Food for Thought aims to provide hungry schoolchildren with nutritious, whole food. Our long-term goal is to help alleviate the underlying problems that create food insecurity in Alberta in the first place.
A 2021 report found that Alberta has the highest food insecurity in Canada; today, more than 20% of Albertans are food insecure. How is the case for a so-called “rich” province that furthermore has a farming heritage? Our view is that the industrial food system is the root of the problem. This system has meant the loss of family farms, strong rural communities, a local food system, and Indigenous food sovereignty, and it requires massive subsidies that cause harm to people and the planet. This root cause creates poverty as well as a loss of access to land and food-growing knowledge, and this causes food insecurity. The way to solve this problem? By returning the ability to grow, prepare, and preserve food back into the hands and minds of the people.
Food for Thought wants to see genuine food security in our city and province rather than the institutionalization of charities like ours. We want to see the day again when the Food Bank and school food charities are in place just for emergency situations – not for everyday needs. For this reason, Food for Thought cannot try to serve all schools or take on the issue ourselves; on the contrary, communities must remain involved and be empowered to change things long-term. Our work is thus geared toward not only helping to meet immediate needs, but also advocating for long-term change, and providing a simple model that other schools and communities can (and must) replicate to meet immediate needs and advocate for long-term change too. This is work we must all do together if we want to see food security in Alberta.
1. Identify the students in need. (Food for Thought does not have strict criteria for this point; if a student says they are hungry or asks for food, we add them to the list.)
2. Find a sponsor for the school; ideally, it is a single company in the community who can donate approximately $5K/year based on the amount of need to cover the year’s expenses. This keeps things simple. The school can publicly thank the sponsor, put up a poster in the school acknowledging their donation, and ensure they are invited to school events like concerts, Read-In Week, etc.
3. Create a grocery list with only whole and healthy food items on it (no juice boxes or granola bars, for example). We are happy to share our grocery order form with schools to see the kinds of things we offer. (Cheerios and other non-organic oat-based products are not included as these were found to have detectable levels of Round Up on them.) A standing list keeps things simple, and ideally schools work with independent grocery stores in their community to purchase the food.
4. Find a volunteer to pick up the food every week or every two weeks.
5. Find a volunteer or staff person to prepare the food (sandwiches, vegetables and hummus, cut-up fruit and yogurt and cereal, etc.). If the school has a kitchen, hot items like soups could be made.
6. Build a school garden (not necessarily a raised bed, as these can dry out more quickly) to teach students how to grow, prepare, and preserve their own healthy food. This requires just the initial work, some organic seeds, access to water, and someone (ideally someone in the community who wants to garden but does not have access to land) to become the gardener. The gardener gets to harvest the food over the summer in exchange for caring for the garden, involving the students in the planting and some of the fall harvest, and sharing some of the food. This enables the passing-down of gardening knowledge within the community to the students.
7. Advocate for new schools to be built with gardens, kitchens, and lunchrooms, and for a city-wide cosmetic pesticide ban – to keep kids, gardens, and pollinators and birds (necessary for food security) safe from pesticides. Over 180 cities across Canada already have such a ban; Edmonton is decades behind. Students can send cards to elected officials asking for a ban and saying they care about a healthy food system.
8. Use the excellent class materials provided by groups such as the Edible Schoolyard Project (see the “Resource Library”) to teach students about food systems. Do not use any classroom material provided by Ag for Life – which is funded by chemical pesticide companies and upholds industrial farming.
9. Reach out to Food for Thought for support if you have any questions.
10. Share the word with other schools and within the community.