Wellington and other fundraising efforts.
The Local Food Club continues on amid the COVID-19 pandemic, with the necessary adaptions to follow the provided safety guidelines.
“Now more than ever, local food and food skills are a vital part of our community. Even within the pandemic – and, to a degree, because of it – there has been a substantial growth in interest and concern of where our food comes from,” explains Whitten. “People are simply looking to buy locally and to be more conscientious with their food purchases.”
“Not only does eating local promote economic stability within our community, but it has an impact on our ecological footprint, not to mention our health,” she says.
The program has seen significant growth since the beginning. From one or two schools, they continued to expand to 13. Through supporting and creating relationships with local farmers and schools, the Local Food Club has been able to expand their platter and develop and encourage food activities, education and fundraisers.
“COVID has made us rethink how we can run Local Food Club. Without access to schools, it actually presented an opportunity to partner with the Orangeville Food Bank as our base, which allows us to serve to the broader community and offer add-on donations to OFB through our order form,” says Payne.
She adds, “We look forward to seeing our school friends again when that is possible, but for now, we feel we are feeding an even bigger and growing appetite for local food.”
Packs for February are completed, but those scheduled for April, June and August are available. For more information or to place an order, please visit hffa.ca.
Alyssa Parkhill, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Caledon Citizen