Program provides healthy food, new markets, school fundraiser

After five years, Fresh From The Farm has moved 2.7 million lbs. of produce

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The Fresh From The Farm program gives Nathan Streef the chance to talk to children about farming and those children get the chance to meet a real farmer.

Not every school that uses Fresh From The Farm gets a visit from a farmer, but Streef, whose family helped start the program, takes the time to talk to children who are part of the fresh vegetable sale program.

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Why it matters: Local markets are important to Ontario growers so a program that provides that, while also delivering healthy food and a healthy message to school children is a win on many levels.

Streef said when he delivers produce to schools where the bundles are prepared, he finds the children are always happy to see him.

What’s in it?: This year, participating schools will be taking orders on two different bundles:
Bundle A (five lbs. of white potatoes and three lbs. each of carrots, yellow onions and sweet potatoes for $14)
Bundle B (an eight-lb. box of Empire apples for $15).

“Some of them never get to see a farmer. Some of them have never met a farmer,” he said.

He finds children awestruck to see 50 pounds of potatoes in a single box or bag.

“I say to myself, ‘You should see my 17-million-lb. pile at home.’

“The questions they ask, I wonder, ‘How do you not know that?’ Then I kick myself a little and remember not everyone knows about farms, and this is a great opportunity for them to ask someone.

“They ask all kinds of questions, and I love answering all of them.”

The Fresh From The Farm program offers farmers a new market for their produce and schools the opportunity for an effective fundraiser.

Since its inception, the program has seen 1,165 schools raise more than $1.1 million for their own programs from the sale of 2.7 million pounds of fresh produce. The program continues to grow.

This is the sixth year for the program, said Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers’ Association program manager Dan Tukendorf.

“We hope it will be the biggest, exceeding the 500 schools participating last year,” he said.

Last year, the program sold over a million pounds of Ontario-grown fruits and vegetables, and raised over $500,000 for their school communities.

“Local Ontario fruit and vegetable producers have a new market to sell their produce into the school community, an alternative that didn’t exist five years ago,” said Tukendorf.

Fruit and vegetable sales give the schools a healthy fund-raising alternative to the typical chocolate almonds and wrapping paper, a shift to apples and other produce people need and use every day.

It also allows the schools to introduce a food-literacy component that helps connect schools and children with a better understanding of what’s produced in Ontario.

He gave credit to the Streef family of Princeton, Ont., whose third-generation farm has been in business for 40 years.

Nathan Streef recalled how they were inspired by a similar program called Pick of the Crop in Manitoba. They rolled up their sleeves, enlisted some key community partners and saw it take off from there.

“We’ve been doing it ever since,” Streef said.

“It first started with only 20 schools. Now 500 to 600 apply every year.”

Potatoes are harvested by the Streef family.
photo: Courtesy Dan Tukendorf

One of the significant partners, in addition to Tukendorf’s organization, is Dietitians of Canada, which now operates the program.

Dietitians of Canada spokesperson Lisa Mardlin-Vandewalle said the organization took on the project to offer a program that supports the provincial government’s Student Nutrition Program and also helps to stimulate the local economy.

At Colborne Public School, in Northumberland County, principal Joanne Shuttleworth is in the midst of her own school’s Fresh From The Farm program. She said it was a popular fundraiser over the past several years when she was at Murray Centennial Public School in Trenton, and she expects similar results at her new school.

“We like to promote healthy eating here, breakfast program, healthy-snack bin,” Shuttleworth said.

“This is an extension of that, promoting healthy eating at home with families. And it’s a great fundraiser for the school.”

Principal Joanne Shuttleworth says the Fresh From The Farm program helps promote healthy eating.
photo: Cecilia Nasmith

In Northumberland County produce for the program is sourced through the Food 4 All warehouse with Northumberland Food For Thought as a partner.

Food banks and other programs, including schools, that use the Food 4 All, buy annual memberships, Food For Thought community-development co-ordinator Beth Kolisnyk said. In return, they get the Fresh From The Farm produce and a monthly offer of quality fresh fruits, vegetables, eggs and cheese.

For Northumberland growers, this monthly arrangement amounts to an additional market.

“We offer support in terms of resources and apply for grants and try to collect funding so we can make purchases like cheese or apples that we offer to school,” Kolisnyk said.

For Streef’s part, he has a special affinity with the students who are part of Fresh From The Farm, knowing that he is something of an ambassador for the farming community to kids who weren’t as lucky as he was to grow up on a farm.

At about the time he was working on getting the program organized, he was a young man buying his own share of the family operation.

The Streef farm began back when his grandfather came from Holland with about $20 in his pocket. He worked hard and was eventually able to send for his wife. Five sons later, Streef said, his grandfather had the hobby farm he’d always wanted, seven acres of tulips that, in time, grew to 3,000 acres of vegetables.

This was more than his grandfather really wanted to work, Streef said, so the sons took it over. Now a third generation is getting involved.

Streef said he and his brother were in their early 20s when they bought their share.

“But that was the idea from the start, for my dad and my uncles to pass it on,” he said.

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