Farm to School Snacks Produce Nutritious Ripple Effect

Students at Kings County Academy enjoy healthy snacks in 2017.
Students at Kings County Academy enjoy healthy snacks in 2017.

(New Minas, Nova Scotia) — Kohlrabi and cucumbers are two of many vegetables set to change the eating habits and health trajectory of New Minas Elementary School children. Initiated to ease the issue of food insecurity, the Farm to School Snack Program brings local farm produce straight to the school.

“Kids go crazy for it,” says Dawn Hare, Farm to School Snack Coordinator. “When we bring the tray in, they are hopping up and down, trying to see what it is. For some kids, it’s their first exposure to a vegetable like kohlrabi, which is a lesser-known relative of cabbage. Even cucumbers; some kids have never had those. It’s quite surprising how many children haven’t had the opportunity to try even common vegetables before.”

Coordinated by the Annapolis Valley Farm to School Committee, the Farm to School Snack Program aims to increase children’s exposure to nutritious food and its health benefits, for a lifetime impact—especially for low-income families who may not have adequate access to healthy foods. A 2017 UNICEF report ranked Canada 37th out of 41 countries regarding food insecurity and obesity among children, and Nova Scotia’s food security lags behind most other provinces.

New Minas Elementary is one of four new schools to begin the healthy snack program this year, thanks to the Nova Scotia Health Authority’s Wellness Fund. This provides small start-up grants to community organizations through the province’s 37 community health boards, to launch grassroots projects that tackle social and economic challenges undermining health. Wellness Funds have already launched numerous other food security programs in the Valley, and in communities all across Nova Scotia.

“Community health boards from one end of the province to the other have identified food security as a key priority in their community health plans,” says Geoff Wilson, director of public engagement and community health for the Nova Scotia Health Authority. “We now have groups running community gardens and programs that turn unused produce into soups, teach people how to grow vegetables from seeds, provide community greenhouse space, and teach seniors how to cook with more vegetables, to name a very few.”

Halifax’s Hope Blooms community garden and line of garden-fresh products is undoubtedly the most well-known. This past year, Dwight Ross Elementary, Greenwood; Glooscap Elementary, Canning; and Berwick Elementary joined other Annapolis Valley schools sampling the fresh produce every month. Students get the tasty tidbits at break time. Teachers explain what the fruit or vegetable is, its nutritional value and where in the Valley it was grown, adding fun facts to engage the students. In some schools, these foods may be offered at movie nights, spring fundraisers or even worked into cafeteria meals.

New Minas Elementary principal Eric Trahan states, “We’re very excited and pleased to be partnering with the Central Kings Community Health Board. Food security and nutritious foods are at the forefront. Having that opportunity to educate kids about the benefits of healthy, sustainable local foods at a young age is very beneficial for so many reasons.”

“It’s amazing how positive peer pressure works in the classroom when they try new foods–if one kid tries it, the others do too. There’s a ripple effect to the eating habits and education of the whole family,” Hare adds. “You’ll hear parents in the community saying their child tried a new food, liked it, and now they’re asking, ‘Where do I get that and how can I prepare it?’”

Volunteers source the vegetables with the local farm markets and transport them to the school. “It’s not a lot of effort for a lot of reward,” says Ginette Dion, New Minas Elementary School volunteer. “If anyone wants to start at their school, it not that much work. The Farm to School coordinator is always there to help you.”

NSHA’s Wellness Funds allow community health boards to fund and partner with local non-profit community groups, to improve and promote health by addressing income, education, social supports, early childhood development and other determinants of health.

To start your own healthy community project, visit https://www.communityhealthboards.ns.ca/wellness-funds. Applications for the next round of Wellness Fund awards are due by midnight, October 15, 2018.