When the large boxes of B.C.-grown fruits and vegetables are dropped off at Chilliwack schools, there’s no telling what delights are waiting inside.
Sometimes staff will find a sweet fruit, and other times it’s a hearty vegetable, says Bernard elementary principal Janine McCurdy.
But whether they’re Okanagan apples or Fraser Valley blueberries, every box comes with a chance for students to discover something new. Thirty of Chilliwack’s schools are signed on to the B.C. School Fruit and Vegetable Nutritional Program, which just celebrated its tenth year of providing fresh produce to B.C. students.
Bernard elementary and McCurdy’s previous school, Little Mountain elementary, were a few of the earlier schools to sign on to the free program.
She said a large shipment of produce arrives at the schools 13 times a school year, with enough food for all of the students to enjoy.
“Volunteers then come in and distribute it all to the classes, and everybody gets a chance to try something,” McCurdy said. “We’ve tried kiwi, we get cherry tomatoes, carrots, and we’ve even had plums in the past.”
Some of these are foods that students are trying for the very first time.
“I think it opens their eyes to something new, and gives them an opportunity to try it,” she added.
The food is distributed just before recess or lunch, depending on the day, giving the teachers a chance to include a small lesson on nutrition.
“This is a really good program,” McCurdy said.
And more recently, BC Dairy Association has joined the program, too. At Bernard, each of the shipments include enough milk for all their kindergarten to Grade 2 students.
If there are any schools that haven’t signed on, she said the process is simple. Just visit www.aitc.ca/bc and sign up.
The program is provided free to schools, through provincial funding.
“From humble beginnings with only 10 schools, a decade later we’re seeing phenomenal success with nearly 90 per cent of B.C. public and First Nations schools involved in the program,” said Health Minister Terry Lake. “By providing children with fresh, delicious fruits, vegetables and milk, we’re helping them develop an appetite for healthy living – a crucial part of our Healthy Families BC prevention strategy and a major priority for the future of our health system.”
The Ministry of Health and the Provincial Health Services Authority have provided combined funding of $21.5 million to the BC Agriculture in the Classroom Foundation since 2010-11 to support the program. It was created in partnership with the Ministries of Health, Agriculture, and Education and is led by the BC Agriculture in the Classroom Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to bringing B.C.’s agriculture to students.
“This program works directly with local growers and distributors to bring fresh B.C. produce to the students, right in the classroom. It is great that students are also learning that eating fresh, local produce supports B.C. farmers and the economies of our rural regions,” said Agriculture Minister Norm Letnick.
New this year, the Fresh to You fundraiser was recently introduced in schools. Fresh to You allows families to buy fresh bundles of produce, with 40% of the proceeds going to support the school. This year with the launch of the fundraiser, 60 schools raised a total of $34,382 through the sales of 4,387 bundles packed full of B.C. produce.