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Food feud: Green leader says P.E.I. already has the ingredients for a universal school lunch program

Green Leader Peter Bevan-Baker is shown in the P.E.I. legislature on Tuesday, April 17, 2018.
Green Leader Peter Bevan-Baker is shown in the P.E.I. legislature on Tuesday, April 17, 2018. - Mitch MacDonald

Developing a free universal school food program should be a top priority of the P.E.I. government, says Green Leader Peter Bevan-Baker.

However, Education Minister Jordan Brown says those programs are a “community initiative at its heart.”

During Question Period Tuesday, Bevan-Baker recalled Chef Tony Geraci’s visit to the province in 2016.

He said Geraci’s proposal of a universal school lunch program with locally-sourced meals was met with enthusiasm.

“It’s been almost two years since that visit and despite some very modest pilot projects, we are a long way from the shared vision of the P.E.I. Home and School Federation, at least some government members and Mr. Geraci himself,” said Bevan-Baker, who asked if Brown had familiarized himself with Geraci’s work.

While Brown said he had a general awareness of Geraci, he made it clear the province had other plans for addressing school nutrition.

“I don’t think anybody ever said that we were going to be adopting any plan that Mr. Geraci had,” said Brown. “What we have done is double the budget for the school food programs.”

Brown said the province has hired an individual to work at the Public Schools Branch to develop a program that the Home and School Federation was “very proud” of.

Bevan-Baker said Geraci described P.E.I. as the first place he ever visited that had all the necessary ingredients to start a universal lunch program.

“(It’s all) right here already at our fingertips,” said Bevan-Baker, adding that more than 20 per cent of Island children live in “food insecure households” and that a locally-sourced initiative would also offer benefits to local producers. “Why is such a program not a top priority for this government?”

Brown said the initiative is not one that you can “just turn a switch on and you’re off and going.”

“It’s a community initiative at its heart,” said Brown, later adding that school food programs now deliver 40,000 meals and snacks every week.

He noted those meals are delivered through community involvement.

“We do have the resources here on P.E.I. to pull off a great school food program, but to do that you need to engage the community and that’s what we’re setting out to do,” said Brown. “That is what really makes these work, is that we have community involvement… It takes advantage of the resources that it has inherent in it, and it builds a great program that helps do much more than just feed the children.”

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