I never thought spending two days in the basement of a federal building learning about procurement regulations could be so satisfying. But thanks to the dynamic USDA Farm to School team, it was that and so much more….
Deborah Kane, USDA Farm to School Director, and her dynamic team brought fifty state and non-profit agencies together for the nation’s first Train the Trainer on Local Food Procurement for Child Nutrition Programs in San Francisco. Three other Georgia reps made the westward trek with me: Laura Tanase, Janett Adams with Georgia Department of Education and Christina Hylton with Athens Land Trust.
In the last several years, local food procurement regulations for schools have consistently been a pretty stressful area, where guidelines could be murky and receiving timely guidance was rare. It was heart breaking for many of us in the farm to school community to discover how these well intended laws were being bogged down by bureaucracy. So it’s not an exaggeration to say that the excitement emanating from the training participants was palpable. You could literally feel the weight of confusion being lifted from our collective shoulders.
We covered procurement basics, the methods, and some tricky scenarios through group discussions and hands-on activities. We had some great breaks at the local farmers market and at several farm to table restaurants in the neighborhood.
The three main messages that the USDA F2S team conveyed are these:
- USDA Farm to School is here to HELP! (Check out their team here, as well as our very own Samantha Benjamin-Kirk)
- Buying food from local farmers is absolutely legal and encouraged. In fact, Congress specifically tasked USDA to help schools participating in the National School Lunch Program to “improve access to local foods” via Congress in Section 243 of the 2010 Healthy-Hunger Free Kids Act.
- Just like everything else, there are some rules you need to follow. If you’re dreaming of being a local procurement whiz kid, be sure to check out their (very well done) webinars here. Summaries of past webinars are here and here. Or, you can reach out to your local specialists: Janett Adams or Laura Tanase at Georgia DOE, or Samantha Benjamin-Kirk at USDA Southeast Region.
At the end of the training, Deborah Kane led a graduation ceremony, where each of us walked proudly to the front of the room to receive our certificate and shake her hand. I was proud of myself for understanding the difference between an RFI and an RFP. I was proud of my colleagues at DOE and Athens Land Trust for taking time out of their busy schedule to attend this training and for their interest in helping others grow their farm to school programs. And I was proud of Deborah Kane and her team for being so committed and following through with their task to improve access to local foods through clear, thoughtful and helpful guidance.