Inside View: August 2019
By Gary Jones
Meaningful, lasting trends
By Gary Jones
I don’t know about you, but when I think about consumer trends, I usually think of changes to purchasing habits that are relatively short-lived. One year, or a few perhaps, before they are no longer de rigueur and buyers have moved on to the next latest and greatest.
Of course, this is great for keeping things fresh and ensuring continued sales, and that’s all good.
While not wishing to put a ‘downer’ on this, for some people new trends are just a luxury. Even for such basic necessities as food. Nowhere is this more painful to witness than in our youth.
Over the last decade, I’ve had the privilege of working with schools wanting to implement school food gardens. Some have been great success stories, others not so much. All are typically driven by several objectives: the desire to educate students about growing food, providing students with some autonomy to do things their own way (in their garden), and to provide fresh, nutritious food to school food programs. They’re often spearheaded by a teacher ‘champion’ who for years has witnessed kids getting ‘hangry’ in class just before lunch. Likely, these students have had little, perhaps nothing, to eat before school, and are expected to sit and learn. Ain’t gonna happen.
I recently attended the National Farm to School Conference in Victoria. This three-day event emphasized the “scaling-up efforts and evaluating impacts of farm and local food to school activities happening across Canada – putting more healthy, local and sustainable foods on the minds and plates of all students.”1 300 participants attended: 60 per cent from BC, 15 per cent from Quebec, others from elsewhere in Canada, the US, France and Germany. 60 per cent were teachers or other school workers.
On day 1, I took part in one of five optional pre-conference tours, mine being the ‘urban food systems walking tour’ of Victoria, visiting a host of garden projects taking place right in the urban space. These included the food and Aboriginal ‘Harvest for Knowledge’ gardens at Victoria High School, Fernwood Community Centre and Day Care garden and adjacent ‘Neighbourhood Orchard’, the nearby ‘Compost Demonstration Garden and Community Garden’, Mason Street City Farm (check it out at http://masonstreetfarm.com) and projects at the heart of the city library.
Day 2 took a look back at where the farm- to-school movement has come from. Keynote speaker Michael Ableman (Foxglove Farm) discussed the parallels between agriculture and education and the crossovers from one to the other, saying that he believes the most important skill for a farmer is observation – and this is similar in education. “We need to be re-thinking education from the roots up.”
Day 3 was about moving ahead, with Dr. Wayne Roberts (food policy advocate and author) asking, “how do we do evidence-based policy movement?” and suggesting that the answer is “barefoot research.” Canada is the only G8 nation without a national school meal plan. “But, it’s coming, and being behind has its advantages as we can learn from the mistakes of those who went before us. We get the advantages of backwardness.”
A few days after the conference, I attended a presentation from colleagues at KPU Institute for Sustainable Food Systems, on their ‘Township of Langley Food study’. Taking a long-term look (forward to 2041) at food security in the municipality, one of the recurring elements is that it assumes residents will still eat most foods all year round, i.e. expecting no change toward seasonal eating habits. Admittedly, it’s hard to implement such a paradigm shift in established customs, but such long-lasting changes could be essential to increasing local food security.
What’s all this got to do with us greenhouse folk? Well, change has to be more than fleeting. Have you ever thought about linking with your local school to create a garden, be it food or flowers? That could create lasting trends you might never have dreamt of. Perhaps Dr. Roberts’ call to develop an evidence-based policy movement could be directly applied to how we develop long-lasting trends and behavioural change in our customers. Such trends could benefit us for years to come.
Gary Jones is co-chair of horticulture at Kwantlen Polytechnic University, Langley, BC. He sits on several industry committees and welcomes comments at Gary.Jones@kpu.ca.