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Excellent Conference Summary from a Participant

Participant Melissa DeSa of Florida Certified Organic Growers and Consumers, Inc. shared this summary of the conference she put together for her community. It highlights the garden tours, speaker highlights and general information about the conference for those unable to attend. Share it around and thanks Melissa!

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Excellent Conference Summary from a Participant

  1. 1. 5th National Farm to Cafeteria Conference May 17-19, 2010 Melissa A. DeSa Florida Certified Organic Growers and Consumers, Inc. Gainesville, FL Thanks to the generosity of the Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project, I was able to attend this conference to help represent the South East regional Farm to School steering committee and bring home valuable lessons and ideas. Below is a brief description of the field trip, workshops and other conference events I was able to attend. Conference and Detroit Stats  Almost 700 people were registered and attended the conference!  All 50 states have some form of F2S initiatives  In Detroit, there are 59 schools with gardens  Being one of the largest cities in the country, about half of the space is vacant and available  There are only 80 large grocers in this huge city, creating many food deserts in low income neighborhoods  However, many initiatives are springing up in Detroit, with F2S initiatives and a growing urban gardening effort that is revitalizing neighborhoods  There are 200+ farmers markets in the city and many of them are sourcing from local gardens  May 16-22 was declared local foods week in Detroit, and we were greeted by the mayor and local food activists in the community We heard from Kathleen Merrigan, on the Obama Administration’s efforts towards F2S initiatives including Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food and the Child Nutrition Reauthorization Act. We also heard from Gail Christopher of the Kellogg Foundation which is the funding source for the National Farm to School Network. Lashawnda Livingston a student involved in the Cooking up Change competition last year spoke of her passion and efforts in going to DC with the message for more $ for healthy school food. Christie Vilsack (wife of Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack) and Karen Duncan (wife of Arne Duncan, Secretary of Education) are chairs for the Cooking Up Change Competition and spoke briefly on the importance of increasing awareness among students and administrators for healthy school food. The local foods reception at the Henry Ford Museum was phenomenally good, with much of the menu containing local and seasonal ingredients. This was one of the best meals I’ve had in awhile! 1
  2. 2. The Henry Ford Museum that hosted the local foods reception. Optional Field Trip: Urban Farming and Schools in Detroit This was definitely worth the extra day in Detroit, as we took a guided tour all over the city to see firsthand how urban gardening efforts are revitalizing some of the most rundown neighborhoods. One of our tour guides was Ashley Atkinson from the Detroit Garden Resource Program Collaborative (DGRPC). This is an amazing collaborative that includes 185+ community partners that contribute resources and funding to support the nearly 900 gardens that include 263 community gardens and 55 school gardens! With an estimated 50,000 plus vacant lots, there is no limitation for gardening space, and Detroit residents are making the most of it. Along the tour we saw Romanowski Farm Park, Brightmoor Community Gardens, D-Town Farms, Farwell School (to experience a school lunch and hear from people working on Farm to School in Detroit), Catherine Ferguson Academy for pregnant teenagers, Earthworks Organic Farm and partner Capuchin Soup Kitchen and various residential gardens including one that had goats, chickens and a pig! The backdrop of abandoned buildings and lots against thriving gardens was remarkable and inspiring. For those that watched the “Grown in Detroit” movie, we drove past the Catherine Ferguson Academy and saw the girls working the fields. These pregnant teenagers have been given a second, maybe third chance in life to find this school and the amazing principal, Asenath Andrews who has given them opportunity through gardening. Our tour guide from DGRPC was very informative, and I was so excited to meet her as I had been researching this organization as a possible model for FOG’s own GIFT Gardens. They will be sharing resources and other materials with FOG, as they have done for other organizations that adapted the “Greening of Detroit” model including Baltimore Parks and People and Parkway Partners in New Orleans. Ashley’s 3 Keys to Community Gardening and Organizing Success 1. Strategic Planning and Evaluation through the year.  Stressed the importance of having conversations with partners and gardeners throughout the year to see how things are going, what can be improved, what is working and what is not. 2. Collaboration on community efforts; cannot go it alone and this program relies on their 185+ partnerships. 3. Provide a “ladder of opportunity” for those that are interested. For example;  80% of all gardeners in classes are part of active clusters  30% of them end up in leadership positions  10% are in the cooperative structure  2.5% of members get into the market gardening aspects 2
  3. 3. Romanowski Farm Park where DGRPC helped revitalize an underused vacant area into a thriving community resource with a two-acre community farm plot, teaching pavilion, playground with integrated teaching gardens, fruit tree orchard, sugar maple grove, 1-mile walking trail, soccer complex, and numerous athletic fields. The children from a nearby school accompany their principal (center, black jacket and pants) to chat with us on our tour. Brightmoor Community Garden where last year 21 beds produced 1,300 lbs of food bringing in $2,700 from the efforts of 12 neighborhod youth. On the right is the “waterwall” funded by earnings from the garden markets. A long roof with gutters captures rain and stores it in the bins seen to the back. Ashley, our tour guide (center, yellow shirt) is a key player in the DGRPC. 3
  4. 4. Workshops Farm to School and College Procurement: Matchmaking 101 Kelly Erwin, Massachusetts Farm to School Project; Abbie Nelson, Vermont FEED Speakers from Vermont FEED (Food Education Every Day) described how they work as liaisons between farmers, food service staff and others wishing to embark on Farm to School initiatives. They were self described as a dating service matchmaker! Through a role playing and interactive exercise, they showed us just how difficult conversations can be, and offered tips on how to better communicate. For example, farmers tend not to sell themselves and their products enough and would benefit from being more assertive and business-like. Oftentimes FEED has seen cases where both parties (i.e. school and farmer) are too nice to admit that it might not work for them, but decide to proceed anyway. This never works out, and it is better for both to be upfront and realistic about their needs. In this situation FEED suggests agreeing on one action item that provides a starting point, rather than thinking it will all be solved in one meeting. For example, the farmer gives a product availability list for school to think about, school nutrition staff provides the farmer with their menu. Often times this will take several meetings to hash out and the action items can help jump start the process, and give each side something to ponder while not under pressure in face to face meetings. Although many times the initial attempts at procuring local food may not be perfect, both sides are often so excited by the prospect that they are willing to compromise. School food service may be more willing to alter their menu to have “seasonal fresh vegetable” and the farmers may be more willing to grow what schools want. FEED helps provide resources that prepare each entity to engage in F2S negotiations. Tools and resources can be found on their website. MyGarden: Gardens and Nutrition Education in Your School Becky Henne, Michigan Nutrition Network; Norm Lownds, Michigan State University This is a Michigan State University (MSU) Extension project that provides numerous k-12 lessons with 4 core content areas (English-language arts, Math, Science, Social Studies). Lesson Extensions (i.e. things for kids to do beyond the school garden): An online virtual gardening game that provides garden education they can use at home. With the average kid having 53hours/week of screen time, why not give them virtual gardening screen time to extend their learning! Kids create an avatar and learn to grow, harvest and cook. They showed a demo of this game and said that there has been great success and kids just love it! Find it at High School mentors learn how to make lesson plans and other things and then teach that lesson to the elementary school kids. This has been a great success, as younger kids really look up to their older peers, not quite the same way they do for adults. WonderWall-a forum style where kids post their gardening and cooking questions, and can talk together about topics they’re interested in. In a five-week time period, more than 5,000 posts were made by kids and “Dr. Norm” answered every question. He said the kids just love it! Find it at Funding and resources o Farm Service Agency and Development o o HSAT: Healthy School Ass. Tool is recommended for all schools 4
  5. 5. o Action for Healthy Kids o National Gardening Association o USDA SNAP Ed Funding o Check out MSU Farm to School website for Kids Gardens Ideas These came from the Michigan State 4-H Gardens that had some amazing pictures and stories, with all kinds of neat ideas to incorporate what’s cool for kids into the garden. For example:  Peter Rabbit garden with footprints of Peter then Mr. McGregor running through garden!  Cool plants that every school demo garden should have: o Sensitive plant o Matt’s Wild Cherry Tomato o Broom Corn for Harry Potter broom o Pretzel Bean (a cowpea variety) o Purple Haze Carrot (really cool looking!!) National Good Food Network Panel John Fisk, Wallace Center at Winrock International; Marty Gerencer, National Good Food Network; Denis Jennisch, Sysco Food Service Grand Rapids, MI; Chris Kirby, OK Dept of Agriculture, Food and Forestry; Otavio Silva, The Food Conservancy The Oklahoma Farm to School Program has developed a wonderful resource that can be found online, or you can get a printed copy of, “Tips, Tools and Guidelines for Food Distribution and Food Safety”. You can also find a distribution cost calculator and a produce calculator that lets food service providers and farmers estimate volume and price estimates. Very handy, lots of oohs and ahhhs when this was shown! As always, there is no one size fits all Farm to School model, but we can learn from what is out there and has been done. I highly recommend looking through the Oklahoma example. You might also check out the National Good Food Network’s Sysco case study for local foods procurement Open Session: Farm to School/Gardening Evaluation The open session I attended was for those interested in evaluation tools for Farm to School projects. Some resources suggested are listed below.  Last Kid in the Woods book has data on school garden impacts  National F2S has a whole toolkit for evaluating F2S online  Cornell School Gardening toolkit evaluation online  tracked shopping patterns  At a previous session, Anupama provided these resources: o Bearing Fruit: F2S Program Evaluations o Center for Advanced Studies in Nutrition and Social Marketing o California Dept. of Public Health o Cornell Garden Based Learning Evaluation Toolkit o Learning Gardens Lab Evaluation Research Team (no website) o Ratcliff, MM 2007. The Effects of School Garden Experiences on Middle School–Aged Students’ Knowledge,Attitudes, and Behaviors Associated With Vegetable Consumption.  Agricola and Hort technology journals are a good place to look for this kind of thing 5
  6. 6. Food Corps Planning Meeting Tagging along at the end of this conference was a planning meeting for a program in development known as FoodCorps. This is an AmeriCorps project in partnership with the National Farm to School Network led by Curt Ellis (filmmaker, King Corn), Cecily Upton (formerly Slow Food USA), Crissie McMullan (National Center for Appropriate Technology), Jerusha Klemperer (Slow Food USA), and Debra Eschmeyer (National Farm to School Network) . There have already been FoodCorps volunteers working on F2S initiatives, and these experiences are being used to develop, plan and expand the program at the national level, with AmeriCorps service members working on F2S initiatives. Vision of FoodCorps  Serve schools with obesity and food access issues  Train a new generation of farmers  Structured national program with local flexibility Organizers used this opportunity to gather a diverse stakeholder group to help with planning for future FoodCorps initiatives. Two break-out sessions allowed smaller focus groups to discuss various topics. The first session broke out groups based on their possible or existing role with AmeriCorps. For example in our group (possible host organizations for a service member), we discussed the challenges and opportunities of having an service member working with our organization. We discussed how they should be sought after, the level of community involvement in their deployment, the realities of the time it takes to host and train a member, their existing (or not) local involvement and knowledge and other pertinent issues. After this one hour session, we were then split up in a mixed group to discuss “a day in the life of” of an AC member and what it should involve. The team was grateful for the input and will use this information in their one year planning grant to further craft objectives and strategies for a national FoodCorps program. 6