Students in Prince Rupert, Port Edward and across B.C. may soon lose the benefit of fresh fruits and vegetables at school if the BC Fruit and Vegetable Nutritional Program is discontinued, the BC Liberal party stated, in a media release on May 11.
“The BC School Fruit and Vegetable Nutritional Program, which provides fresh B.C. fruits, vegetables and milk to students appears to be nixed after B.C. Agriculture Minister Lana Popham refused to acknowledge whether program funding will be continued,” the release stated.
“This represents a huge loss for students in nearly 1,500 public and First Nations schools across the province,” Ian Paton, BC Liberal agriculture critic said.
However, in an email to The Northern View on May 14 after a previous version of the article was published, George Smith, deputy communications director of the office of the Premier stated the School Fruit and Vegetable Nutrition Program will be funded for the upcoming school year.
“The Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Fisheries, the Ministry of Education, and the Ministry of Health are working together to provide local school meal programs. Further details will be made available in the coming days,” he said.
Jeremy Janz, principal of Pacific Coast School in School District 52 told The Northern View that the program is an extremely vital one for his more than 70 current students, and has catered to the needs of up to 90 students pre-COVID-19 in his school of grade 9 to 12.
“[This program] is very important, as it allows our kids to diversify the foods they might get at home and augment that. The kids love the cucumbers, the peppers, and the bell peppers that we get, along with all the different types of fruit,” he said.
Some of the students are not always exposed to that type of food simply because of cost, Janz said.
“Let’s be honest, it’s much cheaper to go buy some canned thing of whatever, or some ramen noodles than to buy a bag of apples.”
The program, which has been feeding Prince Rupert and area students for more than 10 years has been ‘super beneficial’ to starting them on locally and B.C. grown healthy produce, he said.
“I think it’s something that would be would be a loss … from a school-based perspective and an education perspective, what we’re going to lose is the chance to diversify our collective use food intake and promote both local and healthy eating.”
Janz said he has not received anything from the BC Agriculture in the Classroom Foundation, (BCACF) the program organizers advising of its end, so he is working on the premise it is still a go.
However, according to the BC Liberal’s the BCACF has been asking the government for the $3.5 million needed to continue the program for the 2021-22 school year.
“The Foundation told the minister it would need an answer by May 10, 2021, so that farmers could plant in time and so 4,000 volunteers could be organized — but the deadline has passed with no funding put in place for the program,” the media release stated.
“Why would the minister abandon a program that not only supports students but farmers as well,” Paton said. “More than 1,000 B.C. farmers stand to lose income from growing and providing products for this important initiative. It is a win-win for everyone involved, yet the minister hasn’t been in a hurry to act to save it.
“Teachers have told us this program is the only way for some kids to access fresh produce, which is so important for a growing child’s health and nutritional needs,” Paton said.
K-J Millar | Journalist
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