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Talking with USDA National Director of Farm to School Deborah Kane

We’re honored to have Deborah Kane, the USDA National Director of Farm to School (and UGA alumna!), asDeborah this year’s keynote for the Georgia Farm to School and Preschool Summit in Athens on Feb. 19-20.  She recently took a few minutes out of her busy schedule to chat with us about the upcoming opportunities and challenges she encounters in her role.

What are the biggest opportunities on the horizon for farm to school?
From my perspective, one of the biggest opportunities on the horizon for farm to school is the degree to which it’s a perfect fit with the changes that we’ve made to the meal pattern with theHealthy Hunger-Free Kids Act. Farm to school is a toolkit for helping kids understand where their food comes from and to get them more excited to try new fruits and vegetables. There is so much energy and excitement right now around farm to school programs and one of the reasons for this is because it’s one of our best toolkits to get kids and parents excited about school lunch. Farm to school also gives schools a positive message to share with their communities.

What is the biggest obstacle that you expect to face in your position in the next two years?
There are only so many hours in the day! I say that because we’re not facing obstacles getting schools excited or getting farmers involved in the program, but the challenge is helping them connect in a way so that schools can buy from farmers that doesn’t disrupt their daily flow and integrates into their operations. A lot of work my work is focused on distribution mechanisms so that products can flow easily into schools and also working with school districts to show them how they can relatively easily incorporate local foods into their preference bids and contracts.

What is one of the most innovative farm to school projects that you’ve seen during your time as National Director?
This program is very exciting because it comes from an urban high school. You see a lot of great farm to school work in K-5th grade and in middle schools, but it’s important to remember that high schools can be involved too. In Chicago Public Schools, one of the high schools has a robust school garden program, including chickens, in a very urban environment. Many students are involved in Future Farmers of America (FFA) and the FFA teacher felt like she had given them lots of hands-on experiences, including working with the chickens, vermicomposting, and selling produce from garden. The one thing that she felt like she hadn’t tackled yet, was how to make a career in agriculture more real for these students who lived in an urban environment. So, she started a pen pal program with local farmers. Instead of writing directly to the farmers, the high schoolers wrote letters to the sons and daughters of the farmers. Then, the teacher brought the kids from farm into the city to meet with the urban highschoolers. It was an eye-opening and mind-blowing exchange to watch the students learn how the kids from the farm lived and for the farm kids to learn about living in urban Chicago.

I hear that you’re an avid kayaker and former TV show host. Do you have any other fun facts that you’d like to share with us?
I’ve recently added surfing to my list of hobbies!

 

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