Despite cancellation concerns, B.C. promises funds this year for 17-year-old school nutrition program

·3 min read
More than 90 per cent of schools across the province rely on the program for fresh fruits, vegetables and milk. (Pinkyone/Shutterstock - image credit)
More than 90 per cent of schools across the province rely on the program for fresh fruits, vegetables and milk. (Pinkyone/Shutterstock - image credit)

A program that has been providing school children with fresh fruits, vegetables and milk will for over a decade will continue for the upcoming school year after doubt was raised as to whether the government would continue to support it.

The B.C. School Fruit and Vegetable Nutritional Program has been pairing local farmers with over 90 per cent of schools across the province, providing fresh fruits, vegetables and milk since 2004.

After doubts about the program's future were raised when a funding deadline passed with no word from government, the premier's office confirmed Wednesday in a statement that the nutritional program will be funded for the upcoming school year.

It said in a statement, the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Fisheries, the Ministry of Education, and the Ministry of Health are working together to provide the local school meal programs and that more details would be provided in the coming days.

Confusion began after B.C. Agriculture Minister Lana Popham, wasn't able to say during Tuesday's question period whether the funding would continue.

"We will be working together with the association and the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Education to look at how the program can continue," Popham said.

More than 1,000 B.C. farmers earn an income from growing and providing fresh produce for the initiative.
More than 1,000 B.C. farmers earn an income from growing and providing fresh produce for the initiative.(Ben Nelms/CBC)

Patt Tonn, the executive director of the B.C. Agriculture in the Classroom Foundation, says many children rely on the program as a way to get their daily nutritional servings.

"They can learn about what's grown in British Columbia, and we do other programs of agriculture in the classroom that are about growing food for them to eat. But it's also a loss of B.C. products that they wouldn't be able to to get without our program," Tonn said.

Extension normally happens in March

Tonn says they usually hear about an extension by the end of March but this year there has been no word from government.

"It would be very difficult in a time when we're trying to do school programs for those who are vulnerable in schools," he said.

In a statement, the B.C. Liberals expressed their concern over the possible cancellation of the program.

"Why would the minister abandon a program that not only supports students but farmers as well? More than 1,000 B.C. farmers stand to lose income from growing and providing products for this important initiative.

"It is a win-win for everyone involved, yet the minister hasn't been in a hurry to act to save it." said B.C. Liberal agriculture critic Ian Paton, the MLA for Delta South.

The foundation originally told the agriculture minister it needed an answer by May 10, so farmers could plant in time and the program's 4,000 volunteers could be organized

The premier's office says further details on the continued funding will be made available in the coming days.