Integrating Local, Organic Food into the School System: A Pilot Project

A Comprehensive Examination of the Cost, Logistical and Fulfilment Barriers to Incorporating Organic and Locally Grown Products Into an Existing School Lunch Program

The Certified Organic Producers Cooperative is pleased to announce that as a result of funding from the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries Food Security and Community Food Education Program, the Queen Elizabeth  Elementary School (QEES) Home & School Association, the PEI Certified Organic Producers Cooperative (PEI COPC) will work with the Lunch Program Manager  at the school, to develop a cost-effective and sustainable model  for inclusion of  of local and organic food products into their established (and highly functional) lunch program.

This project will examine:

  • 1. existing food costing and sourcing processes to determine where efficiency could be introduced to reduce cost differentials that are anticipated to come from the introduction of (potentially higher cost) local and organic food sources.  
  • 2. opportunities to overcome known barriers for local and organic product distribution logistics.
  • 3. possible barriers for producer fulfillment
  • 4. sustainable program funding options

The Lunch Program at QEES has well-developed and functional  elements that address food security (by ensuring universal access), enable online ordering,  promote healthy food choices  and allow on-site food preparation.  A robust examination of the cost and distribution barriers  to introducing local and organic can be undertaken, not confounded by these and other variables.

The location of the school and its proximity to several local and organic food producers will allow for a greater ability to develop a functional model for distribution on a localised scale. It will also provide greater opportunities to connect school children with the farms and the producers.

This evidence based approach will also provide local producers with sufficient information to better understand the (potential) scale-up requirements necessary to fulfil an institutional market demand.

The project will launch with the first of an annual series of  “veggie box” fundraisers that will create a possible revenue channel as part of an ongoing sustainable funding model for the program.  Similarly, it is also proposed that an after-school program be implemented that will invite a small number of school children (for a fee) to participate in cooking classes that will also serve as a means to prepare food for the next school lunch day. 

The project is intended to develop a model for other PEI schools to adopt and create a local market opportunity  for organic farmers .

Project Objectives

This project will serve to develop a sustainable operational and financial  model for other schools on Prince Edward Island, while examining issues related  to institutional buying  such as: limited distribution options ; perceived excessive costs (of local and organic) and  affordability for institutions; and, institutional fulfilment ability for local producers.  Through the implementation of a model that is not only philosophically ideal, but also sustainable, this project actualizes theory and proves the viability of a lunch program that provides food security to the community.

This  project will work to enhance and  introduce efficiencies to the existing Lunch Program so that its  viability is both measurable and replicable. Having local and organic product delivered to the school is essential to increasing the feasibility of the program already in existence. Local wholesalers/ distributors (such as Plate It, Harvest Wholesale and Top Feed) will be engaged in the project to examine logistics options  Ensuring that lunch staff are  paid a fair wage is also a key component to the sustainability of this program and will be an overarching consideration in the development of a sustainable funding model.  Involving and educating the children about where their food is coming from as well as giving recognition to the farmers providing the school with product are also necessary elements for this program to adopt in order to support food security in a sustainable way.

Increasing the availability of fresh local food on lunch menus in schools

The Lunch Program will increase the availability of fresh local food on lunch menus in PEI schools through its use of local organic and non-organic farmers produce, meat, eggs, and dairy. This particular project will omit the use of fish in the menu because of severe, life threatening allergies present in the school. Local fish, however, is also a possible local item to include on menus in other schools.

The model itself will employ a menu comprised of seasonal locally sourced  ingredients that can be adopted by school lunch programs across PEI. The veggie box fundraiser is also a highly replicable model that highlights local produce. Furthermore, the use of local foods in the after school program will also increase awareness of food grown within a few miles of the students.
Major Project Activities and Timelines

Activity Description – Start Date (YY-MM-DD) to  End Date (YY-MM-DD)

Organic Veggie Box Fundraiser – ( 2017 – 12 – 01 ) to ( 2017 – 12 – 19 )

  • Organic veggies from local farmers sold in a Christmas time fundraiser to raise money for the Queen Elizabeth home and school program.
  • Boxes will be purchased for 15 – 20 dollars each and sold for 25 to 30 dollars each.  

“Local Lunch” Program – ( 2018 – 01 – 04) to ( 2018 – 02 – 28 )  

  • Involves integrating proposed program changes into the already existing lunch program and closely monitoring the program over the course of a two month period.

After School Program – ( 2018 – 02 -01 ) to ( 2018 – 02 – 28 )

  • An after school program focusing on food skills and literacy for students at Queen Elizabeth Elementary.
  • Field trips may be possible through this program.
  • Students will pay a nominal fee to take part in program in order to sustain program costs and avoid program becoming a “daycare” opportunity for guardians of the children.

Wrap Up and Analysis – ( 2018 – 03 – 01 ) to ( 2018 – 03 – 15 )

  • Feedback, evaluation, and final report completed and submitted.  

The overall success of the project will be measured by the feasible integration of local organic produce into the school lunch program, the delivery of local produce (organic and conventional) directly to the school rather than the school staff having to shop at various locations on weekend to source the menu, ensuring that children who are known and or suspected to not have adequate food at home are given free lunches at school and also delivered weekly meals at home on the weekends, the development of an annual local veggie box school fundraiser program for the home and school program, and the development of an afterschool/extracurricular program for children to learn and practice food prep and cooking skills.

Participants of the lunch program (farmers, teachers, students, cook staff, and parents) will have the opportunity to take part in a questionnaire regarding their experience with the program. In addition, visits from the COPC staff and communication between the COPC and the school lunch program will determine the success and the future needs of the program.
Check back regularly for more information and project updates.

Contacts for this project:

Karen Murchison:  reserach [at] organicpei [dot] com

Hanna Hameline:  hamelinehanna [at] gmail [dot] com