Changing the Menu in Montreal

The Queen Elizabeth, site of the conference...and the view from our window!

Back in November Sarah and I spent a few days in Montreal with our friend Jed, at the Changing the Menu School Food Conference.
Jed used to be our program director, and while we were sad when he left BCS to become the Early Education Program Coordinator at Shelburne Farms, the change really spurred us to develop an innovative partnership with the farm that continues to evolve.

It began with the formation of a Professional Learning Community. Last year, folks from BCS, Shelburne Farms, and other area early ed programs got together once a month to discuss issues and ideas like farm-based education, food justice, and practicing mindfulness at work. The two hour sessions would happen in the evening after the regular work day,  and include food (of course).
Early Ed professionals attend a PLC session at the Burlington Children's Space

We got so much out of these sessions that we wanted to deepen our work with Shelburne Farms. So together we began a partnership which included preschool and toddler class visits to the farm, and farm staff coming to BCS to work and play with us.  We were discovering  our own version of "farm-based" education!
Food is central to culture and community. Our food choices affect not just the health of our bodies, but our spirits too. Food helps us form our identity as humans.   It's nourishment, and it's love! We realized that both of our organizations are deeply invested in the idea of systems that value and prioritize food.  We both want to see food skills, and the journey of our food from seed to plate, embedded in school curriculum from the early years.
At the conference we learned a simple name for this idea - teaching kids about the mechanics of food growth, harvest, preparation and preservation as well as the community and cultural importance of what we eat.

Food Literacy.

We were hugely inspired by the speakers and presentations we saw at the conference, and came back full of ideas about school gardens that employ local students and feed the school community, teacher and family harvest shares, school kitchens that double as community food resource centers, and drive-through veggie pick-ups at school!

Farm share veggies ready for pick up by families at the end of the school day

We also learned about Promising Practice Guidelines for food literacy initiatives - especially those that address hunger and food insecurity - from programs working in First Nation communities in Canada. I was proud to note that at BCS we have already put much thought into many of these when designing our projects, especially our take home food bags. Ideas like universality (meaning the program is offered to all in a non-stigmatizing way), benefitting the health of participants, affordability, cultural appropriateness,  consistency,  innovative funding, and sustainability are all topics we hold close to our hearts whenever we think about new ways to engage our community with food.

Greens for family dinner donated by a farmer/parent

So, we were inspired to apply as presenters at the 2016 National Farm to School Conference in Michigan in June! Sarah, Jed and I submitted a proposal for a joint presentation on the BCS Shelburne Farms collaboration, and I proposed a "Lightening Talk" about my Actual Preschooler's Lunch Plates series, and translating ideas about kids and healthy food into practices that promote food literacy and the voluntary consumption of vegetables by kids of all ages.

Wish us luck! I promise to keep you posted.


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