Students at schools across New Brunswick are enjoying more fresh produce this school year as a new collaboration of non-profits, farmers, and food-service providers met its first deadline to bring the schools a local food delivery.

Collaboration in Agrifood New Brunswick (CANB) wants to make sure school cafeterias are feeding students fresh food grown by local farmers and producers.

What started as a grassroots movement at individual schools now has backing from both provincial and federal governments, as well as a growing distribution network.

Frederic LaForge

Frederic LaForge, general manager for the Collaboration in Agrifood New Brunswick is working to help bring local food to the province's schools. (Catherine Harrop/CBC)

Frederic LaForge, the general manager for CANB, is an entrepreneur in the local food delivery market. He is working to change minds about having fresh local food in schools. 

"We have about 13 per cent that's on our plate that's actually from N.B., so it's a real challenge to fix that. So we have to start eating our own food."

CANB started out by providing eight schools with produce last week and that number has doubled to 16 this week. There are another 93 schools across the province that can join the program. 

Winter supply

The produce not sent fresh to schools will be processed by executive chef Pat Mills. It will be frozen and supplied to schools throughout the winter.

Executive chef Pat Mills

Executive chef Pat Mills says the kitchen at Carrefour Beausoliel, a French school in Miramichi will become the hub of processing fresh food for use throughout the winter months by schools across the province. (Catherine Harrop/CBC)

Mills has been busy in the kitchen at Carrefour Beausoleil, a French school and community centre in Miramichi. He is processing some of the 15,000 pounds of fresh tomatoes he ordered in January. 

"Even at 15,000 pounds of tomatoes, I'm honestly concerned it's not even going to touch what we need. That's what we've ordered this year, to start," he said, but added that he believes the schools might eventually be able to use up to 50,000 pounds of tomatoes. 

"So it's a little bit of trial and error for this year, but it will give us a good base to do next year. We'll know where our volume counts are."

Tomatoes

Carrefour Beausoliel executive chef Pat Mills is busy processing thousands of pounds of fresh tomatoes to be used by schools during the winter months. (Catherine Harrop/CBC)

CANB's idea is to have many smaller farms providing a portion of a demand Mills expects will grow exponentially

Richard Siddall of Siddall Farms has been supplying beef from his small, fourth-generation farm in Millerton to Pat Mills since the executive chef asked him to supply 600 pounds of meat to feed students taking part in the Acadian Games.

"As it is, we have some regular customers, but you can have a lot of sales this month, and very little next month. To have a steady supply and know that it's going to be there, it's going to be huge." said Siddall.

Helping each other grow

LaForge explained with the steady and substantial buying power of schools directed more locally, small farmers can increase their yield. The more the the farms grow, the more the volume of local food in schools grows.

LaForge expects there to be a similar effect on the processing and distribution system, creating more local jobs.

Collaboration

Richard Siddall began supplying beef from his farm in Millerton to Carrefour Beausoliel's executive chef Pat Mills after being asked to provide 600 pounds to feed students taking part in the Acadian Games. (Catherine Harrop/CBC)

He foresees multiple distribution points around the province, with the first being in Moncton.

"But there will be multiple locations around the province," said LaForge. 

Mills said he expects his kitchen at Carrefour Beausoleil in Miramichi to be a hub for processed local food within the year.

With files from Catherine Harrop