Earlier this month, 25 Georgians joined over 1,000 good food advocates from around the U.S. and Canada for the 8th Annual National Farm to Cafeteria Conference in Madison, Wisconsin. Georgia farmers, students, representatives from the Georgia Departments of Education and Agriculture, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, school nutrition staff, and community organizations joined conversations centered on increasing access to local food.
Ricardo Salvador of the Union of Concerned Scientists opened with a plenary on the uniquely American habit of continual transformation.
“Salvador reminded us that the most American thing we can do is not be satisfied with our food system until it benefits all participants equally,” said FoodCorps Georgia service member Susie Burton. “I thought it was a wonderful way to acknowledge that the American system certainly has so many flaws, but that it’s ‘American-ness’ is also what we can use to change it.”
The conference brought together people from all aspects of the good food movement and challenged us to both dig in and scale up, particularly in strengthening our networks.
“I was really inspired by Vermont Farm to School Network’s intentional transformation to a working group-type model that became immediately successful in getting funding for collaborative partnerships in all of the working group topics.” Kyla Van Deusen, Project Learning Gardens Manager at Captain Planet Foundation, told me.
Several leaders from the north east were also featured, including Will Allen of Growing Power in Milwaukee. “Getting to see Will Allen in action, to hear his vision for the future of urban agriculture, to see all of Growing Power operations in person, and to learn how to make compost from the best was transformational for me!” Ana Kucelin, Menu and Wellness Specialist of City Schools of Decatur, shared.
Diane Harris, Health Scientist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, was particularly moved by a field trip to hospitals working to improve nutrition and wellness and increase procurement from local farmers through the Wisconsin Healthy Hospitals initiative. “We left the tour uplifted and excited by the leadership promoting local food provided by these hospitals and their food service directors.”
Georgia leaders also highlighted our state’s successes. Students from Maynard Jackson High School and Georgia FoodCorps service member Bang Tran presented on their school’s Garden to Cafeteria pilot program. “I was so very proud of the Jackson High School graduates sharing their experience and thoughtful answers to their engaged audience.” Beamed Kyla Van Deusen of Captain Planet Foundation, a key partner with Atlanta Public Schools and Sodexo that made the program a reality.
In another representation of Georgia’s emergence as a farm to school leader, the conference was closed with a keynote from Georgia’s own “chefarmer” Matthew Raiford of The Farmer and the Larder reminding us that Rome wasn’t built in a day and advocates must meet each other and work collectively to catalyze this movement into a system change. Molly Canfield, Child Nutrition Coordinator at the Food Bank of Northeast Georgia, remembered, “Matthew Raiford challenged us to talk to each other and used the example of someone from Georgia talking to someone from Alaska… which was funny because ten minutes prior to his plenary I had been talking to someone from Alaska about their fishing regulations!”
The Georgia Farm to School Alliance will be hosting the Georgia Farm to School and Early Care Summit in September 2017. Sign up for our farm to school e-newsletter, the eBite, here for up-to-date information on the Summit and other farm to school happenings.