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Meet Our 30 Community Food Champions

NFSN Staff Friday, October 30, 2020

(Top Left to Right) Serena Padilla, Joëll Edwards, Corey Banks, April Smith
(Bottom Left to Right) Gale Livingston, Kadeesha Williams, Disha Patel, David Gardner
As National Farm to School Month comes to a close, we are thrilled to share with you the second round of our 2020 Community Food Champions! This year’s National Farm to School Month theme of It Takes a Community to Feed a Community has been all about recognizing the individuals who make farm to school work - day in and day out - and who have gone above and beyond this year, especially, to keep our kids and their families connected to community food systems.

We called on people like you to nominate your Community Food Champions - the people whose efforts may often go unnoticed, but whose work is absolutely essential to keeping our communities fed - for recognition and a $500 honorarium from the National Farm to School Network as a small token of appreciation. We received more than 200 nominations from across the country, representing nearly every role in the school food and farm to school ecosystem. After announcing our first round of 13 selected Community Food Champions early this month, we’re excited to share with you 17 more Community Food Champions, to round out our 30 awardees for National Farm to School Month 2020. They are:

Amber Woitalla - Community Food Advocate, Cheyenne River Indian Reservation - “Amber harvested 1043 pounds of produce and 169 cups of herbs to share with community members this summer. She recruited numerous youth to help plant and nurture the produce and taught lessons about the health benefits, Lakota and Dakota languages, and Dakota perspectives of the historical value of this food. Knowing that many families have been isolated due to a variety of restrictions, Amber packed up and took the harvest around the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation to many families.”

April Smith - SNAP-Ed Nutrition Coordinator, Minnesota - “Since COVID-19 and the murder of George Floyd, April has been a leader in food distribution at four encampments within Minneapolis which impacted over 150 families. April has also partnered with Master Gardeners and a local food hub, the Good Acre, to distribute food from BIPOC farmers to 55 native elders and families. April exemplifies what it means to be a community food hero and has demonstrated unwavering commitment to her community.”

Chester Williams - Founder, A Better Chance A Better Community, North Carolina - “Chester Williams is doing exciting work to uplift the youth and communities in Halifax County and the Roanoke Valley in Northeastern North Carolina, creating opportunities for the youth to shape a healthier world in their own communities and beyond. Before and since COVID, Chester works beside young people to respond to urgent needs of the whole community, foster food sovereignty in his area, and nurture leaders and collaborations that move us toward the world we want for all our people.”

Corey Banks - Operations Associate, The Common Market Southeast, Georgia - “For the past 3+ years, Corey has been a pivotal, behind-the-scenes player in ensuring our fresh, nutritious food reaches our food service teams, students and partners alike safely and smoothly. His contagious positive attitude, resilient spirit, and direct action ensures safe, clean, beautiful food gets picked up from our farms, gets inspected for safety and quality, and ultimately reaches our region's schools and beyond.”

David Gardner - School Nutrition Professional, Cambridge Public Schools, Massachusetts - “David has always been an integral part of our school food services team. However, once the pandemic hit he had to adapt nearly every aspect of our meal service. His responsibilities of managing inventory, coordinating drivers, collaborating with vendors for orders which had been historically stable interactions were now impacted by so many forces out of anyone's control. As district staff was cut in half, use of 13 kitchens was consolidated to 2, on site meal preparation transitioned to contactless delivery to 8 different sites through the city, David was always a beacon of calm.”

Disha Patel - Food Justice Educator, Common Ground, Connecticut - “Disha is a pioneer for food justice, land sovereignty, youth opportunity, farm and labor rights, and so much more. She started a mutual aid fund with other social justice organizations like during the pandemic, hand delivering food boxes grown on her school farms to families. She also works with students as an educator implementing the most culturally aware lesson plans that I've seen, including the Black Panther Smoothie lesson, and Common Grounds infamous cooking club that is vegan, allergen free, delicious, and each month they visit a new culture and tradition!”

Gale Livingston - Farmer, Deep Roots Farm, Maryland - “Gale's dedication to building a healthier and more just food system are unparalleled. She is a hands-on farmer, maintaining 500 acres of land, with a mission for her farm space to become a place where there is equitable access to quality organic produce. She also works with local schools like Kimball Elementary to provide produce through weekly farm shares, which are used to teach family cooking classes. Her hands may be dirty from being immersed in soil all day but her heart is golden.”

Jay Holly - Afterschool Educator & Community Food Advocate, Virginia - “In addition to being an inspiring and tireless afterschool educator for local youth, Jay is also an excellent chef and has consistently supported and championed efforts to provide students with summer field trips to our farm, "Young Chefs" cooking classes, veggie tastings, take-home snack packs for students using local produce, and a Youth-Run Farm Stand in the Boys and Girls Club parking lot. Most recently, Jay supported an online video series called "Super Summer Chefs" we launched to connect with students during the pandemic.”

Joëll Edwards - Farm to School Hui Project Manager, Mālama Kaua’i, Hawai’i - “Joëll is a true unsung hero in the local Kauaʻi food community. When COVID began to shutdown our island, Joëll sprung into action. She began managing all of the intake calls for families and kupuna (elders) who were most in need of food through Malama Kauaʻiʻs CSA bag program so that local produce was delivered to their homes. She coordinated various avenues of food distribution for the USDA Farm-to-Families program through 10 sites across the entire island, which allowed over 15,000 local produce bags to be given out to families for free. Through her personal connections and ability to navigate through adverse situations, Joëll has shown us how much our community can accomplish together with a shared vision.”

Kadeesha Williams - Community Horticulturist and Urban Agriculturist, NYBG’s Bronx Green-Up, New York - “I have learned so much from Kadeesha about providing nutritious food to my community. She has even opened doors for me to gain employment in this field that I grew to love and want to be part of. She is self-taught and very knowledgeable about urban farming and how to help people become sustainable and teach others.”

Kena and Mark Guttridge - Farmers, Ollin Farms, Colorado - "Kena and Mark demonstrate a passion for and commitment to growing nutrient dense, high quality produce for children across Boulder County. When the pandemic hit, we asked if they would be willing to double the number of CSA shares they had initially agreed to provide for our child care programs and they agreed without giving it a second thought. They also helped us strategize safer models for the in-person farm trips and nutrition education classes they provide Farm to ECE participants."

Lenny Xiong - Farmer, Cannon Falls, Minnesota - “Lenny grows strawberries, rhubarb, tomatoes, cucumbers, potatoes, eggplant, sugar snap peas, and more to Minnesota schools and early care and education centers. In the spring, Lenny via the Good Acre supplied schools in Robbinsdale, MN with local strawberries and rhubarb for a strawberry-rhubarb sauce kit that contained a recipe and video tutorial for children in the Robbinsdale Area district. Just this month, he grew loads of colorful carrots for schools in Roseville, MN - a great way to celebrate National Farm to School Month! We are so grateful for local partners such as Lenny who go the extra mile to provide delicious produce for students.”

Malcolm Snead - Food Service Director, Creede Consolidated Schools, Colorado - “Chef Malcolm is committed to making his school lunch program the best rural meal program in the state! He is constantly exposing his students to new cuisines and exciting flavors; things that are not very common in their tiny mountain town. It's common to find Colorado-grown produce on his menu - he has even managed to incorporate Colorado Quinoa into a burrito! He is a leader in this space when it comes to making the procurement of local foods look normal. On top of his amazing meals, he also started a culinary program for 8th and 9th graders. He is doing whatever he can to ensure that the children in his community are well-fed and truly nourished.”

Patricia Cain - Second Grade Teacher, New Mexico - “Mrs. Cain is a second grade dual language teacher at James Elementary and leader of the school/community garden, which has 224 raised beds. Despite COVIE-19, Mrs. Cain still made sure the garden was planted, maintained, and watered so the students would have fruits and vegetables when they returned to school. Unfortunately, the students haven't returned yet, so the produce has been donated to community partners and frozen so the students will be able to do cooking and nutrition activities when they return. She is truly our garden angel.”

Samantha Oster - Farm to Preschool Coordinator, New York - “Samantha adapted Grow it, Try it, Like it food lessons, recorded, edited and uploaded those lessons to Youtube so the pandemic didn't stop nutrition education in our daycare center. She also helped coordinate fresh food boxes to be sent home with families, and recorded recipie demonstrations for how families could use this food. I believe that by implementing Farm to Preschool remotely, she helped continue to provide safe nutrition lessons to children and parents without compromising the safety of our staff nor the families we work with.”

Sarah Nesky - School Nutrition Professional, Suttons Bay Schools, Michigan - "Sarah has been working tirelessly since the pandemic started, providing 200 breakfast and lunch bags for our students 5 days a week that were delivered from March 16th until school started this September. Plus we also had the summer GSRP group and the other student programs on site at the school including driver's education training. She even worked during the spring break to make sure the students didn't go hungry. Sarah really cares for the children of our area, and works long hours to make sure they are taken care of and get the freshest produce we can purchase."

Serena Padilla - Newburgh Program Manager & Garden Educator, Land to Learn, New York - “Serena leads an empowered learning community of students who explore their school garden, discovering its diverse habitat, observing how plants work, understanding where food comes from, creating artwork, practicing literacy skills, and harvesting veggies to make healthy snacks. This gardening season, as schools are closed due to the pandemic, Serena contributed to the 200 pounds of produce that Land to Learn donated to food relief efforts and also participated in the formation of networks that are helping people feed themselves. She has stayed engaged with her students by offering them garden-at-home kits, producing educational videos, and hosting virtual lessons. Serena is a dedicated champion of food education and food system justice!”


(Top Left to Right) Lenny Xiong, Samantha Oster, Amber Woitalla, Chester Williams
(Bottom Left to Right) Sarah Nesky, Jay Holly, a Malcolm Snead school lunch, Patricia Cain
In addition to these Champions, meet the first 13 Champions we announced here. We are so inspired by and grateful for all 30 of these individuals who make strong, resilient food systems work and keep their communities nourished. THANK YOU for all you do!

Special thanks to CoBank and Carton2Garden for sponsoring our National Farm to School Month campaign and making our 2020 Community Food Champion recognitions possible!

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