Added $3M for school nutrition programs will support local growers

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

The Windsor Star/Beatrice Fantoni

Some extra cash from the province will help Windsor-Essex’s school nutrition program source food directly from farmers, saving money and supporting local agriculture.

On Tuesday the provincial government announced it would add an extra $3 million to its provincial school nutrition programs.

Part of that money will go to agencies all over the province to hire 14 new “food distribution and logistics co-ordinators” and do what one Windsor-Essex nutrition program has been doing for the past year.

“We were ahead of the game here in Windsor,” said Stephanie Segave, regional manager of the Ontario Student Nutrition Program, which is under the local Victorian Order of Nurses. The VON is responsible for distributing $500,000 in government dollars to nutrition programs all over Southwestern Ontario.

The VON piloted the food distribution and logistics co-ordinator position last year, sourcing food directly from farmers, and then showed the results to Minister of Children and Youth Services Teresa Piruzza (Lib – Windsor West).

It seems the idea stuck because the government wants nutrition programs all over Ontario to adopt the same approach.

“I was well aware of VON’s success in delivering (the) Student Nutrition program to children and youth in Windsor Essex, even before I became Minister of Children and Youth Services,” Piruzza told The Windsor Star in an email. ” As minister, I pitched the idea of having these co-ordinators across the province permanently,… I am really pleased that we were able to create these full-time positions across Ontario, to help even more families and their kids.”

The added funding means VON can now hire a permanent food and logistics co-ordinator so more food can be sourced directly from Essex County.

As it stands, Segave said, school nutrition programs buy most of their supplies from local grocery stores, trying to make the cost of food fit into a budget of 14 cents per student, per day — a near impossibility.

So the VON decided to try a new approach during the last school year. The pilot involved six schools and about 2,500 students. Nutrition program volunteers and co-ordinators bought food from wholesalers, local farmers and greenhouse growers, scoring deals on berries, for example, because they had minor blemishes and therefore, were cheaper. The foods were bought in bulk quantities and co-op students taught by Chef Robert Catherine would turn them into snacks like apple-berry fruit cups, veggie sushi or home-made granola bars.

The province predicts 33,000 more children in high-need communities will benefit from the $3 million investment, including children in First Nations communities.

In Tuesday’s announcement, the government cited research which suggests providing at-risk youth with breakfast have a measurable effect on high school graduation rates. or