Credit: Lorenzo Schober

“Did you know that we canned this blueberry jam ourselves, all from local ingredients?” The pride is evident in the students’ voices, as they share the hard-earned fruits (or jams) of their labours with customers at the Main St Farmers’ Market. As part of the SOYL youth leadership and employment program, these 20 students explored the theory of planning, marketing, budgeting, producing and promoting their own local food enterprise- and then put that learning into action. Together, in the summer of 2016, they canned 60 litres of blueberry jam, 55 litres of salsa and 50 litres of heirloom

Credit: Vanessa Perrodou

tomato sauce- an incredible accomplishment for a group of students who knew nothing about canning or running a business before they started! 

While it was incredible to behold all those jars of preserves spread out across the kitchen counters, it certainly took a lot of time and effort to get there. Many of the students felt overwhelmed at the prospect of canning in the scorching summer sun for six hours, in a classroom where the windows couldn’t open. And yet- once the day began, everyone rallied and soon got swept up by the excitement and energy of such an undertaking. This was a lesson in the joy of hard work and collaboration; that when we come together in the kitchen, we can transform simple ingredients into something concrete and lasting, that nourishes ourselves and the community. 

Credit: Vanessa Perrodou

This was also a lesson in developing practical life skills and a robust local food economy. In preparation, students took part in workshops on marketing, budgeting, product design and customer service, helping them to shape their new social enterprise and share it at market. While many of these students were passionate about working with local food, few had previously shared their knowledge or passion in a public setting. By developing these canned goods from local ingredients and selling them at market, students suddenly felt empowered to share their story and showcase their accomplishments. For most, it was the first time they had sold something they made themselves, an experience which fosters a particular sense of achievement and agency. 

And the community took notice of their initiative! Within three months, the students had sold all of their preserves. Some of these earnings covered the costs of sourcing jars, labels, ingredients and other supplies- including our purchases from local blueberry farmers and tomato growers, such as Klippers Organics and Matsqui Blue Farms. Beyond this, students decided to contribute their surplus towards hiring more students with the SOYL program in 2017, so that more youth would be able to share this same experience and take leadership within the local food system! 

In fact, more students were able to grow themselves and good food as a result of the support from Farm to School. Throughout the 2016/2017 school year, Fresh Roots continued working with the David Thompson Carrot Club to prepare and share a variety of dehydrated and canned goods. These dedicated students meet every week after school and take on various food preparation and preservation projects. This year they canned almost 15 litres of cranberry chutney, with cranberries sourced from Hopcott Farms. This presented an opportunity for the students to design labels and decorations, as well as practice their skills in marketing and sales, as they managed to sell all the jars before the winter break! 

In the spring, they started using a mixture of frozen cranberries and apple sauce to craft some delicious and unique fruit leathers. They sold their new dehydrated snacks in the school cafeteria- and they were a huge success! One student bought one of these “handmade fruit roll-ups” and enjoyed it so much, he came back to buy 20 more! Now the students produce a new batch of fruit leathers every month, due to growing demand. While many students wouldn’t choose to spend their time after school working away in the kitchen, these students do- because of the relationships they’ve formed with other club members, because of the tangible skills they’re gaining and because they can see other students appreciating their efforts. They’re taking back the school food system- one healthy, local snack at a time!