Huband Park Elementary students have been biting into plenty of local produce thanks to the school’s new Farm to School Salad Bar program.
Parent, local farmer and salad bar organizer Arzeena Hamir says the salad bar has been in operation once per week for the past six weeks, and she notes there are three objectives of the lunch program.
“The first one is to get kids to eat more fruits and veg for their own nutrition outcomes,” says Hamir. “The second is to support local farms, so the money that’s being spent here is being circulated in the Comox Valley.”
The cost per student per lunch is $3, though Hamir adds subsidies are available. She points out the fee makes the salad bar self-sufficient in terms of funding, and about 40 per cent of the fare is locally sourced. She estimates about $600 has gone to local farms so far thanks to the program.
“And then the third (objective) is to get kids to learn who grows their food and where it’s grown, and just the whole education around food,” she says, noting many of the kids attending Huband are from rural homes, so this piece is easy for most to pick up. “We do have farmers coming to speak to classes, we’ve got field trips happening as well.”
The salad bar features a selection of fresh greens, chopped vegetables, sauces and heartier salad toppings like chick peas. Hamir notes organizers surveyed parents earlier in the year and some expressed concern about their children being full enough from salad, so other items like noodles and tortilla chips were added to the selection as well.
Volunteer parents — including foodies like Atlas Café executive chef Jonathan Frazier — cook the food and serve the younger students the toppings they choose.
Grade 3 student Frances Nye says she enjoys the lunch program.
“The salad is good sizes ’cause it’s cut up, and I have different things to put on the salad and you get to choose what you get to put on the salad,” she says as she munches on her lunch.
Grade 5 student Aiden Noble is also impressed with the program.
“I think it’s awesome, and it’s nice and healthy, and it’s a really good idea,” he says, adding he’s learned about how food is grown and where it comes from. “The lady who brings the salad in, she comes and talks to our class and she teaches us a lot about the lettuce and how healthy it is, and I think I’ve learned quite a bit.”
Hamir notes the school received a government grant for nearly $9,500 to spend on equipment to get the program up and running. The grant was spent on equipment like the salad bar, cutting boards and knives — with about $6,000 of it going toward a commercial dishwasher.
The kitchen area was also inspected by a health officer, but other than the startup costs and inspection, Hamir says the lunch program is easy to run, and quite self-sufficient.
Last week’s salad bar was the last of the year, but Hamir notes it has been popular, with about 40 kids signed up. She adds that during a free salad bar day at the beginning, about 150 kids loaded up their plates with produce, which is over half the school’s population.
“A lot of parents don’t realize that their kids eat vegetables when they’re not around,” says Hamir with a smile. “I think parents need to realize kids will — especially through peer pressure, when they see their friends eating salad — they will absolutely partake and they’ll try new stuff.”
Huband is the first school in the Valley to offer a Farm to School Salad Bar program, though Hamir notes over 60 B.C. schools have lunch programs like this thanks to the organization Farm to School B.C. — an organization Hamir worked for before she moved to the Comox Valley last year.
She adds the program will resume in September at Huband, and she hopes more parents will sign their children up at the school. She also hopes it will spread to other Valley schools.
“I would love to see this in all of the schools in the Comox Valley and I know that there is support at all the levels of the school district, so you know, how to make that happen is the next step,” she says.