Celebrating Jenna Rhodes - NFSN Arkansas Co-Core Partner

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

By National Farm to School Network Staff and Partners

Jenna Rhodes, National Farm to School Network Arkansas Co-Core Partner, brought an indomitable spirit to our farm to school family. It is with sadness, but also hope and fond memories, that we celebrate her life. Though much too short, it was a life lived with joy, passion, and commitment, including a deep-seated commitment to farm to school.

As Program Manager at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS), Jenna supported Arkansas Farm to School, helping it grow into the robust program that it is today. Not only was Jenna a vital part of Arkansas Farm to School’s success, she shared her enthusiasm and knowledge with our national network of partners, bolstering and helping to grow the national farm to school movement. Jenna was always at the ready with an infectious smile and helping hand. Along with NFSN staff, Jenna’s farm to school friends from across the country are celebrating her spirit:    

Jenna started on our team at the Arkansas Children’s Research Institute following a year-long student project with us as part of her Master of Public Service from the Clinton School of Public Service (more info here from the Clinton School’s memorial here). We were immediately drawn to her outgoing and earnest spirit and her higher than average devotion to organization. Those two characteristics continued through her entire five years with us.

Jenna could flip any stranger to friend in a matter of minutes, always managing to get straight to the heart of your unique situation and offer suggestions to help you on your way. Her first forays into the field yielded open arms and huge hugs within minutes, which was always warmly received by our farm to school community, especially with our school child nutrition teams.

Her family tells the story of her organizing the third-grade tug of war - taking charge, situating people on the rope, and cheering louder than anyone else in her class. Her teacher told her mom, “This is how Jenna always is, and this is how Jenna will always be.” Never a truer sentence spoken. She had timelines for every project, color-coded sticky notes to keep us all on track, and just the week before she passed had written out every single activity (by month!), that we need to get done in the next year.

Jenna was incredibly organized. If we said we needed to bring something special into the office like a camera or kitchen tools, Jenna would find out when we planned to leave home the next morning, and text us just before to remind us to bring the thing. She even set little reminders for herself to remind us.  

Jenna jumped into everything wholeheartedly. A friend shared last week that when you mentioned an idea to Jenna, if she liked it, then it felt like you were just starting and she was already at halftime. Her questions, her plans, dates, people to invite, what about...things you hadn’t considered she would already have thought about somehow.

And at the SNA conference in Salt Lake City, she was sitting across from Bertrand Weber, who had spoken about taste tests and how he introduces new foods to students that day. Someone at the table ordered calamari, which Jenna had not had before and wasn’t excited about trying, but having heard Bertrand she wanted to see his method first hand. Bertrand went through his full taste test/sensory experience with Jenna and the calamari, and though she wasn’t crazy about it she admitted his process works!

She was a rockstar, both personally and professionally, and she will be deeply missed by many.

- Emily English and Andrew Carberry  

I had the unique pleasure of working with Ms. Jenna as she first entered the farm to school arena. As the NFSN South Region’s lead, I engaged closely with the Arkansas Children’s Hospital Research Institute and their Arkansas Grow Healthy Study about school gardening. When Andrew Carberry suggested that Jenna be added as the Arkansas co-lead, I understood why he felt she should be formally recognized in her role. Our monthly regional calls were livened up by Jenna’s presence and enthusiasm. We attended many state and national conferences together and her smile always lit the room. Of the many farm tours we joined, I remember her at Heifer Ranch the most. After a full day of farm to school planning, touring, and celebrating, Jenna stepped on a big old thorn that went through her shoe, deep into her foot. We were outside taking our group photo and many of us offered to drive her to the hospital. Jenna insisted we take our group photo and finish our day together. We removed the thorn and cleaned her foot and then she smiled just as big as ever for our photo. We cleaned up the space and Jenna drove herself to the hospital.

I will always remember her laughter, her creative joy in her work, her faith, and her dedication to service. Laughing and wounded, she put herself last. But she is first in many of our hearts as we mourn her untimely passing.

- Pam Kingfisher

While Jenna will be dearly missed as a friend and colleague, her impact on farm to school in Arkansas and on NFSN will not be forgotten. We feel privileged to carry on her legacy of building community and making the world a better place through farm to school. You can read more about Jenna, including ways to donate to scholarships set up in her name, here.