Meeting to consider local food for school

Centre Well­ington District High School will be the site of a food school meeting on Nov. 24.

The 7:30pm meeting will be open to all and will consider plans, proposals, and problems about raising food, farming, and future. Teacher and chef Chris Jess is asking if the school could grow enough food to meet all of its needs for the cafeteria (1,600 students).

He believes that it can.

“We’re actually sitting on farmland that is not developed,” he pointed out.

A food class is something being brought back by the Ministry of Education. He noted that the farmland will remain at the school until the land is developed, but that could be years from now because Fergus needs a new sewage treatment plant.

Secondly, he said, the food school is strongly about local food, and he has already developed numerous sources for it. Since the beginning of September, his classes have been canning and preserving.

He said that work includes a number of tomato sauces, soups, pickled beets, horseradish, as well as strawberry jam and grape jelly.

Jess is also involved in Cater Wellington, which uses local food in a catering venture.

The Ministry of Education offers technical programs in agriculture (about eight exist in Ontario, and none are tied to actual eating in any way, which he thinks is wrong. Teaching kids to cook should include having them eat what they make.

He said he has worked on a number of partnerships with farmers in the area, but noted that the average age of farmers today is 60. He wants to interest more young people.

“We need to make farming cool again for kids,” he said.

So, a meeting to consider what would be required to sustain all of the high school’s eating needs has been called.

“We’re inviting farmers who live on Scotland Street, new young farmers.”

Jess noted that agriculture was once a regularly taught subject in Ontario high schools, and he even has pictures on a poster from before 1950, with school agricultural clubs.

He said he would especially like to involve the men who used to attend Fergus High School and be involved in those school-based agricultural pro­grams, non-profit organi­zations in the field of farming and sustainable agriculture.

And while there is farmland available, “We’re working on a greenhouse.” Jess said he would particularly like to hear from people who think it is not possible to feed the entire school with locally grown food. His idea is to take the objections as problems, and solve them one at a time.

Jess added, “I’ve got some new young farmers down” and he expects people at the meeting to include teachers, school board officials, representatives from the University of guelph, non governmental organizations, and farm and sustainable development advocates and practitioners.