Local fruit on the school menu
Healthier options are on the menu for the nation’s children. At the start of the new school term the children of St Giles Nursery School will be the first to sample local goodies being made available under the Fruit Day Project.
The fresh initiative will see children being offered a wide variety of local fruits, including bananas, golden apples, melons, mangoes and sour sop to replace unhealthy snacks. Not only will children benefit from the fruits loaded with necessary vitamins, but local farmers will have access to a new market.
The project which is set to be launched on September 24, is being spearheaded by Sarah Fioravant, a former student of McGill University, in collaboration with chief executive officer of the Barbados Agricultural Society (BAS), James Paul.
“There are going to be two fruit days a week. I have a seasonal chart of local fruits. Depending on the month, I have at least five to ten fruits that are available. So we will buy a big variety to offer them to the children, so that they can buy at a low price –– maybe one dollar, one dollar and half.
“We will subsidize the cost of the fruit so it’s not a financial burden to parents,” Fioravant told Barbados TODAY.
She believes the project could help to reverse the high incidence of childhood obesity on the island, which the Ministry of Health puts at 30 to 40 per cent of school-age children.
“I know that Type 2 diabetes on the island is a big issue; so too is obesity. So I think we need to target the children to change their dietary behaviour because they are flexible. They don’t have dietary habits as yet, or there are still flexible with that.”
Fioravant, who is passionate about agriculture, revealed the idea for the project was sown as she gathered information for her thesis that focused on the school meals programme.
“I visited a few primary schools for discussion with children and principals, and what I discovered is that even though the lunches were not that big, a lot of children did not finish their plates. So when I discussed it with the children, they told me they were not that hungry because they had a morning snack. So I came back to another primary school during the lunch break and I saw that they sold candy and chocolate on school property, a lot of children were eating what we call junk food.”
Her completed thesis would recommend that children be provided healthier snacks and she immediately thought they would be better off eating local fruit.
“I wanted to involve local farmers and promote local agriculture and local fruits, because when I spoke with the children, I was asking them to name some local fruit and they were saying bananas, green apples, strawberries, raspberries, the kind of fruit I have in Montreal. And I was so surprised, because local fruits are so delicious and they were not aware of local fruits; and I think focusing on providing local fruits and involving farmers were great to complete this project.”
This led Fioravant to the BAS and James Paul, who endorsed the project and mobilized farmers to join in the venture. The project will be officially launched at the nursery school on September 24 and then shortly thereafter at Charles F. Broome and other primary schools.
Fioravant is anxious for all schools to bite in to the project; and she is confident that local farmers can meet the demand.
“I know there are enough fruits. I’ve spoken to a lot of fruit vendors, fruit farmers. So it’s just connecting the dots between them. But once we find a good network of farmers, that issue will disappear.”
Fioravant is also hoping that authorities would be willing to subsidize the project and she is wooing the private sector to back the intitiative to ensure the produce is affordable for the children.
“I would like to subsidize the cost to make sure it is affordable, because parents are used to giving a certain amount of money to children for snacks. I really want to make sure it is available.”