Cultivating healthy eating and ecological stewardship may require much more than good snacks- but they are certainly a decent starting point. With our Farm to School BC grant, we are transforming a part of the school food landscape by empowering students to produce, market and sell preserved fruits and vegetables. During the initial months of implementation, we have experimented, learned and shared using locally-sourced produce, all while fostering leadership, employability skills and a sense of community amongst student participants.
Students have tried out a number of different recipes for freezer jams, vegetable truffles, veggie and fruit chips and fruit leathers. They analyse their results for flavour, consistency, quality and ease of preparation. This has been an exciting stage of the project, as students love to experiment with different foods, think creatively, develop their tasting skills and share food with their peers.
They were particularly proud of the potato-based chocolate truffles that they crafted and sold around Valentine’s Day, as well as the cranberry chutney they produced, decorated and sold before Christmas. These experiences enabled them to earn a profit, develop their sense of teamwork and better understand the potential and realities of value-added products. Through this process, we have developed a market strategy, with the input of Carrot Club members and direction of the Club Mentor, Jenny Lu. In developing this strategy, we cemented the partnership between the Carrot Club and the summer SOYL program, who together will ensure production, marketing and sales efforts thrive throughout the year.
The research and development phase has also been a fruitful time for learning from and adapting to challenges. We have found the process of testing recipes and determining appropriate equipment needs has taken longer than anticipated, partly due to declining student attendance in the Carrot Club during the busy spring months of university and exam preparation.
In order to keep students engaged, we need to provide a diversity of activities during meetings, meaning that we typically only have two sessions a month in which we can produce and test products. In the longer term, we will likely need to seek alternate avenues to ensure adequate production, such as further collaboration with the Culinary Arts or Home Economics classes.
In terms of equipment, we tested different dehydrators and sourced several options for purchasing, but found it difficult to determine which option would scale, as our operation grows in years to come. Now that our partnership with the SOYL program has been clarified, this will inform what products and therefore what equipment are best suited to our needs, as well as guide our approach to food safety and public health requirements. Much of this is new territory for the staff and students, but we have all appreciated the learning opportunities borne out of the search for better, local snacks.
While this project may still be young, it has had a tangible and positive impact on the school and community. Approximately 40 students have contributed throughout the project so far, gaining new skills and enthusiasm for developing and sharing local food products with their peers.
The Carrot Club benefits from a very dedicated executive team, who are strengthening their leadership capacity through coordinating this project. In particular, support from Farm to School has enabled the Carrot Club to share their food literacy knowledge with a diversity of students, including hosting workshops for visiting elementary students. As they trial new products and test new ideas, they experience the realities of a business start-up, build skills for healthy eating and feel empowered to take on new challenges elsewhere in their lives.
In addition, this project has engaged diverse actors within our local food system. Chelsea Greenwood of Yummy Yards helped source local blueberries to host a freezer jam workshop, while Discovery Organics agreed to supply No. 2 produce for future production. Jenny investigated connections with local South Vancouver grocers to develop supply relationships, while students crop planned in order to produce key preservation ingredients, such as herbs and veggies for drying.
Most excitingly, the Carrot Club has been a feature participant in Vancouver Coastal Health’s PhotoVoice project, which mentors students to use photography as a means to document their engagement with local food, gardening and cooking activities. This project has enabled students to capture project highlights and share these with a wider audience. In the months to come, we look forward to finalizing and selling our local veggie and fruit snacks, as we demonstrate the power of student-driven, local food enterprise, all thanks to the support of Farm to School BC!