Researchers from the Farm to School project are surveying Victorian primary and secondary school staff to find out how schools buy, use and dispose of food and how COVID-19 restrictions have impacted schools’ food related programs. They hope the results will help identify how schools can be supported to provide healthy and sustainable food to students and their families.
Project lead Dr Sonia Nuttman, from Deakin’s Institute for Health Transformation’s Nourish Network, said current systems for producing food pose significant issues for people and the planet and reinforce the need to build greater resilience within local food systems.
“COVID-19 restrictions have impacted significantly on families and we have seen a sharp rise in food insecurity. Presently we are also facing supply chain disruptions, particularly in Victoria with isolation requirements that are creating low stock on supermarket shelves, and price increases from a rise in shipping container prices,” Dr Nuttman said.
“Schools are part of the food system and provide a key setting to implement policies and programs that transition that area of the system to healthier social and environmental practices. Farm to School programs bring local produce into schools and teach students about nutrition through fun, experiential learning. They are an opportunity to connect schools with their local food system, increase the flow of healthy, locally grown food to school communities and support a vibrant local and regional food economy.”
According to Dr Nuttman, Farm to School programs, which have been successfully developed in other countries like the United States, can include activities like selling fresh produce supplied by local and regional growers and producers to the school community, integrating food-based eco-literacy into the school curriculum, growing food on school premises in a garden or farm and addressing waste and packaging in the school food system through waste reduction, composting, and recycling strategies.
“Farm to School programs overseas have demonstrated benefits like raising food literacy, promoting equitable healthy fresh food consumption, strengthening local food economies and reducing environmental impact,” Dr Nuttman said.
“The programs can also be part of the solution to some of the supply chain issues currently at hand, for example, connecting with local farmers to supply fresh fruit and vegetables.”
Dr Nuttman said the research team wanted to understand local food systems across Victoria and explore opportunities for establishing Farm to School programs, including the testing of a pilot project. They also hoped to build a Farm to School network to “cultivate healthy food connections between farms, canteens, classrooms, and communities”.
“While we know there are a handful of programs in Victoria that seek to connect farms and schools through farmer incursions and school group excursions, we’re not aware of any programs that engage in direct value chain coordination to bring goods grown locally into schools,” she said.
“This research will provide context for a Victorian setting and lead to the establishment of a pilot Farm to School program.”
The Farm to School project research team is looking for school staff currently working in primary or secondary schools in Victoria to participate in their survey at bit.ly/Farm2SchoolVic
For more information on the Farm to School project, visit the Nourish Network website.