Nova Scotia

Cumberland County pushes back on school food monopoly

The Municipality of the District of Cumberland County is pushing back on a new policy that requires schools in the area to buy food from a single vendor.

'If our grocery store isn't well supported, it could close,' says deputy mayor

Pugwash Farmers' Market is one of the many local food outlets in Cumberland County. (Pugwash Farmers' Market)

There's a food fight in Cumberland County.

The Municipality of the District of Cumberland County is pushing back on a new policy that requires schools in the area to buy food from a single vendor. 

Last month, Chignecto Central Regional Centre for Education started a new purchasing process that requires all 65 of its schools to buy food online from Armstrong Food Services, a Nova Scotia company based in Kingston that won the bid to be the sole food provider.

A statement from the centre says by using this service, all food items for schools are pre-approved by a nutritionist to ensure healthy food options at schools, and staff members no longer have to use school hours or volunteer their own time to purchase food. 

Mayor Murray Scott says council has been encouraging residents to support local food for years. (Pugwash Farmers' Market)

But Cumberland County officials say local grocery stores and food providers need to be supported.

"If our grocery store isn't well supported, it could close," says Jennifer Houghtaling, Cumberland's deputy mayor.

On Wednesday, Cumberland council passed a motion to send a letter to the CCRCE and to Becky Druhan, the minister of the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development.

The letter recommends that schools be allowed to buy locally. 

Jennifer Houghtaling, the deputy mayor of Cumberland County, is an active member of Eat Local Cumberland. (Facebook)

The letter states that the benefits of supporting local include having the option to choose fresher produce. Local stores donate items for fundraisers, creating an important relationship between the two parties. 

Houghtaling is an active member of Eat Local Cumberland. 

"As the councillor, I had given a grant to Eat Local Cumberland to provide smoothies made out of local berries and ingredients to the students, and the feedback from doing that in the schools was phenomenal. The kids loved it and loved hearing about local food and making the smoothies," she said. 

Eat Local Cumberland is an organization that supports local food initiatives. (Facebook)

"I do participate in the farmers' market here and we have been trying to get more farm food into the school for all the years that my kids have been in school, and it's been a challenge, though. It's just another kind of a step backward."

While the province sets standards for food and beverages sold in schools, the regional centres for education are responsible for purchasing food.

Cumberland Mayor Murray Scott said the community depends on local businesses that provide jobs and support schools and students through bursaries and community events. 

"It's a big issue for us," says Scott, adding that the council has always advocated for the community to support local whereas the CCRCE suggests otherwise. 

"We just think that the schools should have the opportunity to buy local if they wish," said Scott. 

A statement from the CCRCE said the new purchasing process is just in its beginning stages and there may be additional food resources and options in the future.

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