“People are more aware of the importance of eating healthy and eating local,” says Dr. Mary McKenna. “The Farm To Cafeteria program is about thinking local first when planning your food needs, which is a win for the farmer, a win for the environment, a win for local community and a win for health.”
Across Canada, there are various Farm to Cafeteria (F2C) programs linking farmers and local food production directly to schools, health care facilities and other institutions. These programs open new markets for local farmers, strengthen the local food economy and increase access to local and sustainably produced foods.
Farm to Cafeteria (F2C) Canada is an emerging national network that promotes, supports, links farm to cafeteria programs, policy and practices from coast to coast to coast. The F2C Canada network has an advisory committee that includes representatives from lead regional organizations championing F2C activity across the country. Farm to Cafeteria Canada is currently managed and administered by the Public Health Association of British Columbia (PHABC).
“Last fall we received some funding from the J.W. McConnell Family Foundation to look at the possibility of establishing a national network,” explains Dr. Mary McKenna, Professor, Faculty of Kinesiology at the University of New Brunswick. “Although we were aware of various local activities in many jurisdictions, we realized one of the first things we needed to do was to get a better sense of what was happening across the country.” To do that, F2C Canada developed a nationwide survey of schools, universities and health care facilities as a starting point. The results will be used to help develop a strategic plan to further Farm to Cafeteria Activities and to grow the network.
“People interested in F2C come from agriculture, health and nutrition, food security, community development and concern for the environment, which are all ways of connecting with local food,” says McKenna. “The groups of people who are involved are interesting and diverse, which has helped us to learn more about how people are involved with local foods, what their distribution networks are like and other aspects. We also recognize and value the importance of farmer input and farmer/producer connections through our network.”
Farm To Cafeteria Survey
Farm to Cafeteria Canada launched a nationwide online survey in May 2012. There are three versions of the survey available in both English and French for schools, universities and colleges, and hospitals and health care facilities. “So far, we’ve received over 100 responses and we are encouraging institutions to participate in the survey,” says McKenna. “We hope to have the surveys wrapped up early in the fall and to have the final results available by the end of the year.”
The survey is fairly extensive and has questions related to current Farm to Cafeteria activities and programs already in place, where institutions are getting their local foods, transportation considerations and what percentage of their overall food budget is spent on local foods. Other questions focus on benefits, barriers, needs and strategies related to Farm to Cafeteria programs. There are also questions related to sustainability and programs such as Local Foods Plus, organics and others. One section is focused on polices and what type of policies these various institutions have in place that direct them to take action around local food.
Farm to Cafeteria Canada will be publishing a final report on the results of the survey. “The various members of the advisory committee will also be sharing results at conferences and meetings across the country this fall and winter,” explains McKenna. “For example, we will be presenting the results in November at a Provincial Food Security Conference in New Brunswick. Along with presenting our results, we also want to verify that we haven’t missed anything in the survey or input from institutions.”
Once the survey is complete, the network will be in a better position to help initiate, expand and maintain Farm to Cafeteria programs across the country. “Our ultimate objective is to find better ways to support existing programs and to help ensure they are sustainable, and to provide guidance for those who want to start new programs,” says McKenna. “We want to try and take the experience and wisdom of others and share it with those who want to do more and to improve the long term sustainability of what they have. We also want to increase the awareness of the programs to policy makers, governments and institutions, local communities and farmers.”
Dr. Mary McKenna