#1: First Impressions

Posted by in Project Updates

“I do something very, very difficult. I shut up, and listen to them.”

– Ernesto Sirolli

Five students, one organisation, one school, one goal.

Our team is made up of five Land and Food Systems (LFS) students who are studying subjects related to food and nutrition. We are excited to work together and hope to utilise our academic knowledge in a practical way in future studies. We are all passionate about improving food systems of local communities as a first step towards understanding and achieving global food security. Amongst all the problems in local food systems, we believe that the youth are the most valuable, and have the most potential to tackle these problems. By encouraging young people to develop green and healthy eating habits, we believe that this would also positively influence the larger spectrum of the food system in the future.

Although we come from different backgrounds and countries, we all have the same concern – the quality of our high school cafeterias. Because of this, we chose the topic “Fresh Roots: Increasing Local Food in School Cafeterias” in the hopes of taking a step towards improving the quality cafeterias in local high schools. As we have learned in LFS250, many high schools in North America face the problem of unhealthy lunches, and have no intent or action plan for change. Now, the establishment of Fresh Roots produces a good opportunity that may change the current condition. It offers local, seasonal and fresh produce and allows David Thompson Secondary School to develop better school lunch recipes as well as enforce the integration of local agriculture to schools and residents. By actively involving the youth of the community  with hands on experience in the gardens and educating them to truly understand the importance of local food, every moment of doing and learning further strengthens their relation to the community. The learning process comes from: understanding which vegetables can thrive in the Vancouver climate, the time it takes to grow each species, garden maintenance, difference of nutritional content between fresh food and processed food, preparing the food for consumption, etc. Each interaction within this schoolyard-market garden system is a crucial yet very beneficial aspect of community engagement.

Throughout the project, we are going to learn how to apply principles of Asset-Based Community Development to achieve the most effective results. At the end of the term, we hope to:

  • gain perspective on the student bodies’ needs and preferences
  • encourage more students to eat nutritious and sustainable lunches in cafeterias
  • devise an action plan to improve recipes created by students in Fall 2015
  • extend Fresh Roots’ pre-existing mission
    • catalyse healthy eating, promote ecological stewardship, and ameliorate community celebration

Furthermore, by working with Fresh Roots and young students, we hope to utilise our academic knowledge to effectively discover the underlying needs of the community and subsequently take action. We will also learn how the theory of community food security drives the development of local agriculture. Ultimately, we hope that three key points of community food security: accessibility, stability and appropriateness, can be realised.

Who is this organisation? And what exactly are we trying to achieve?

Fresh Roots is a non-profit organisation that started as one backyard garden in 2009, with a mission to provide fresh local produce and integrate agriculture into the East Vancouver area. In 2013, the organisation built two schoolyard farms, one with David Thompson Secondary School and one with Vancouver Technical Secondary School. These gardens, aptly named the “Schoolyard Market Gardens”, work to provide fresh produce for the community as well as outdoor experiential learning opportunities. Approximately 10% of their food goes into school cafeterias.

Volunteers working in the gardens

At David Thompson Secondary, a spacious cafeteria is provided for students to enjoy. However, there is a curious phenomenon – the students don’t often visit this cafeteria. Is it possibly because the food being served isn’t culturally appropriate, and the students aren’t used to it? Perhaps the parents provide the majority of their kids’ lunches? Maybe, the food is simply too expensive and students can’t afford it? Or is it because the school store, run by the marketing class, provides ‘fast’ food that is far more appealing to students, and the competition proves to be too much? In any case, it is our team’s job to find out. Using the survey guidelines set out by the Centre for Ecoliteracy, we aim to find out what it is that drives the students to purchase food and what limits them, in order to help improve the cafeteria and develop a revenue neutral way to provide nutritious, local and sustainable food to the students. The previous LFS350 team have developed five recipes for us to assess in terms of cost, feasibility and student preference, which will be done through a series of taste tests. Additionally, we hope to educate the staff in the school cafeteria, with regards to available seasonal ingredients and how to incorporate them effectively into meals.

First Things First…

As a group, we decided that meeting with Marc Schutzbank before doing anything else would be a good way to initiate the project. The reason for that is because we thought Marc would give us detailed information on Fresh Roots, what the previous group had done, and what is expected from us. And as we thought, he clearly stated all of these and therefore we took the first step to determine our objectives and created a timeline.

Before our meeting, we were a little unsure on the order of process or what to prioritise in order to have successful outcomes. However, Marc had told us that in order to solve the problem, we need to know why students aren’t buying food from school and therefore prioritised the surveys. The surveys that we will conduct will hopefully help us find out their food preference and the reason they stay away from the cafeteria.


This schoolyard-garden system is to an extent, inspired by the Asset-Based Community Development (ABCD) principle. The ABCD states that everyone has something they can contribute, and when all assets are combined there is growth.  The establishment of relationships, community building, and bold citizenship is how the system improves itself. Leadership roles are given to the staff and students who are willing to make a change, and this is where engagement is the most meaningful, because asking for ideas is more sustainable than giving solutions (Mathie, A., & Cunninghman, G. (2003)). We believe that applying the ABCD principle to our project will not only make finding solutions easier (since there are so many members involved), but will also make it more efficient because there is more feedback being offered by all types of citizens in the community. As Ernesto Sirolli emphasised in his TED Talk, we cannot achieve anything without listening to the community (Sirolli, E., (2012)). (Interesting thought regarding the talk: the concept he introduces is definitely not groundbreaking, but the reality that it is not applied on a regular basis seems baffling. The group recognises this and will try to consciously apply this throughout the project.)

After conducting the survey, we will give the students a taste test. The goals of the taste test are:

  1. to see what the students like and/or prefer to eat for lunch, and
  2. to showcase the vegetables to the students.

As Marc told us, the taste test will act as a “small scale advertising for healthy food”. We may not succeed in improving the cafeteria food at David Thompson Secondary, but what we can make sure is that the students will know where their vegetables come from and get them interested about healthy local food.

Students are one part of the community but certainly there are other players that will have a big impact on our project. None of our group members have attended high school in Vancouver therefore the school lunch system seems ambivalent to all of us. In order to approach the community as an outside “expert”, we will work with Lee Green, the Culinary Arts teacher (& culinary class), Marc Shutzbank (Fresh roots), students from David Thompson Secondary School and The Vancouver School Board. These different players in the food system will help us gain insight and obtain a successful project. Apart from the benefits for us, the relationships we build will also create a sustainable community development (Mathie, A., & Cunninghman, G. (2003)).

There is no doubt that we have been given a challenging and unique opportunity to work alongside passionate individuals that are looking to make a difference in their community through the food system. Marc had extremely high praises for Lee Green, especially her passion and culinary expertise. We definitely look forward to meeting and working with her, and advancing the project; we’re certain that each of us will gain a considerable amount of experience and motivation.

Stay tuned for more updates! We’re all extremely excited about this project, and we hope you are too. There’s bound to be twists and turns, and many storms to be weathered.

“The only certainty in life is uncertainty”