Food literacy bill to get roundtable ag support

The bill aims to make food literacy part of the curriculum throughout elementary and secondary school

Bill 216 aims to have students in grades 1-12 gain hands-on experience on how to grow, process and prepare food in order to form a closer connection with agriculture.

A private member’s bill advocating for experiential food literacy education in the provincial school curriculum is gaining traction. 

Why it matters: Increasing food literacy among youth will help them understand the impact of their food choices on their health, the local economy, and the environment. 

Bill 216, ‘The Food Literacy for Students Act,’ seeks to amend curriculum for Grades 1 to 12 to include experiential food literacy learning through all subjects. The amendments to the curriculum could consist of students growing food, cooking meals from scratch, material addressing food-related health and wellbeing, and promoting a secure and sustainable provincial food system.

“I’m encouraged that literally across the spectrum, we’re getting broad acceptance and, most importantly, we’re getting input,” said Daryl Kramp, MPP for Kingston, Frontenac and Lennox-Addington, of his private member’s bill.

The bill was introduced to the Ontario legislature by Kramp on Oct. 19, 2020, where it passed quickly and unanimously through the first and second readings within days. Kramp said the Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox and Addington (KFL&A) Food Policy Council came to him with the idea when he was elected and originally proposed it to his predecessor in 2017. 

Kramp says he hoped it would receive its third reading before summer; however, the broad support for the initiative has spurred Minister of Education, Stephen Lecce, to establish round table discussions with stakeholders. 

“We have a group from almost every field that is going to be engaged with this, and the outreach over the course of the summer is going to be huge,” said Kramp. 

“I don’t want to be three, four or five years down the road. We need to start to implement something by the following year. It’s going to happen.”

The KFL&A Food Policy Council partnered with Sustain Ontario to solicit support for Bill 216, said Dianne Dowling, the council chair. More than 50 organizations from public health units to Ontario dieticians, the Home Economics Association, social agencies and farmer groups wrote letters of support. Now the push is to have those same groups endorse Sustain Ontario’s policy brief to present once Bill 216 goes to committee. 

The brief includes a detailed curriculum that does an excellent job fleshing out how food literacy can correlate with the existing curriculum, said Dowling, who spent 32 years as a Kingston-area elementary teacher. 

“(That) is important because the curriculum is already very demanding to cover. You don’t want to make it seem like this is an additional thing people are trying to squeeze in somewhere,” she said. “It’s something that overlaps and covers objectives in other subjects by being integrated with them.”

Dowling said in her experience, a hands-on curriculum engages students in a more profound learning experience. Learning to grow, process and prepare food from start to finish is a skill that would extend into a student’s adulthood and teaches the fine art of delayed gratification in an instant society. 

AgScape has supported Ontario teachers, youth and local classrooms through curriculum-linked agriculture and food programs for more than three decades, said Taylor Selig, AgScape executive director. 

“We feel that AgScape could play an important role in the ongoing development of these new classroom connections,” he says.

AgScape’s Business of Food eLearning platform could support the transition for teacher training. 

“Programs and resources like our Teacher Ambassador Program and thinkAG Career competitions already fill a need to have agriculture and food taught in the classroom and offer opportunities for experiential learning,” says Selig.

Ernie Hardeman, minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, said in Ontario, 60 per cent of the food produced is consumed locally and plays a vital role in the provincial economy. 

“My hope is that the next generation gets excited about agriculture, are encouraged to pursue agriculture careers and what they learn fosters a deeper connection with Ontario’s strong agricultural roots,” he said.

In addition to increasing food literacy, Bill 216’s impact could extend beyond education and into the health sector to alleviate diet-related illnesses’ financial and social implications by teaching young people to invest in healthy food choices. 

About the author

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Diana Martin

Diana Martin has spent more than two decades in the media sector, first as a photojournalist and then evolving into a multi-media journalist. Five years ago she left mainstream media and brought her skills to the agriculture sector. She owns a small farm in Amaranth, Ont.

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