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Key Takeaways from this Year’s National Farm to Cafeteria Conference

June 14, 2016
By: Stephanie Loui, FoodCorps Hawaiʻi Service Member

1. Farm to School is on the Move!
National Farm to School Network Executive Director and Co-founder Anupama Joshi kicked off the conference on a fortifying note, sharing recent successes in farm to school projects now happening in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Joshi was followed by FoodCorps founder and executive director of the First Lady’s Let’s Move! initiative, Deb Eschmeyer. Eschmeyer encouraged participants to stay involved with the Improving Child Nutrition and Education Act of 2016 which includes a doubling in annual funding for the USDA Farm to School Grant Program. Her speech also included a special guest video appearance by the First Lady herself, a champion of child nutrition responsible for recent food labeling laws, health improvements to school lunch, and the most expansive White House garden in history which now graces the South lawn. Both Eschmeyer and the First Lady pledged to continue their efforts in the Farm to School movement, long after they exit the White House.

2. Focus on the Farmers
With over 1,000 attendees, this year’s Farm to Cafeteria conference included representatives from all different sectors of the food system, but in particular, celebrated the very foundation of the movement: farmers. Attendees heard from CSA owners providing produce to schools, family farms rooted in the very fabric of Wisconsin food culture, entrepreneurs entering the farm space and the vast network of aggregators and processors providing the fresh fruits and vegetables on our plates. As many schools are piloting programs such as “Harvest of the Month”, the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program (FFVP), breakfast and dinner programs, and salad bars, the demand for local, culturally and geographically appropriate produce is on the rise and farmers are hungry to meet the need.

3. Not All Food Justice is Created Equal
Amidst inspiring stories of growth, traction and victory, an equally important narrative of inequality and historical trauma can also be found in the story of food in the United States. Though the Farm to School movement is growing at a steady pace some voices continue to remind us we cannot pat ourselves on the backs just yet. The most impoverished communities, disproportionately African Americans, Native Americans, Native Hawaiians and other people of color, continue to experience food insecurity, obesity, and other health-related risks at a higher rate than others. Keynote speaker Matthew Raiford, executive Chef and owner of Gilliard Farms comes from a long legacy of Georgia farmers and the deeply entwined narrative of slavery and exploitation. A successful black chef in the deep south, Raiford challenged conference attendees to think deeply about their food choices and the labor costs underlying the sticker price. He also called for an end to the term “Food Desert”, a buzzword which has been popping up around the conversation of Food Justice. The reasoning? It’s an insult to deserts! As we centralize our farming practices to gigantic factory farms and huge tracts of monocropped big-ag, we forget about the earliest farmers of America, pushed onto reservations in some of the harshest, least arable land available. Native American and other tribal communities have and continue to farm in extreme conditions, often on lands we might consider to be deserts.

So to recap: Farm to School is on the rise and if you haven’t already, you can join the movement here. Support your local farmers. Follow your food to the source. And wherever it started, it’s time to end the term “food desert”.

To learn more check out these great resources:

Matthew Raiford on his family’s centennial farm in Georgia:

Deb Eschmeyer on the First Lady’s #GimmeFive campaign and her personal journey to health, from starting a farm, to co-founding FoodCorps and finally, working in the White House and beyond

A 2014 report on racial equity in the food system and how we can move forward to create a more just, socially equitable food environment. http://www.centerforsocialinclusion.org/building-the-case-for-racial-equity-in-the-food-system/