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Food program in Qualicum Beach goes beyond school

Ron Campbell and Madeleine Dwyer explain the importance of mulch as they address a lot of big issues with the Food to School program on the KSS grounds. - Auren Ruvinsky photo
Ron Campbell and Madeleine Dwyer explain the importance of mulch as they address a lot of big issues with the Food to School program on the KSS grounds.
— image credit: Auren Ruvinsky photo

A unique program in Qualicum Beach is putting its food where its mouth is, building connections between the school, farming and wider community and addressing some of the big issues of the day in the process.

"We are trying to find as many connections between the school and community as possible to grow awareness of food issues," said Madeline Dwyer.

Dwyer is a Vancouver Island University student and Kwalikum Secondary grad who has been hired for the second summer by the Qualicum Beach Farmer's Market with a federal grant to develop the Farm to School program.

Working on the KSS grounds with the Collaborative Education Alternative Program (CEAP) and spearheaded by local farmer Ron Campbell, the garden was started three years ago with the aim of getting local produce into school lunch programs.

"The schools are always trying to draw the community into the schools and the community's trying to draw students into the community and this allows us to do that," Campbell said, explaining they are developing the infrastructure and knowledge in the school and encouraging teachers to find ways to make use of it in their classes, or develop new classes that take advantage of it.

For example, Lil Rasa's KSS leadership class recently hosted a "low-impact lunch" in honour of Earth Day, feeding 60 people with nothing but local food... except olive oil, she pointed out. With local farm-fresh eggs, cheese, milk and greens they cooked up a meal of frittatas, milk and salad.

Campbell points to obvious connections like that lunch, or the obvious benefits for a biology class to be able to see biology in action, but they have also had a phys-ed class help them move dirt and they are working on building stronger connections to First Nations studies and other areas.

With support from Dwyer and the farmer's market, the program is run by volunteer labour and donations including a self-contained aquaponic system recently donated by Nourish Farms.

CEAP students and teachers are just getting the system going this week, explained teacher Jergus Priboj, but with the addition of 20 to 30 tilapia fish it will soon be a self-contained nitrogen cycle, never needing additional fertilizer.

The probiotic bacterial culture that grows in the clay balls the plants are planted in, will help feed them and Priboj suggested they could even feed the fish worms from the compost and eventually create an almost closed system.

While teachers like Priboj and Rasa work with students interested in growing food and exploring food security and local food issues, hoping to help some go on to study in university and maybe get into those careers, Dwyer points to the benefits of minor garden exposure.

"This week I'm working on a grant to bring more food to the St. Stephen's Church community meals program," Dwyer said. She said they are also exploring local foods that are naturally drought resistant and don't need fertilizers and pesticides because they are adapted to growing here.

Dwyer and Campbell both light up when talking about the possibilities and benefits of increasing local food sourcing which cuts down on the negative effects of growing, storing and transporting food around the world, pointing to the absurdity of importing food from Australia and California that we can easily grow here.

"My goal is to increase the cost of food; we don't value food the way we should here," Campbell said. "We pay nine per cent of our income on food, the lowest portion in the world," he said, pointing to Europe's 40 per cent and the world average 50 per cent of income.

He said cheap food is built into our psyche, so some people think nothing of spending a fortune on jeans or a TV, but then spend as little as possible on food, which has a whole chain reaction of negative effects from environmental destruction to poor health.

"We already subsidize cheap food, why not subsidize local food?" asked Campbell.

While Dwyer and Campbell believe those attitudes are starting to shift, they said it is going very slowly and look to programs like the garden program to help inspire and educate the next generation.

They have big ambitions for the program including hopes of expanding entrepreneurial ventures, finding ways for the students to sell what they produce, developing an ongoing farm to school cafeteria program to feed students with food grown on the property, or at least in the region, and a logo program with a picture of a bike on food that is grown not just within a 100 miles, like the popular diet, but within cycling distance.

They are also looking to expand to other schools, with Ballenas Secondary currently in the works.

The program is always looking for help in any way from donations to volunteer help. For more check www.facebook.com/kssfoodgardens or contact Dwyer at madeleinedwyer@gmail.com or 250-240-6236.

Check www.phabc.org/farmtoschool for more on the provincial program.

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