A volunteer-run organization providing fresh fruit, vegetables and milk to B.C. public and Indigenous schools for the past 15 years will get the funding it needs to continue the program for the next school year, according to a statement from Premier John Horgan’s office on Wednesday.
The clarification came after Agriculture Minister Lana Popham was questioned for a second day on the fate of the program, which opposition MLAs said requested $3.5 million to pay 1,000 farmers and distribute the produce.
“The School Fruit and Vegetable Nutrition Program will be funded for the upcoming school year,” the May 12 statement to Black Press Media said. “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 made available in the coming days.”
Questioned about the program in the B.C. legislature Tuesday, Popham confirmed that it was being funded by the health ministry, and efforts are underway to find a way to continue the service. Popham has been reorganizing food programs such as BuyBC for retailers and FeedBC, with a network of community food hubs and local produce for hospitals.
“We are looking at ways of how to support this type of program,” Popham said. “I’ll be having discussions with the minister of health and the association in the near future.”
B.C. Liberal MLA Ian Paton said the B.C. Agriculture in the Classroom Foundation has been asking since February if it will have the funds to carry on work, asking for an answer by May 10 to allow ordering of B.C. products so farmers can plant them. The program is the only source of fresh produce for students in some schools, especially in the north, he said.
Abbotsford West MLA Mike de Jong read from letters from Quadra Island, Big Lake Elementary, Clinton and a school at Mile 293 of the Alaska Highway. The foundation is “at its wit’s end” trying to keep it going, he said.
“Without the funding commitment from government now, they cannot plan to operate into next year, into the next school year,” de Jong said. “They’ll have to notify the 1,000 farmers that their products aren’t going to be required. They’re going to have to notify the 4,000 volunteers that help distribute the products to students that their help is no longer required.”
Popham praised the program and agreed that for some students, it provides the only fresh produce they get.
“We know that the earlier that children get a taste of fresh British Columbia produce in their lives, the more chance that they will have to be healthy eaters,” Popham said. “This is something that I’m very interested in. I know the Minister of Health is and the Minister of Education, and we will be working together to find a way to distribute this amazing produce around the province.”