Establishing the student garden beds/photo: Wendy Matsubuchi

In Spring 2015, Sutherland Secondary School established a 1/3 acre schoolyard market garden on the lawn in front of the school.  Collaborating with Edible Garden Project (EGP) to assure year-round garden care, a student Garden Club was set up to provide muscle, and interface with the student body and staff.  Students had 12 raised beds in which to grow their choice of crops; 86 beds were used for high production to provide for EGP farm-gate sales at Loutet Farm, a few short blocks away.  Very soon, students suggested assuring the distance between farm and table be reduced for the school by providing greens for the cafeteria.

A project was initiiated, using a Marketing class, Garden Club and Meatless Monday group, to raise awareness of the benefits of eating more greens.  The farmers from EGP established a relationship with food service provider, Amaga Foods, to open discussions about what we could grow to be used in the school cafeteria. For the first year of the project, we attempted to provide mixed greens, but the short growing season and need for consistent, cheap product proved too challenging for our garden to manage, and this portion of our project fizzled out.

Plant-based pizza from our own garden/photo: Cynthia Bunbury

Undaunted, the Meatless Monday group pursued a new avenue: partnering with the Vancouver Humane Society (VHS), we approached the idea from a different angle.  Instead of producing our own greens, which was not presently feasible, we chose to encourage students and staff to integrate more plant-based foods into their diets.  Working with Amaga Foods, we started an awareness campaign to promote plant-based menu options in the cafeteria.  At the same time, we came up with ideas for new menu items that were vegan; advertised and promoted them throughout the school with posters, announcements and contests; and gave away free meals on our regular Meatless Mondays.

Garden Club members promoting our produce/photo: Wendy Matsubuchi

The Garden Club hosted events in the garden to assure students and staff were using the facility as a teaching tool and visiting the garden to enjoy its tranquility and nibble its bounty; they cross-promoted the food samples Meatless Monday provided each week, and gave away kale babies they had started in the classroom to encourage students to grow their own greens.

Amaga Foods indicated they needed time and training to implement our idea of more plant-based menu items.  Students brought a formal proposal to the school board, which was very well received, and thus began the effort to increase plant-based foods in secondary cafeterias across the district to 20% over the next couple of years.  In collaboration with VHS, we organized to train the 12 Amaga food service workers to prepare more plant-based recipes.

Once that was done, Amaga was encouraged to offer these menu items on Meatless Mondays and eventually, after some market research to assure the most popular options rise to the top, these will be included as regular menu items.  We are confident that our project has had a positive influence on the eating habits of our school, and in time, will contribute to a greener attitude in the entire school district.