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Meet Our First 13 Community Food Champions

NFSN Staff Thursday, October 22, 2020

Meet our first 13 Community Food Champions! These pictures are ordered to follow the stories below, starting top row left to right, followed by middle row left to right, etc.

October is National Farm to School Month. And this year, we're approaching our celebrations of National Farm to School Month with a theme of "It Takes a Community to Feed a Community." We've always known that farmers, farmworkers, harvesters, food distributors, school nutrition professionals, teachers, garden coordinators, bus drivers, school volunteers, and many others are the people who make farm to school work – day in and day out – and they've had to go above and beyond this year, especially, to keep our kids and communities connected to community food systems. 
 
So throughout October, we're honoring them with activities that express appreciation, amplify underrepresented voices, and shift power – all in an effort towards creating a more equitable and just food system.
 
One of the cornerstones of our campaign is recognizing the individuals who go above and beyond to keep their communities fed. So we've been asking folks like you to nominate your Community Food Champions for recognition and a $500 honorarium as a small token of appreciation for their efforts. 

Last week at our 2020 Movement Meeting, we were excited to announce the first 13 selected Community Food Champions. Let us introduce you to them!
 
Debra WadeECE Food Service Manager in Michigan - “Debra is the Child Development Center Cook at Baxter Community Center - we call her Grandma Dee. Everyday 70+ children are fed FROM SCRATCH nutritious hearty meals. Whether it is pizza or collard greens from our garden, Grandma Dee is picking, cleaning and making the dough. Even our infants are eating homemade baby food! Not only does Grandma Dee help grow vegetables in our greenhouse and garden, she nurtures the staff and students and serves with so much love. Her heart is huge and her love is contagious.”

Imelda RodriguezCommunity Food Advocate in California - “Imelda is an incredible force in our community. She founded Cosecha A Mesa, which is dedicated to empowering students to use gardening, food, and plants as a form of healing. She is always trying to tackle systemic problems with food education and food justice, and her work has directly addressed the systemic issues that have been highlighted recently to give students tools to help their families during times of need. Imelda is creating a space for students to feel empowered.” 

Curt CanadaGarden & Food Literacy Teacher in Washington, DC - “Curt is the Garden and Food Literacy Teacher at Stoddert Elementary School, where students spend at least 12 hours throughout the year in the garden learning how to dig, plant, see, taste, smell, harvest, question and more. During the pandemic, Curt has continued teaching by filming instructional videos for the students so they could see their harvest, the garden and continue learning. He has also posted weekly to his Facebook for students, families and the greater community to visit the garden and pick up seedlings to start their own gardens.”

Kim LeungFood Service Director in California - “Kim has a strong dedication to making sure children are fed well during this pandemic. As Food Service Director at Goleta Union School District, she has led her team in continuing to provide scratch-cooked homemade meals – like pozole, pineapple kahlua pork bowls, homemade mac and cheese (made with carrots), teriyaki bowls, and more – to children throughout the school year and summer.  She has also worked with organizations to obtain local produce that may otherwise go into the trash to feed children and families in her community.”

Lauren JonesUrban Farm Educator in Louisiana - “Lauren has worked tirelessly to make environmental changes throughout our city since she started with Shreveport Green nearly 5 years ago. In that time, I have witnessed her establish solid foundations to increase food security by providing gardening and nutrition education to students at over 20 schools and recreation centers in the parish. She has also managed and trained 80 AmeriCorps members, who teach and assist with this work. Recently, she has started a new project to establish a multi-acre urban farm in the heart of our downtown that will feed 150 families, teach gardening & nutrition education, and incorporate the involvement of youth in our community.”

Mateo CarrasacoFood Justice Organizer in New Mexico - “This summer, with the help of a team of volunteers and youth interns at Cornelio Candelaria Organics, Mateo and farmer Lorenzo Candelaria distributed almost 1,000 pounds of fresh produce to families in the International District Neighborhood through a partnership with Albuquerque Public Schools’ Whittier Elementary and their community school team. Every week, Mateo and his team assembled fresh food boxes for families to pick up through grab-and-go food distribution pick up at the school.”

Dawn BauerElementary School Secretary & Food Pantry Supervisor in Montana - “Dawn is our elementary secretary and supervises our school pantry. Since March 16th, Dawn has coordinated the donation of over 10,000 lbs of pantry food items, 100s of personal hygiene products, over 2,000 weekend backpack meals, and thousands of coats, shoes, socks, hats, gloves, jeans, shirts, socks, underwear, and backpacks for students and their families. Dawn also created a Crockpot Club for elementary students, where kids were given crockpots and then taught how to assemble meals in them as part of an afterschool program. Dawn's spirit and creativity are indefatigable!” 

Lachelle CunninghamCulinary Education Manager in Minnesota - “Lachelle is a local foods rockstar! This year, Lachelle championed a new culinary program that will teach culinary skills, school nutrition guidelines and kitchen safety. After 8 weeks of classroom and lab work, our school district will be hosting these students as interns in our school kitchens, with the hopes of hiring them. Lachelle has also been committed to equity by partnering with local nonprofits who serve refugees, immigrants and women to prepare them for the application with this program. She brings excitement to the kitchen, enthusiasm for good food, and a commitment to teaching. Lachelle is helping to shape the future of school foods in Minnesota.”

Maggie NowakFarm to School Manager in Massachusetts - “Maggie has been working on the front lines throughout the pandemic, alongside the Lowell Public Schools cafeteria staff, to provide food for the community. She has also consistently pushed forward new programming to distribute food to people in need. She managed a program this summer to produce food in four of our school gardens and distribute that food for free to community members. She has also been running a bi-weekly food bank at school food distribution sites. Maggie has diligently served our community without hesitation in the face of a very high infection rate and constantly shifting planning.” 

Jesse PadronSchool Food Service Director in Oneida Nation - “Jesse is an amazing food service champion, providing meals and food education in Oneida. Not only does he do great farm to school work in the school meal programs, but he has also created great programs (gardens, farms, etc) to engage students in growing food and learning about food sovereignty.”

Lauren LittleCommunity Food Advocate in Connecticut - “Lauren's commitment to Hartford's youth is both impressive and inspiring to me. She is someone who doesn't only talk - she acts! Which is empowering for not only the students she teaches, but for the educators she works with. She is always showing up to do the work of connecting kids to healthy local food in a new and innovative way, but she's committed to something greater too - to growing a sense of self-worth and interconnectedness in her students. Her energy is a reminder of why I got into any of this farm to school stuff in the first place - because food is representative of something much larger and deeper. It's a force of connection.”

Josefina Lara ChavezFarmer Advocate in California - “Josefina has been working with Latinx growers on the California Central Coast to coordinate product volumes and aggregate, connect them with emergency meal programs, and sell to school districts, food banks, and other emergency routes during COVID. She has helped facilitate thousands of dollars of sales for Latinx growers at fair prices. These Latinx growers often face language barriers, financial barriers, and face additional barriers if they are undocumented. Josefina has been a voice for these farmers and has been passionate about representing these growers.”

Ángeles MartínezSchool Garden Coordinator in Oregon - “Angeles started a parent volunteer at her children's school, Powell Butte Elementary, in the Portland area. Now, she runs the school garden with Growing Gardens and cultivates a large plot of the adjacent community garden to donate fresh produce to school families. She also teaches cooking demos in the classroom at several schools, like teaching students how to use a tortilla press or making fresh salsa verde. During Covid, she has helped pass out garden kits so that students can continue hands-on learning at home, as well as grown many pots of strawberry starts and big sunflowers to share with families who came to the school's food distribution. Angeles’s big smile, friendliness and enthusiasm create bridges between communities.”
 
We are so inspired by and grateful for all of these individuals who make strong, resilient food systems work and keep their communities nourished. THANK YOU for all you do!

We also have one more round of Community Food Champions Nominations still open - submit your champions by Oct. 22 at 11:59pm ET

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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