Implementing Evaluation Results: Farm to School BC

In 2018, Howegroup was contracted by the Public Health Association of BC to conduct an external evaluation of the Public Health Association of BC program, Farm to School BC (F2SBC). As of 2018/19, the program brought healthy, local, and sustainable food to over 20,000 students in schools across the province. Students are provided with hands-on learning opportunities that develop food literacy (i.e., microgreens, tower gardens, farm visits, native plant gardens) while strengthening the local food system and enhancing school and community connectedness.

About the Farm to School BC Evaluation Summary Report

The evaluation intended to determine the program’s impact on students’ fruit and vegetable consumption, social and emotional health, learning outcomes, and program sustainability. Students in grades 3 to 12 participated along with teachers/administrators, community partners, and parent and community volunteers from the Capital Region, Kamloops, Nanaimo North, Northwest, and Vancouver Regional Hubs. Secondary evaluation participants included F2SBC staff and Community Animators (those responsible for creating a space for participants to come together and share their knowledge). 

The evaluation was focused on schools within BC that received F2SBC grants between 2014 and 2019. Data was collected through telephone interviews, focus groups with community partners, student self-reflection, student pre- and post-surveys with new grantees, site visits, and progress reports from grantees. Data were analyzed through retrospective qualitative data analysis for focus groups, interviews, self-reflection, observations, and quantitative analysis of student survey data. 

Farm to School BC Evaluation Findings

_”F2SBC Is important for our rural school because students are now able to participate in something that urban students can; it levels the playing field.”– School Administrator _

The program model shows that Farm to School BC is reaching and supporting rural communities (those with a population of fewer than 10,000 people) and that those communities are thriving. The program delivery has been challenged by 1) insufficient time (e.g., teacher preparation time, requires volunteers, etc.), 2) limited resources, 3) school staff turnover, 4) school administrator barriers, 5) shorter growing season, lack of convenient local food, and the large geographic area in the Northern Region, and 6) garden maintenance during summer. 

Healthy Eating

About half of the students surveyed agreed that F2SBC helped them learn about healthy eating, introduced them to new fruits and vegetables and helped them want to eat more fruits and vegetables. Over half of grades 3 – 5 students shared that the program “helped me want to eat more fruits and vegetables,” with 43% of grades 6 – 12 students stating the same. Key themes from student reflections included paying attention to where their food came from, making pies and soup at home, using ingredients differently, and cooking with fresher food.   

Food Literacy

Surveyed students in all grades from new grantee schools (2018-2019) reported significant improvements in learning how to grow food, growing fruits and vegetables, learning how to prepare fruits and vegetables for eating (such as picking, harvesting, preservation/canning, composting) and learning about how food is grown in their communities. Forty percent of Grades 3-5 students agreed that F2SBC introduced them to new fruits and vegetables and 38% of Grades 6-12 students agreed with the same. Qualitative data suggest that F2SBC is influencing students’ food choices. Although student survey data from new schools did not reflect any significant changes in the frequency of fresh vegetables and fruits consumption, Grades 3-5 students in rural schools reported eating more fresh fruit.

_”Students are staying at the school to eat the healthy food and smoothies from the garden instead of going to the store for unhealthy snacks.” – School Administrator _

School Community Connectedness and Social-Emotional Wellbeing

Students who participate in Farm to School BC (F2SBC) have an increased sense of belonging and pride in their school. Students reported that they are happy at school, particularly when engaged in F2SBC activities and forming stronger ties with other students, teachers, and community members.

“Mental and social health are impacted; students’ sense of belonging leads to a greater sense of responsibility; students have a lot of pride; they serve the food they have grown.” – School Administrator

Support for BC Curriculum

Schools participating in F2SBC activities support core competencies by providing students with hands-on learning opportunities central to the BC curriculum and cross-curricular opportunities to meet various learning outcomes. Teachers reported that the program is most closely aligned with the BC Curriculum on “Teaches about care of the earth” (91%). 

Grades 3-5 students enjoyed planting, growing, and eating fruits and vegetables, and Grades 6-12 students primarily enjoyed gardening and growing food and eating healthy food.

Fruit and Vegetable Access and Agricultural Connections

About half of students reported that F2SBC increased their access to fruits and vegetables at school throughout the growing season. Students in grades 3 – 12 also reported an increase in learning about the food they grow in the community. Grades 3-5 students were also more likely to agree that “It is better to eat fruits and vegetables grown in BC” at the end of the school year. Students also enjoyed building connections with local harvesters, food producers, and knowledge keepers in the community.

How F2SBC Has Used the Results 

At the culmination of the evaluation, Howegroup provided Farm to School BC with four overarching recommendations:

  1. Expand community animator capacity
  2. Provide additional support for teachers,
  3. Communicate and prioritize social wellbeing
  4. Execute ongoing developmental and impact evaluation

After considering these recommendations, F2SBC has moved contractors to employee status (enhancing the support for staff and expanding the capacity/sustainability), added two additional regional animators to their team, curriculum support for teachers online (including pro-d workshops, lesson plans, and toolkits), continued to prioritize social wellbeing, and incorporated specific questions from the evaluation into their ongoing evaluation efforts.

For more information on Farm to School BC, visit www.farmtoschoolbc.ca.