From Farm to Hydro-Cooler to Box to Plate

Fresh CarrotsBy Sarah Archibald – SYC’s Campus Food Systems Project Coordinator

When we speak of the food system, we often use the sayings “farm to plate” or “field to fork”. Most of the time, we miss out on some key parts of the food systems when we forget to use terms like “modified atmosphere to box” or “ground to hydro-cooling station”.

Excuse me, modified hydro-what?

Let’s start at the beginning… Most of our food begins its life in the form of a seed or spore, it grows in the ground, or in trees and is often harvested by farmers and farm workers. This food can be directly sold on site or at farmers markets. However, most of the food we eat goes through a few more steps before reaching our plates.

Last week, as SYC’s Campus Food Systems Project Coordinator, I joined Toronto’s largest distributor of fruits and vegetables, Bamford’s Produce, on a tour of some of the lesser known aspects of the food system — the packing, cooling, and storing of food.

Though it was tough to wake up at 5:30 am, I realized that this was probably a sleep-in for most farmers and distributors! We met our Bamford’s Produce hosts at York University and were joined by York’s Nutrition Team, Farmers Market Coordinator, ARAMARKs VP Health and Wellness, the Food Service Manager, Communications Manager, two passionate chefs, and a staff member. As we drove to the first site, we had great conversations about our food knowledge and values including why we care about food and local food systems.  Our different perspectives: ecological, health, nutrition, cooking, and economics demonstrated how incredibly diverse food is!

Carrots are washed, cooled and sorted depending on size and packed for supermarkets and kitchens.

Carrots are washed, cooled and sorted depending on size and packed for supermarkets and kitchens.

We arrived at Bradford Produce to the smell of fresh carrots, soil, and wafts of fresh onions. Bradford Produce is a farmer-owned packing and storage facility. Having a cooperatively owned packing and storage facility allows farmers to share machines and collectively gain health and safety certifications that facilitate their food to be sold to grocery stores, Universities, and other institutions.  There are over 100 local farms that send their soil-covered carrots to be washed, sized, and packaged at Bradford’s facility. The cool temperatures and methods used at this facility, including hydro-cooling (essentially washing right away with cool water), will extend the shelf life of the carrots and keep them fresh until at least April 2014.

Sarah Archibald and Chef Abdel are excited to cook up local carrots through the school year!

Sarah Archibald and Chef Abdel are excited to cook up local carrots through the school year!

For our next stop we made our way just south of Georgian Bay – where some of the best apples in Canada are grown! This area, known as the Beaver Valley, has a microclimate that is perfect for apple production: a cool spring which delays apple blossom formation and a warmer fall which helps in maximum growth of apples. Here is where Bay Growers, a packing facility, processes and stores thousands of apples throughout the fall.  Thousands of apples are stored in rooms with only 2% oxygen so that they stay fresh so that we can enjoy local apples throughout the year.

The tour was an amazing opportunity to see the innovations in the food systems and options for farmers to join together to have their products ready for local supermarkets and institutions. However, there is still a long way to go for these systems to be deemed “sustainable”.  It was clear that consumer perception drives apple production, as apples with even small blemishes are not deemed good enough for normal consumption and are turned into juice. Moreover, the processors waxed every apple as they said “this is what consumers want”. The Campus Food Systems Project aims to educate consumers, especially students, about the food system so that we can understand why blemishes occur and which may one day result in our apples not being waxed and being produced with many fewer pesticides. Though going to your farmers market is an amazing option for asking how your food was produced, it isn’t an option for everyone. Distributors play an essential role in bringing food from field to fork and we’re excited that Bamford Produce and their partners focus on supporting local farmers, providing educational opportunities. They were so excited about SYC’s initiatives and hope that our generation of consumers can help drive sustainable food systems.

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Le point sur l’alimentation locale: les écoles, campus et établissements de santé s’expriment

F2C Photo 40-1Selon un sondage publié aujourd’hui, intitulé  Le point sur l’alimentation locale – les écoles, campus et établissements de santés’expriment (2013) les actions pour approvisionner les organismes publics en aliments sains, cultivés localement et de manière responsable prennent de l’ampleur dans pratiquement toutes les provinces et tous les territoires du pays. Et l’appétit va grandissant.

Ce rapport est le premier et unique sondage pancanadien sur le sujet. Pas moins de 239 spécialistes en alimentation et en nutrition œuvrant dans les écoles, les campus et les établissements de santé ont répondu à un questionnaire à propos des avancées de l’approvisionnement local. La recherche révèle qu’un nombre significatif d’organismes publics au pays travaillent sur plusieurs fronts afin d’offrir davantage d’aliments locaux aux étudiants et aux patients.

Pour en savoir plus, visitez le site internet du Campus Food Systems Project. 

Local Food: Canadian Schools, Campuses and Health Care Facilities Speak Up

F2C Photo 40-1

According to new report commissioned by Farm to Cafeteria Canada, activity to bring healthy, local and sustainable foods into public agencies is gearing up in almost every province and territory in Canada – and there is a hunger for more.

The Report- Local Foods- Canadian schools, campuses, and health care facilities speak up (2013) is the first pan-Canadian survey of its kind. In all, 239 food and nutrition specialists working within schools, campuses, and healthcare facilities answered questions about efforts to bring local food into their institutions. The responses show that a significant number of public agencies in Canada are working along multiple fronts to put more local foods on patient and student plates

“Students ask – Is it local? Is it fresh? They have a much higher expectation of their dining experience. They want fresh, healthy, local and seasonal food – food that keeps them alert, active and focused” says Steve Golob, Chef at the University of British Columbia’s Vanier Place Dining Hall and member of Farm to Cafeteria Canada’s Advisory Committee.

SYC is helping to build awareness, education and action across Canadian Campuses through its work with Meal Exchange and the Campus Food Systems Project. Find out more by visiting our website or contacting food@syc-cjs.org

Welcome SYC’s New Campus Food Systems Coordinator!

Since fall 2011, Dana Lahey has been co-coordinating the Campus Food Systems Project with Caitlin Colson from Meal Exchange. This project works with 9 campuses across Canada to help students improve the multi-stakeholder organizing, procurement practices, and applied student research for the food systems on their campuses. Dana has new and exciting opportunities ahead of him and will be working with SYC one day per week from Austin, Texas.

To continue on with Dana’s great work from Ottawa, we’re pleased to announce that Sarah Archibald has joined the SYC team!

Sarah is no stranger to food systems as she has farmed in 5 countries, spent four years studying Global Food Systems and Agro-Ecological Agriculture and has volunteered and worked with a variety of food security and food sovereignty-focused organizations.  Sarah also has campus food systems experience as she was a volunteer, researcher and then coordinator with the McGill Food Systems Project, which is how she met Dana four years ago!

Sarah’s excited to work and share with the inspiring Campus Food Strategy Groups, the SYC and Meal Exchange teams as well as many other individuals, groups and organization.

Sarah’s always open to ideas, conversations and new recipes! Feel free to contact her at food@syc-cjs.org