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FoodTalks: Stories of motivation and change from FoodCorps service members

NFSN Staff Thursday, June 12, 2014

FoodCorps, a nationwide team of AmeriCorps leaders that brings farm to school in 15 states around the country, convened in Austin, Texas in April as part of NFSN's National Farm to Cafeteria Conference. At the conference they shared FoodTalks, an evening of stories about farm to school in action. Seven service members and one alum speaker gave short, engrossing talks about what motivates them to serve, and how they know they are succeeding.

When Stephanie finished culinary school, the only career path she imagined was one in restaurants. After a year of FoodCorps service in Arizona with Tohono O'odham Community Action, she realized there were opportunities to do great and rewarding work in the world of school food. She also realized that school cooks are "rock stars. This is her story: 


FoodCorps will be adding more of the talks to their YouTube channel in the coming weeks. Subscribe to stay in the loop!

Conference recap: Advocating for change

NFSN Staff Thursday, April 17, 2014

The National Farm to School Networks' Farm to Cafeteria Conference continued on Thursday with the local plenary session. The Sustainable Food Center, the local host for the conference, organized a great series of speakers including Texas State Representative and founder of the Texas House Farm to Table Caucus, Eddie Rodriguez; South West Workers Union representative Diana Lopez; former Texas Commissioner of Agriculture, Jim Hightower; and noted food and nutrition journalist, Toni Tippton-Martin.

If there was a theme that ran through the morning's presentations it was a call for advocacy. Whether to our elected representatives, to our neighbors or for often-overlooked parts of our communities, each of the speakers focused on the importance of speaking up.  Jim Hightower observed that "you don't make progress by standing guard" and he issued the following challenge:

  • Get your legislature to establish a farm to school caucus.
  • Speak from the values that inform our work: economic justice and opportunity for all. 
  • Go with your boldest agenda and negotiate from there.
  • Be respectful, but make sure all of your representatives know your name.
  • Establish a speakers bureau and go speak everywhere that will give you the floor.

As the day progressed, people began speaking up. First they spoke up about what they wanted to discuss in the open space session. A wide range of important topics were raised and attendees jumped into self-organized meetings to make plans for future efforts.

 

Next, the crowd voted with their dollars at an array of Austin food trucks -- small businesses with a reputation for disrupting entrenched food systems.

 

At the lighting talks and the poster and share fair, the group mixed and mingled with a wide range of partners and collaborators, all with something to contribute to our goal of food justice for all.

 

And finally, a version of the speaker's bureau that was called for in the morning came into being that night as a few of FoodCorp's service members took the stage for FoodTalks -- stories about food, food systems and the difference our movement is making.

Jim Hightower's closing thought from the morning session was about perseverance. He pointed out that the founders of the suffrage movement did not live to see their goal achieved. Like growing good food, change takes time, but we live in a very different world than did the suffragists. #PoweringUp has already reached an audience far beyond Austin. If we keep using our chorus of savvy, inspiring voices, the change we seek will come, and soon.

Conference recap: Connecting the farm to cafeteria movement

NFSN Staff Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The National Farm to Cafeteria Conference began officially on Wednesday morning with a performance by the Great Promise for American Indians Drumming Group.

Then Anupima Joshi, Executive Director and Co-Founder of the National Farm to School Network welcomed the packed room, reflecting on the incredible progress the movement has made.  Our movement has benefited more than 21 million kids - and counting.

 

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Jim Hightower the former Texas Commissioner of Agriculture was next on stage with a hilarious and inspiring speech.  He acknowledged the assembled crowd for their incredible achievements and challenged them to keep up the good work, and to be sure to take their efforts to policy makers across the country.

 

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The next speakers presented on the farm to cafeteria movement in preschools, in hospitals, in colleges and even in neighboring countries.  The conversation in the room was also broadcast on social media through an small army of social media amplifiers, all using the hashtag #PoweringUp.

After lunch, the group broke into a series of small sessions on a wide range of topics.  The opportunity to come together, to learn together, and to plan together for the next steps for programs across the country created a buzz that reverberated thought the halls as people connected with each other.  They shared stories and ideas, reported successes and challenges, and were inspired to persevere and raise the bar as they look to the year ahead.

As the evening came, an impromptu parade spilled out of the hotel and moved westward through the heart of Austin toward one of its most prominent landmarks, the flagship Whole Foods Market.  It was there, on the roof, that the connecting and collaborating continued as the sun disappeared.  

During his speech that morning, Jim Hightower quipped about a hardware store that was known for its customer service.  He joked that their motto was "Together, we can do it yourself".  In our movement, it is often the dedication of a committed individual that sparks change.  It can sometimes be lonely, but after today, the people #PoweringUp in Austin are clear about at least one thing: They are not alone.

 

Conference recap: Farm to cafeteria in Austin

NFSN Staff Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The National Farm to School Network is hosting the 2014 National Farm to Cafeteria Conference in Austin, Texas and on Tuesday, April 15th, hundreds of leaders in the farm to cafeteria movement fanned out across the city to learn about all of the incredible work that has transformed Austin over the past decade.

One of the field trips explored how partnerships build community food system power.

Farm to School in Austin 

The group traveled by bus to the first of four stops on the field trip: Dell Children's Medical Center.  Kristi Katz Gordy, Sr. Director of Development, lead one of the groups on a tour of the LEED Platinum building and the extensive gardens and grounds.  One interesting fact is that Dell Children's was built on the site of the old Austin airport, and 47 tons of concrete from the old runways was reclaimed and re-purposed for the building.

 

Rusty Lynch is the chef for Dell Children's and he was ready for the visitors with delicious tomato mozzarella, basil, pesto skewers.  Rusty partners with local farms like Green Gate Farms, Boggy Creek Farm, and Johnson's Backyard Garden to source 30 - 60% of his produce depending on the season.  Once each quarter, he turns his cafeteria into a farmers' market where he sells produce to patients and their families at cost.

When asked why he places such a priority on partnering with local farmers, Rusty quickly cites a number of sustainability and economic benefits, but adds a quip about freshness too: "The food just tastes better".  He also mentions that contrary to popular belief, the local produce doesn't necessarily cost more: "The chicken and eggs are the same price".

 

Walking away from the cafeteria, the group was impressed, but also struck by Rusty's attitude.  For him, this is not a big deal - it just makes sense.  As Brooke Gannon from Winooski, VT remarked: "Food is medicine". 

The visit concluded with a presentation from Dr. Stephen J. Pont discussing the connection between gardening, environmentalism and reducing childhood obesity. Dr. Pont will also be presenting on that topic at our conference later this week.

 

The next stop was Urban Roots, a youth development farm based on the model established by The Food Project in Boston.  Urban Roots operates a small 3.5 acre farm by hiring urban kids between the ages of 14 and 17 to do the farming with the guidance of a small staff lead by Max Elliott, who was on hand during the tour. 

 

Urban Roots partners with a number of local organizations to provide food for people in need.  Meals on Wheels and More is one such organization and Seanna Marceaux was also present to speak about the difference the partnership with Urban Roots makes for the roughly 2,000 home-bound people in Austin who depend on her services.

Max mentioned the importance of finding the right partner to receive the produce.  He said "It's hard to grow food in Central Texas, so we want to make sure that what we grow gets used well."

As the farm tour continued, Max said that he has the youth who work on the farm deliver produce personally to people in need.  He said that it establishes a deep connection between the food producer and the food consumer that helps the youth to persevere in the fields through the hot Austin summer - they know exactly why they are there.

As the tour ended, Max mentioned that there is an old saying that the best fertilizer is a farmer's footsteps.  He thanked the group saying that since we had come from all over the country and had walked through his farm, that we had done much to fertilize his fields and help his program.  That sentiment struck a chord.

Carly Chapel came to Austin from New Jersey, and Darlene Beach came from Ft. Apache Arizona and they found themselves engaged in conversation at Urban Roots.  There was a feeling among the attendees that by walking these fields, halls and paths together, this gathering was fertilizing ideas and connections that would help everyone to grow. 

 

A trip to Austin would not be complete without connecting with the University of Texas.  It was time for lunch and Steve Barke, the Chef for Kinsgiving Dining, gave the group a quick run-down of UT's gardens and its inspiring commitment to composting before inviting us to enjoy everything his dining hall had to offer.

Steve and the UT Dining Services crew even prepared a special dish with greens from the garden.  Couscous and red quinoa with a refreshing mixture of herbs.  Steve said "As a chef, one of the best tools to have on hand is a garden."

 Next, it was off to UT Elementary (home of the Little Longhorns) where Bob Knipe and chef Mario told the story of how this demonstration school came to be a leader in the Farm to School movement. 

"There was a conflict between what was being taught [in nutrition] and what was being served," Bob said. To address the problem, the school stopped looking at incremental changes and dreamed big.  Through dozens of partnerships and generous support from St. David's Foundation, the EduKitchen was born.  It is a tool to completely integrate diet and nutrition into the curriculum.  Parents were brought on board with the new menu by participating in 'Happy Kitchen' programs in the EduKitchen that changed how they saw themselves and put them in control of their diet and wellness.

UT Elementary has gardens as well, and procures as much local produce as they can.  In many ways, it is a model Farm to School Program, incorporating school gardens with local procurement, and a robust curriculum that takes full advantage of 'lunch time' as a great opportunity for additional learning during the school day.

With that, the field trip was over and the group returned to the hotel to share stories and learning with all of the other groups that had embarked on different, but similarly rich experiences in Austin.

 

The Sustainable Food Center, one of Austin's most notable local food organizations, and the local sponsor for the National Farm to Cafeteria Conference, hosted a beautiful outdoor pig roast dinner to round out the day on Tuesday.  More learning, training and networking are ahead as the formal conference kicks off on Wednesday.

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