Bakers Journal

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Survey finds institutions buying into local foods


October 11, 2013
By Bakers Journal

Oct. 11, 2013, Vancouver – A new report reveals that activity to bring healthy, local and sustainable foods into public agencies is gearing up in almost every province and territory.

Local Foods: Canadian schools, campuses, and health care facilities
speak up is the first pan-Canadian survey of its kind. In all, 239 food
and nutrition specialists working within schools, campuses, and
healthcare facilities answered questions about efforts to bring local
food into their institutions. The responses show that a significant
number of public agencies in Canada are working along multiple fronts to
put more local foods on patient and student plates.

“I was surprised to discover that institutional food system
transformation is occurring in urban, rural and remote communities right
across the country,” says Joanne Bays, national manager of Farm to
Cafeteria Canada, in a news release. “Greenhouses, gardens and farms are
sprouting up in schoolyards and on campus and hospital grounds. New
food supply chains are being developed resulting in the purchase and
delivery of local foods from non-traditional sources such as farmer’s
markets and food cooperatives. These foods – from salmon to strawberries
– are finding their way to canteens, dining halls, and to the patient’s
bedside.”

The survey also reveals that there is significant variation in the type
of activity undertaken by public agencies. The schools and campuses
represented in the survey are more likely to provide local food than
their healthcare counterparts (76 per cent and 92 per cent,
respectively, versus 66 per cent for healthcare facilities). They are
also more likely to provide educational activities regarding local food
(90 per cent and 86 per cent, respectively, versus 38 per cent for
healthcare facilities). Campuses and healthcare facilities are more
likely to have local procurement policies or contracts with local
providers (33 per cent and 29 per cent, respectively, versus 14 per cent
for schools).

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Why are public agencies embracing the local food movement? The survey
says that a key motivational factor is “improved quality, freshness,
taste or nutrition of the food.”

“Local food can be an excellent means of providing appealing and healthy
food that benefits local communities, rural economies, and the
environment. Everyone can feel good about eating local food,” explains
Dr. Mary McKenna, a professor of nutrition at the University of New
Brunswick and one of the authors of the report, in a press release.

What are the barriers to this activity? Top barriers for larger scale
operations are “lack of policies that address local food” and “existing
contracts that prevent use of local food.”

“To encourage local procurement in our public institutions, we need more
provinces to bring in food policies like the one Quebec brought in this
spring. But such policies must have clear incremental targets. If the
government sends a clear message to institutions to buy local, producers
will organize to offer competitive prices,” says Isabelle St-Germain,
deputy director of Equiterre, in a media release.

The report concludes the time is ripe for Farm to Cafeteria Canada – the
national organization devoted to promoting healthy, local and
sustainable foods in all Canadian public institutions – to further
advance the efforts of local and regional programs. Key strategic
directions include conducting further research, sharing information and
resources, supporting the replication of promising practices, and
advocating supportive policies.

"We came into this project as individuals representing various groups
and organizations, and have come out with not only data to show what
institutions are doing to get more local food into their settings, but
also with a strengthened national Farm to Cafeteria Canada network and
an abundance of ideas and resources that will help to further farm to
cafeteria activities in Canada,” says Roxana Atkinson, a researcher for
Farm to Cafeteria Canada, in a media statement.