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New research recommends Canada institute a Universal Healthy School Food Program

Gary Hoyer and Chinh Do of George Brown College have just released Generating Success for Farm to School, a report that researches the benefits of farm to school. Its recommendations include instituting a universal healthy school food program across Canada, complemented with a farm to school approach.

The authors argue that “In Canada, a universal meal program coupled with a F2S approach would positively impact all students, their health and wellness, ability to learn and provide them with food literacy skills that may offer lifelong benefits,” (page 102). “It would also support local farmers and producers.”

The report’s recommendations - i.e., to establish a National School Food Program complemented with the farm to school approach (healthy local food, hands-on learning and food literacy, and school and community connectedness) - aligns with the Coalition’s efforts including our Guiding Principles and is backed up in the report with compelling health and educational data. Part one of the report shares results from a survey that looks at best practices and the conditions necessary to support farm to school, while part two summarizes a comprehensive review of existing research on the benefits of a healthy diet, nutritious meals, food literacy education, and procuring local food.

The project links school meal programs to farm to school, referencing that they have mutual aims in getting healthy food in schools and so can bring about many common benefits related to student health & behaviour, the economy and environment.

In Section 2.4, the paper outlines cognitive & educational benefits and behavioural & psychosocial benefits of school food programs, explaining that more than 20 years of scholarly research has established that they significantly improve the cognitive abilities and learning capacities of children. “Students who participate in School Breakfast Programs have been found to have fewer discipline problems, manifest less aggression and violence, and show significant improvements in social behavior and general psychosocial functioning.” (p. 99)

This section of the report also details corroborative lessons from the U.S.; how Ontario’s School Food and Beverage policy already recognizes the role local food plays in healthy eating; and recent school-food momentum in Canada, including the Coalition’s work.

We encourage our members and supporters to read the report and share its evidence and conclusions with their local decision makers.

The report asserts that our current system contributes to illness that all three levels of government spend billions of dollars on each year to treat and prevent, showing why this sort of research is so important: we must continue to verify and demonstrate how school food programs achieve benefits that far outweigh the costs of implementing them now and into the future: “This paper demonstrated that providing students with a healthy diet of locally produced food and food literacy education would help to form the cornerstones of a healthy community, environmentally, socially, and culturally,” (page 6). It adds that schools are in a unique position to provide our children and youth with this support.

The report concludes that the responsibilities of providing students the fuel, tools and skills to achieve health, wellness and success can be met by instituting universal healthy school food programs complemented with a farm to school approach.

The evidence is clear — the time for a National School Food Program in Canada is now.

In addition to this paper the project team at George Brown has also released Fresh & Local Farm to School: Snack Recipe Cookbook, Student Workshop & Lab Manual, which was created by faculty and students for use at workshops delivered to middle and secondary schools.

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