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, 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.
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.
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."
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.
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.