N.S. schools now eligible for grant to develop healthy lunch programs

Public schools across Canada can now apply for a grant of up to $10,000 to add a salad bar to their cafeteria, but only 30 schools across the country will be eligible for funding in 2020.

Farm to Cafeteria Canada, a national organization working to get more local food in schools, is offering the grant, which is now available to any P-12 school across Canada.

The initiative started in 2016 and grants are offered every two years. Until now, only schools in Newfoundland and Labrador, Ontario, British Columbia, Quebec and New Brunswick were eligible to apply. More than 80 schools across those provinces have received the grant in the past.

Those schools are expected to successfully develop the programs laid out in their application within two years of receiving the money.

Jesse Veenstra, national manager of the Farm to School initiative with Farm to Cafeteria Canada, said the intention was always to bring the whole country on board.

"Hopefully if we can demonstrate that demand across Canada, then we'll be able to obtain more funding to be able to offer it to more schools," she said.

Submitted by Bill Doucet

Currently, 100 per cent of funding comes from the Whole Kids Foundation based in Austin, Texas.

The initiative is focused on connecting students to healthy food through hands-on learning and understanding where their food comes from.

Veenstra said there are people in Nova Scotia already connecting students to the local food system.

Jenny Osburn, a parent and cafeteria worker who helped launch the Berwick School Food Project, said some schools in the area have programs where students learn about different fruits and vegetables grown in the Annapolis Valley.

"You can really sense that there is truly a need for serving lunch to all kids at school regardless of whether they can pay," she said.

Steve Lawrence/CBC

The South Shore School Food Project was launched in 2018 to incorporate salad bars and from-scratch recipes into cafeteria menus, with an emphasis on local meat and produce.

"The kids have really liked it. They talk about food, they get excited about food," said Connie Martin, the project's lead.

The pilot project is in five of 23 schools in the region, and is expected to expand into the remaining 18 in the next two to three years, Martin said.

Submitted by Connie Martin

In the 2018 cycles, three schools in Newfoundland and Labrador and eight in New Brunswick received the grant, including Cambridge-Narrows Community School.

"The farm to school program is now a well-oiled machine and it's self-sustaining," said principal Amber Bishop.

The school has a salad bar, garden beds and a hydroponic garden where students help grow lettuce, herbs and other vegetables to incorporate into the cafeteria menu.

Submitted by Marcy Malloy

"When the kids get a chance to be involved in anything, it's always a better process," said Bishop.

The deadline for schools to apply for the 2020 Farm to School grant is March 27.