PEI

Producing change? School food initiative coming to an end

A program aimed at trying to get more local, healthy options on school cafeteria menus and increase student education and awareness about food is wrapping up.

The province spent $100,000 on more than a dozen projects in all

The province has funded 17 programs since January focused on engaging and educating students about changes to what's on the menu at school. (Liz Kloepper)

A program aimed at trying to get more local, healthy options on school cafeteria menus and increase student education and awareness about food is wrapping up.

The province spent $100,000 on 17 projects — mostly in schools — starting in January, to raise interest in good, nutritional local food.

I think students and the wider public are looking for a change so I think something like this could change relatively quickly if we had all those interested partners really commit to the project.- Morgan Palmer

Three of the projects were run by the Public Schools Branch at Tignish Elementary, East Wiltshire and the high school in Morell using $30,000 of the funding.

Morgan Palmer, the co-ordinator hired to work on the food environment initiative project, says students, staff, as well as local producers and restaurants all played a role in the project.

"It was a real community effort," she said.

Time crunch

One of the initial aims was to have menus at school changed to feature more local and nutritious food, and though it was difficult to make big changes, Palmer said the program did a lot in a short time.

"Due to the limited timeframe we were able to kind of focus on doing an event that kind of raises awareness and engages students, a little bit of education and a little bit of background work on changing menus," she said.

One aim of the initiative was to get local producers involved in shaping the future of school food. (Julie Van Rosendaal)

Palmer said one focus of the project was to bring together the whole school food community to get behind making changes that would benefit students and producers.

"At Tignish Elementary they've decided to feature local produce on different sides of lunch items that they get from the Tignish Co-op and Very Best Restaurant."

Student engagement

Palmer said it's clear from the results of similar initiatives in other places that working with students is a must.

"As we see in other provinces, whenever we try to make changes to school food, student input often makes or breaks the changes," she said.

 'It's really about recognizing that while there's a lot of great programs that exist in school food across the Island, we have a lot of work to do.'- Morgan Palmer

But Palmer said students have shown interest in the food they eat, and want to have a role in shaping what cafeteria offerings looks like in the future.

"I think students and the wider public are looking for a change so I think something like this could change relatively quickly if we had all those interested partners really commit to the project," she said.

Food findings

Palmer is getting ready to finish a report on the results of the project including what events were held and how local food was used at these events and the number of students and community members involved.

She also said the initiative was a great way to get information on what school food looks like across the province.

Palmer said though the project was a start, there's much more to be done and she's optimistic that funding for more food-related programs in schools will come through.

 "It's really about recognizing that while there's a lot of great programs that exist in school food across the Island, we have a lot of work to do," she said.

"There's a lot of interest at all levels for this type of project to continue. You know we're interested in hearing what other people think school food should look like in P.E.I., too."

With files from CBC: Island Morning