Name of organisation
Sustainable School Food Program
Municipality of Torres Vedras (cm-tvedras.pt)
Municipality of Torres Vedras, Portugal
Type of organisation
School food procurement initiative
‘sustainable public sector food procurement’; ‘school meals’
Who is Torres Vedras' Sustainable School Food Programme?
Torres Vedras is located in central Portugal, close to the capital city Lisbon. The municipality is home to approx. 80,000 (2017) inhabitants, in an area of 407 km2, divided between 13 counties. The Municipality is responsible for the provision of 4,700 meals a day to children aged between 3 and 18, including to 65 kindergartens and primary schools (3 to 10 years old), 2 preparatory schools (10 to 14 years old) and 1 secondary school (15 to 18 years old).
Torres Vedras’ Sustainable Food School Programme is an integrated strategy to promote the local economy, environmental sustainability and quality school meals in Torres Vedras. By procuring local, seasonal food for schools, the Municipality aims to create jobs and generate local wealth, as well as educate pupils, their families and the school community about the importance of sustainable food consumption.
Who do Torres Vedras' Sustainable School Food Programme work with and how they do it?
The municipality of Torres Vedras is highly engaged in improving the quality and sustainability of the food distributed in the city’s schools canteens.
The Municipality buys its raw ingredients exclusively from local producers and suppliers, thereby promoting territorial development and increasing the turnover and employment of the agricultural sector. Additionally, through the provision of food preparation services, the non-profit social organisations have been able to support the employment of 60 people within the region. In this scenario, these institutions have a direct relation with their local farmers and suppliers, not depending on the public procurement system.
Such commitment is rooted in a strong political vision for which “investment in both education and in our farmers is fundamental” according to Laura Rodrigues, Mayor of Torres Vedras’ Municipality. This is how the Mayor described the relevance of the Sustainable Food School Programme: “That is the work we have been doing for some years now and it has to do with providing to all children of our county, in particular those with whom we have worked more, from preschool and primary school, quality food, where organic products have a meaningful presence, with healthy menus based on products that we buy to local producers and suppliers”.
The Sustainable School Food Programme is the outcome of a political strategic vision developed in 2007, when the competences of the school meals management passed from central government to the municipalities. After 7 years working on this process, the Municipality adopted a strategic programme called the “Sustainable Food School Programme” (Programa de Sustentabilidade na Alimentação Escolar), which since 2014 targets the municipality’s work around education, food production and preparation in canteens. The fact that this work is recognized as a Programme is important, as moving from buying catering services from one large catering supplier, to establishing a system which allows participation of local farmers and which increases the organic content of school meals has increased the cost of supply. The strategic vision and political commitment of the municipal executive has therefore been essential in securing the budget to enable this investment in the local region.
What are Torres Vedras' Sustainable School Food Programme's main challenges?
One of the main challenges which Torres Vedras faces is balancing their desire to boost the local production while sourcing organic and reducing food miles. Currently, the supply of local organic foods does not meet the demand, and encouraging local farmers to adopt more sustainable and healthy practices remains a challenge. Even maintaining the organic supplier from the territory is difficult, as there is sometimes a need for the supplier to buy from neighbouring counties. All the products sourced by Torres Vedras need to be produced in Portugal .
A second challenge is finding appropriate methods to ensure public procurement supports local suppliers while respecting public procurement regulations.
A third challenge is getting parents onboard. The Municipality would like to increase the involvement of and the collaboration with parents of schoolchildren. It has already sought to create fun opportunities, such as the ‘Lunch With Me on my Birthday’ initiative, where parents and guardians are invited to lunch at the school canteen on their child’s birthday, in order to strengthen the links between the school and the family, and raise awareness of the quality of school meals. The Municipality has a long established programme that engages with families around issues of education, is called “Conversas com Pais” (Conversations with Parents). In October, the month dedicated to Food, this initiative always bring food as a central theme to the event.
What are the priorities for Torres Vedras' Sustainable School Food Programme?
The program promotes direct contact with the vegetable cultivation process according to organic farming techniques, through a School Gardens Program and study visits to organic farms managed by the Municipality (Programa BioHorta Escolar) which currently reaches about 1,700 students enrolled at pre-school and primary school. The Environmental Education Centre also provides vegetable planters to some schools. In the 2019 – 2020 school year, 1200 students from pre-school and primary school were involved in the Program.
The program facilitates the procurement of sustainable and fresh package-free products from local producers, in order to reduce the ecological footprint of food transport, and support the financial sustainability of small- and medium-sized farms while promoting the circular economy. The commitment to lower the environmental footprint is achieved through buying bulk products and by promoting Short Food Chains, through the direct acquisition of the food for the school meals, from local small and medium suppliers of the region.
The Municipality prepares meals in two ways: first, via its two central kitchens which turn the raw ingredients from local farmers into school meals (1,700 meals/day); second: in a network made with the local authorities, which acquire directly the service to the Private Social Institutions (non-profit social organizations) which provide food preparation and distribution to services to the schools outside the city area (3,000 meals/day). The Municipality uses a network strategy which delegates the competences to the 12 local county authorities, which, themselves contract local private social institutions for the management of the school meals.
The menus are carefully prepared with the support of a nutritionist, respecting the nutritional balance, taking into account anthropometric values and favouring local seasonal foods according to the Mediterranean Diet, traditional dishes or the most appreciated in each location. Vegetarian menus are available and plant-based menus are implemented once a week. Food waste reduction is implemented by cooking the specific daily needs, according to the menus’ datasheets.
The development of healthy food habits is done in parallel with the promotion of physical activity, through initiatives such as ‘school fruit and vegetables’ and ‘school milk’: Free distribution of fruit and vegetables to the kindergarten and primary school students (twice a week) and daily milk distribution. An European program: Regulation (EU) 2016/791 (https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/PDF/?uri=CELEX:32016R0791&from=PT