La nourriture locale aux cafétérias

Marcelle Thibodeau explique les programmes de type " De la ferme au cafétéria " qui relient les institutions aux fermes locales et qui font la promotion et la distribution des aliments produits localement dans les écoles, les collèges, les universités, les hôpitaux et les maisons de soins infirmiers. Ces programmes ont des impacts positifs pour plusieurs. Les fermiers ont l'occasion de vendre de plus grandes quantités de leurs produits à leurs clients. Les enfants profitent de produits nourrissants tout en renversant leur tendance vers l'obésité. Et les étudiants sont maintenant capables d'établir le lien qui existe entre leurs choix alimentaires et l'environnement.

Connecting Institutions and Local Farmers

Marcelle Thibodeau
September 2006

l.gif (280 bytes)hen I think of good healthy food, I don't usually think of food served in school cafeterias. A typical lunch in my high school usually consisted of fish sticks, fries with gravy, and half-baked chocolate chip cookies. Not very healthy, and definitely not very local.

While researching local food systems for a school project, I came across a program that is trying to change school cafeterias by serving fresh local products. "Farm-to-Cafeteria" programs connect institutions with local farmers and promote and serve locally-produced foods in cafeterias of K-12 schools, colleges, universities, hospitals, nursing homes, and other institutions. Local foods purchases include fruits and vegetables, eggs, honey, meat, beans, and milk products. Local foods are included in salad bars, in main meals, in "all-local" catering projects, and at special events such as "locally-grown dinners."

Students helping out with haying. 
(photo: Marcelle Thibodeau)

In addition to purchasing and serving local foods, Farm-to-Cafeteria programs often include educational components about local food and farming issues. This is done by hosting special event meals in collaboration with local farm organizations, by integrating local food issues into the curriculum, by starting school gardens and composting projects, and by organizing field trips to local farms or classroom visits by farmers

Economically, Farm-to-Cafeteria programs can increase the amount of products that a farmer can sell locally and can provide farmers with the opportunity to sell larger quantities of products to single buyers. Institutional buyers tend to offer lower prices than farmers would receive in retail outlets like farmers' markets; however, these prices are still higher than wholesale prices. The lower prices can be balanced by an increase in sales at farmers' markets as Farm-to-Cafeteria programs promote a wider awareness of local farmers' markets and other local food outlets. Parents will often learn about local farmers' markets through Farm-to-Cafeteria programs. Since small children prefer smaller fruits and vegetables, selling to elementary schools also allows farmers to sell produce in sizes that normally would not sell.

Student helping out. 
(Photo: Jamie Simpson)

There are two major trends that have influenced schools to seek out local food for their cafeterias. The first trend is the increase in obesity in North American youth; the second is the increasing amount of unhealthy food and drinks (e.g., junk food vending machines, fast-food outlets) available in schools. Food service directors feel that by increasing local food availability in their cafeterias, they will be able to reverse these trends.

When schools begin integrating local food into their menus and their curriculum, students benefit in many ways. When the local food system is used as a teaching tool, students can begin to see the connections between their food choices and the environment. They can see how local foods need less packaging and therefore conserve natural resources. When farms visits are organized, students learn about the local farm economy and begin to make real-life connections to their geography, history, and social studies lessons. When students are asked to help with food preparation and composting, their lessons in nutrition, science, and math take on a real-life aspect.

(Photo: Jamie Simpson)

Environmentally, local food in schools helps to reduce some of the negative impacts of our global agricultural system. Currently in North America, it is estimated that our food travels between 2500 and 4000 miles before reaching our plates. To reach its destination, food is shipped by trucks, cargo ships, trains, and planes, all of which contribute to greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution. It has been estimated that an average North American diet composed of imported ingredients can generate four times the greenhouse gas emissions than an equivalent diet composed of local ingredients. In the global food system, energy is also needed to process and refrigerate food for long-distance transport and to produce the packaging needed for such travel. Serving local food in cafeterias can help reduce these environmental costs by shortening Food Miles and decreasing processing and packaging needs.

As with other direct marketing approaches, selling to schools has its own peculiarities. Current purchasing arrangements are not geared towards small-scale, local farms. Food service directors at schools are accustomed to dealing with only a handful of distributors, and receiving the majority of their fruits and vegetables from one vendor. These distributors usually make large volume deliveries of fresh food at least once a week. Schools are also accustomed to paying wholesale prices for food, and paying for goods 30 to 90 days after delivery. This payment arrangement is different than, for example, farmers' markets where farmers receive immediate payment at retail prices.

(Photo: Marcelle Thibodeau)

Menus in school cafeterias are usually developed with the assumption that all ingredients will be available when needed, regardless of the time of the year. The schools' purchasing season is from September to June, whereas the main growing season for fruits and vegetables in most of North America is from May to October. This issue of seasonality can be addressed in various ways. Food service directors can try to design menus that will take advantage of seasonal products. Both farmers and schools can increase the amount of local food available by processing food through drying, canning, and freezing so it can be used during the winter. Farmers can also lengthen their growing season by using techniques such as cold-frames, greenhouses, row covers, and succession cropping.

I hope that when my kids go to school they'll be able to eat a lunch of grilled local chicken breast, with roasted local potatoes and a side salad of local greens, finished off with a big glass of apple juice from the farm down the road.