1. Person-Centred, High-Quality, Safe and Sustainable Health and Wellness for Nova Scotians

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Students from Chedabucto Education Centre and Guyborough Academy harvesting carrots from their school garden.

Imagine every school in Nova Scotia has a thriving healthy breakfast program. Imagine each child learning basic cooking skills. Imagine each school has an edible garden growing food where children learn and play.

Now imagine every child leaving school knowing what healthy food looks like, tastes like, where it comes from and how they can use it to fuel their minds and bodies. This is where Nourish Nova Scotia’s imagination takes them and their vision is spreading.

Nourish Nova Scotia is a province-wide, non-profit organization that supports nourishment and food literacy programs in school communities. Building on breakfast programs - their foundation program – they offer Nourish Your Roots; a farm to school fundraising program, are developing a province-wide edible school program and envision other programs on the horizon.

It was born in 2012 out of conversations between community and government stakeholders. These two groups saw the need for an organization that could establish grass-roots support and collaboration and help identify funding sources beyond government, ultimately helping to sustain and grow more programs. Their goal is to support the nutritional well-being of children and youth and to build their food knowledge and skills, leading to a healthier future.

The work of Nourish Nova Scotia is supported in part by Nova Scotia Health Authority's Public Health Service team and, as registered charity, they have other donor partners offering financial, along with in-kind support for their work. Public Health offers funding support for some staffing and $750,000 in annual funding to support breakfast programs within school boards. Public Health staff are also involved on provincial advisory committees guiding the work of Nourish Nova Scotia. They work alongside grassroots stakeholders to ensure community and school board connections are made to the work.

The Nourish Nova Scotia partnership is part of NSHA’s broader commitment to the Health Promoting Schools initiative. Public Health Services has partnered with every school board in the province to implement a health promoting schools approach, which includes supporting access to healthy food in schools and implementing the school food and nutrition policy.

There is no denying that our food environment has changed. Generations ago most food didn’t come from big grocery stores. Eating out, fast food, packaged meals and processed snacks were far from the norm. Families were more likely to enjoy home-cooked, family meals around the table. Many grew produce, raised livestock and preserved food on their own, or bought their food from local producers, their neighbours or small community markets.

This has shifted over time with a greater reliance on grocery chains, fast, convenient options and products to fit our busy lives. In this new food environment, many of today’s youth don’t think twice about where their food comes from; the line between healthy foods that nourish and those that just fill can be blurry. But this can and is changing.

“We believe we have a collective responsibility to support child health and learning, not only for the sake of the child, but for our future social prosperity,” said Margo Riebe-Butt, Nourish Nova Scotia’s executive director. “We believe that if you teach kids to eat ‘real food’ early on, they will be great eaters throughout life. Good food equals good thinking.”

Their motivation is simple: children who eat well-balanced and healthy meals have better health and education outcomes.

Among their initiatives, in 2015 Nourish Nova Scotia began a pilot fundraising project with schools in the Annapolis Valley and Halifax Regional School boards. The project sought to address two issues – the need to fundraise in schools in accordance with the school food and nutrition policy, and the desire to promote healthy food and eating amongst children and youth. Rather than selling chocolate bars, magazines or other go-to fundraisers, children had the chance to sell Nourish Your Roots boxes, filled with locally sourced produce delivered after the fall harvest. Nourish Nova Scotia coordinated with 13 schools and three farms that first year, delivering 1,500 boxes of healthy food.

Building on the success and evaluations of year one, a part-time co-ordinator was hired last year to work with partners like Select Nova Scotia to reach out to even more farmers and schools. Nearly 60 schools around the province, representing nearly all Nova Scotia school boards, participated in the program, distributing more than 11,000 boxes (produced by partner Maritime Paper products), filled with fresh produce from 17 partnering farms, complete with tips on food preparation and recipes. While most boxes were delivered to schools directly, some farms welcomed students to visit and support the harvest, washing and packaging of their boxes.

One hundred per cent of the profits stay in Nova Scotia, with local producers paid fair value for their produce and the participating schools investing their proceeds back into healthy food or nutrition initiatives such as school breakfast programs, or school gardens. Plus almost $200,0000 went back into the local farm economy!

“Our focus has really been on trying to build community and partnerships,” said Riebe-Butt. “In the Chignecto Central Regional School Board, for example, we had a lot of small scale farmers that couldn’t do it alone, but they teamed-up and seven farmers came together at a community centre to box their produce.“

Preparations for the 2017 harvest are already in the works, with 75 schools and six non-profit early child care centres already confirmed for this fall’s campaign.

The Enfield District Elementary School in East Hants was among the schools involved in 2016 and principal, Tina Knol, and Parent Teacher Association president, Jill Turner, are proud to be part of a fundraiser that supports local farmers and provides quality produce to their school community.

“Families provided us with a lot of positive feedback as we launched the fundraiser,” says Knol. “We had one father tell us how fantastic he and his wife thought it was and how excited they were to support it.” “After the fundraiser we heard many comments about the amount of nutritious food in the food boxes and how happy families were to support local farmers.”

They are looking forward to being part of the 2017 harvest and hope to top last year’s sales of 416 boxes.

To learn more about Nourish Nova Scotia and their full range of programs, visit www.nourish.ca.