Revolution

The final day of the 7th Annual Farm to School Conference was a half day. I spent breakfast chatting with staff members from the Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project, which is based in Asheville. Later a gal from Marietta, my home town, joined us. She graduated from the University of Georgia School of Agriculture and is now teaching, and growing a school garden, in New Mexico.
I volunteered again during the morning session for a lively hands-on program about Curriculum Strategies for Early Care and Education Settings.
The closing plenary session was full of touching, challenging and meaningful presentations. It opened with a hands across the room moment of silence and was followed by a lively and soulful conference song. The song was a collaborative effort of many conference attendees and focused on the conference theme. The call and response refrain went like this: We’re powering Up. We’re powering on, working together arm in arm.
Anim Steel, founder of Real Food Generation, shared a video developed by a Real Food Challenge volunteer. It shared the sad by hopeful story of the collapse of our agricultural system and how we are working to rebuild it.
The final voice of the conference was that of Alice Waters, proprietor of Chez Panisse in Berkley, CA. Her message focused on fast food, and how most, if not all, of our society’s problems can be traced to it. By reworking our schools from the inside out, using food as the vehicle, we can raise up generations who will create a new world of health, purpose and prosperity for all.
During this closing session, these words percolated through to me: transformation, movement, enabling change, knowledge, creativity, welcoming, joy, intensity, experience, enthusiasm and most of all, revolution.

Powering Up

Today, at the Farm to Cafeteria conference, I sensed a collective feeling of fatigue, or overload, or maybe just too much fun in Austin’s fabulous music clubs.
For breakfast, I joined a table of “youngsters”, young women and men none of whom looked older than 29. Three gals were from Madison, WI. One young fellow was from Portland, ME and two guys were Food Corps workers, one assigned to New Mexico and one in Arkansas.
The speakers for the morning session where all Texans. One spoke to us of labor issues surrounding farm work and the Latino community. One spoke of the struggle of the African-American community to embrace a return to gardens. Jim Hightower spoke, again, of the importance of interacting with our elected officials.
From there, the assembled conferees created open space discussions, identifying issues they wanted to discuss and self-creating the sessions. Gathering ideas for quick education moments in the cafeteria and sitting in on a discussion about the challenges of Farm to School in rural settings were my two choices.
A dozen of Austin’s famous food trucks assembled outside the Hilton to serve us lunch.
Lightening Sessions, 5 minute presentations, made up the first afternoon session. I appreciated hearing about other’s work in creating culinary learning/work settings, partnering with cooperative extension agents and thoughts on a rationale behind why we do what we do.
I spent the bulk of the afternoon as a volunteer for the conference, which was required in return for the scholarship I received from the Farm to School Network. One of my fellow volunteers was a woman from eastern Washinton. She and her community support a lunch program at a public school that has no federal or state funding. The other gal, a local from Austin, was volunteering just to feel-out the whole farm to cafeteria world.
I finished the afternoon and evening with my brother, who just arrived by bike from western Colorado, and his daughter, enjoying the culinary delights of Austin.

My, what a day!

The morning of the 7th Annual Farm to School Conference started with a lovely 20 minute walk through quiet city streets, just as the sun was coming up. The air was cool, the construction workers were on the job and the Austin architecture was amazing!
The first meeting of the day was a gathering of attendees from the southeast. I was able to put faces to all the Georgian’s whose name I’d seen on the list, and met folks from Kentucky, North Carolina, Alabama, South Carolina and Florida.
The plenary session opened with a performance by Great Promise for American Indians Drumming Group. These Austin drummers and dancers weleomed us to the conference with ancient and modern traditions. Jim Hightower, former Texas Commissioner of Agriculture, spoke with humor and purpose.
During the lunch break, I met a Food Corps service member from North Carolina. She congratulated us, Georgia, on our selection to receive Food Corps workers. Two Food Corps members will work with the Farm to School program in northeast Georgia beginning in August.
The afternoon was spent in 2 sessions, one of which discussed how food hubs and cooperatives bridge the gap between local growers and institutional buyers such as universities and school systems.
The second session was standing room only. Each presenter told how they are engaging students in the cafeteria, in the garden and even in summer camp settings.
The day continued into the evening with a reception at the global headquarters of Whole Foods Market. The one mile walk gave me time to spend time with Andrea Thomas, Habersham County’s school’s new nutritional director.  It was a lovely evening with plenty of time to catch up with new friends and continuing meeting new ones.
Walking home after dark, music poured onto the broad streets from neon lighted clubs. Good night, Austin!

Westward, ho!

Even though I write this in Cleveland, the 7th Annual Farm to Cafeteria Conference is underway in Austin. It begins today with a range of workshops and field trips.

Folks are already there, attending programs such as Advocating for Healthy Food Systems Change, Partnerships Build Community Food System Power and a range of field trips featuring farm to cafeteria efforts in Austin.
Over 1,000 people have registered for the conference. One thousand people coming together around food system change! How exciting to imagine that many people. When I step back and look at the number it theoretically represents 20 from each of the 50 states. Twenty people from Georgia, and I am one of them. What a privilege and what a responsibility!
The conference attendees from Georgia represent 4-H in Johnson County, obesity issues with the CDC in Atlanta, the Cooperative Extension Service in Baxley and Savannah, the Athens Land Trust, the Atlanta Public Schools, the Southwest Georgia Project in Albany, the Captain Planet Foundation in Atlanta, Georgia Organics which works statewide, and of course Farm to School in Northeast Georgia.
I am on the move, catching a plane this afternoon out of Hartsfield-Jackson Airport. I’ll meet my niece at 4th and Colorado Avenue this afternoon and spend the next 2 nights with her. Tomorrow morning, I’ll be at the Austin Hilton early enough to register and attend an 8:00 AM southeast regional meeting where I will meet all of the folks from Georgia, plus many of those involved in food system change in neighboring states. Then, the conference is on full blast with the plenary session at 11:00.
Join me here for updates about this exciting event.
Westward, ho!

Farm to Cafeteria…

So, what is Farm to Cafeteria?  It is pretty easy to envision cafeterias when talking about Farm to School.  Those of us who attended public and private schools can remember the trays that you push down the line, the glass protecting the food, the servers behind the line.  When we left the serving area, we had everything on our plate or tray that we needed or wanted. 

Schools need an easy, inexpensive way to feed their charges, and cafeterias offer just that.  But pause a moment and think of all the other places that cafeterias exist.  You’ll find them in hospitals, prisons, colleges, childcare centers, government and corporate offices, not to mention the ones at the mall where you take your family for supper or Sunday dinner.

Farm to School represents only one segment of institutional food service.  Many attending the conference may be focused on the Farm to School side of cafeterias, but many of us also see that the lowly cafeteria might be more than that.  If cafeterias can provide healthy food, engage people with the production of their food, provide a place to share flavorful meals, return the source of production to the community, create meaningful work, and expand knowledge, they may well be a place to change the world.

The 7th Annual Farm to Cafeteria Conference

Excitement is building for many of us connected to Farm to School in Georgia about attending the Farm to Cafeteria Conference that will be held next week in Austin, TX.  A good contingent from Farm to School in Northeast Georgia are attending.  It includes Teri Hamlin, the mover and shaker of northeast Georgia F2S, Andrea Thomas, the brand new nutrition director for Habersham County schools and me, Jennie Inglis.  Additionally, many of the fine folks at Georgia Organics in Atlanta will be there, too.  So, watch out Texas!  Here we come!

Watch for additional posts between now and next week and into the conference, which begins, for some, Tuesday, April 15. 

What is a Farm to Cafeteria Conference?  All questions will be answered at http://farmtocafeteriaconference.org/7/.

November Teacher of the Month

Teacher of the Month: Kim McClurg

“Convince me that you have a seed there, and I am prepared to expect wonders.”  This quote is taken from the novel, Seedfolks by Paul Fleischman.  Kim McClurg, an 8th grade teacher at Wilbanks Middle School, had her students read this novel.  At first, I am sure her students didn’t expect any “wonders” by reading this novel.  However, it turns out Kim McClurg inspired her students to not expect wonders but to create them. 

After reading the novel, Mrs. McClurg’s 8th grade class realized the lasting impact they can have on Wilbanks Middle School just like the characters in the story.  To demonstrate that impact, they planted fruit trees.  With help from the local Lowes, the Roland family, and Catrina Pollard, they were all able plant thirteen trees and blueberry bushes.  Mrs. McClurg helped plant a seed in her student’s minds that they are responsible for being an important part of the community and by leaving behind their legacy of planting these fruit trees they have truly made a lasting impact.  The Farm to School motto is “It Takes a Community” and Mrs. McClurg reinforced this mission when teaching her 8th grade students.  The Wilbanks Middle School Farm to School program is fortunate to have teachers that integrate their lessons with what is going on in the school community.  Make sure to check out the photos from Mrs. McClurg’s 8th grade class and their fruit trees.  Thank you Mrs. McClurg for planting a seed in your student’s minds and being an inspiration to the entire community.  

November Farmer of the Month

Image

Shook’s Family Farm is a small-scale farm located in the beautiful North Georgia mountains of White County.  The farm grows around 100 different varieties of fruits and vegetables, fresh herbs, honey, gourmet mushrooms and is the Farmer of the Month for November.

Shook’s Family Farm is family owned and operated by Michael and Thelma Shook and their daughter and husband, Steve Rushing and Angel Rushing.  All of the planting, weeding, and harvesting is done by hand. “We try not to use pesticides at all, but when it is required we use the mildest and least amount possible.  After all, we are feeding our own families.  All of our produce is guaranteed fresh which means it is picked the day before market day. Our personal guarantee is “from our fields to your family in 24 hours or less” says Angel. 

There are 2 main reasons why Shook’s has an interest in the Farm To School program in Habersham County and will be growing eggplant, squash and peppers for Wilbanks Middle School this year. “First, as soon as school starts back our farmers market profits really drop.  Customer turnout is lower due to after school activities and sporting events, so we end up with surplus amounts of produce for this time of year.  Selling to the school gives us another market for our produce.  Secondly, from our past experience with working multiple farmers markets, we find time after time that kids have no idea where produce comes from, and even more importantly they take a genuine interest in learning about it,” explains Angel.  “They love to come each week to see something they’ve never seen before and try something new.  They are usually first in line when we bring in a dish to sample, and they have great questions.”  

Check out the Shook Family farm on their website: www.shooksfamilyfarm.com

November Student of the Month Spotlight

Image

Quiet and observant, eighth grader Laura Mark lights up when she talks about Farm to School at Wilbanks Middle School.

Laura was selected in the spring of 2012 to participate on the first team of Farm to School Ambassadors. She has actively participated since then, representing and speaking for the Farm to School program to her peers, the community and the Habersham County Board of Education.

Laura and her fellow Ambassadors assist many Farm to School activities.  However, one of the personal favorites for Laure is the Taste Test for parents and students by serving food samples to open house attendees, getting people to vote on their favorite foods and offering them “I Tried It!” stickers. This kind of work is just part of being a Farm to School Ambassador.

Laura said that she has also helped Farm to School sponsor Catrina Pollard with all sorts of projects, including working in the school garden, and visited several of the Farm to School producers such as Chatooga Belle Farm, Melon Head Farm and Sylvan Mill. During this past summer, Laure even came to the school to keep the garden going during the growing season. With Ms. Pollard, she weeded, maintained and watered the garden

Laura, who lives in Cornelia, said that participating in Farm to School has made a big difference in what she eats. She says, “I don’t eat vegetables!” but by doing taste tests, she has learned how tasty they can be. She can also see this in her classmates. A lot of them “don’t eat vegetables,” but by sampling them at taste tests, they learn to enjoy them.

Looking ahead to next year when she will be leaving Wilbanks, Laura was asked what the future will hold for her in terms of Farm to School. She said, “I love it!” She hopes that there will an opportunity for her to continue being a part of it. With other Habersham County schools expressing an interest in Farm to School, Laura’s wish may come true.