Peel school board sinks its teeth into home grown food

An Ontario farmer is pleased to see schools in the province are starting to provide students with locally-grown food.

Bill Duron, a farmer and the program director of the Greenbelt Foundation, said the Ontario school system has been slow to provide a healthier and local food alternative.

“There’s a real consumer trend to source foods that are local foods,” he said. “Public institutions are now playing catch up.”

Last week, the Peel District School Board, alongside Chartwells and environmental organization, EcoSource teamed up to introduce some new dishes made out of locally grown foods to three secondary schools in the district.

The campaign is part of an on-going project called, School Food Action Coalition, which was created to promote local food to Ontario schools.

According to EcoSource’s associate director, Stephanie Crocker, items such as apple muffins, herb stuffed chicken breast and butternut squash soup have been a big hit with the students.

EcoSource has been advocating for local food items in school cafeterias since 2006. Before launching the recent campaign, they had organized focus groups to determine what secondary school students think of locally grown food.

“Even if they weren’t sure of what local meant, they thought it meant fresh,” she said. “There was confusion on whether meat was local, but they knew fruits and veggies were. Overall, students believed local was healthier.”

Crocker said that local food could potentially be healthier because it hasn’t been shipped great distances and been sitting on warehouse shelves; food loses vitamins and nutrients the longer it sits.

Duron says that many public institutions will need to change the way they prepare and make their dishes.

“Hospitals for example, they just heat up processed foods and feed it to the patients,” he said. “They’re having to re-learn the way that they used to do it, which is cooking raw materials.”

He also says that when it comes down to it, serving processed food costs the same and sometimes more than local and natural food.

The new initiative will also pump a significant amount of money into Ontario’s agriculture industry.

The initiative, which involves 40 other grantees that are promoting local food sources is projected to generate over $100 million for Ontario food producers, Duron said.