Digging into the Farm to School Movement

Assessing the Environmental and Social Impacts of Connecting Learners and Growers through Food Literacy and Sustainable Local Food Procurement Partnerships in British Columbia, Canada

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, communities around the world are faced with the urgent challenge of making sure there is enough food for everyone. Many families with limited income rely on school meal initiatives to support their children’s nutrition, health, and well-being. In British Columbia, there is a Farm to School BC (F2SBC) program that encourages learners (students, educators, and school community members) to connect with local food providers such as farmers, food growers, Indigenous traditional harvesters, hunters, and anglers. This program also supports teaching food skills to students. During the COVID-19 pandemic, some school food initiatives were able to continue running normally, while others have been disrupted. Our team (Simon Fraser University and Public Health Association of B.C) would like to understand how the scaling up of farm to school, or local food to school, initiatives could be improved for the benefit and wellbeing of the community.

The main research objectives of this partnership include the following:

  1. To understand the economic, environmental and social impacts of scaling up the  local food procurement in BC schools and particularly for farmers in BC’s Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) as well as traditional food providers.
  2. To identify the barriers and opportunities of scaling up the farm to school or local food to school programs in urban, rural, and remote BC schools for both farmers/traditional food providers and educational institutions through social innovation methodologies.

This study will be conduct as a series of four case studies:

  • Case Study 1 – Food Procurement: We seek to assess the feasibility of scaling up a farm to school local food procurement program. We will conduct semi-structured key-informant interviews with planners, policymakers, educators, and farmers to understand the challenges and opportunities for scaling up local food procurement for farm to school or local food to school programming.
  • Case Study 2 – COVID-19 Related Challenges: We seek to identify lessons learned during the pandemic for farm to school or local food to school programming. We will explore how school district policies and the political context shape the different outcomes for school food programming across the province during the pandemic. We will Interview Regional food hub coordinators, farm to school animators, farm to school coordinators at schools, school district staff/ educators, and relevant policymakers to identify lessons learned.
  • Case Study 3 – Social Innovation Lab Workshops: We will engage stakeholders/ participants in social innovation workshops to identify solutions to scaling up farm to school or local food to school programming across the province. These workshops will have intersectoral collaborative activities and focus groups. We will hold these workshops online, with participants grouped into three regional Farm to School hubs: 1) urban; 2) rural/remote and 3) Indigenous.
  • Case Study 4 – Environmental Impact Quantification Study: We will conduct an analysis on the environmental benefits of farm to school or local food to school programming based on the types and amounts of food purchased by school meal programs.