Welcome to Wisconsin!

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

This blog was written by the local hosts of the 8th National Farm to Cafeteria Conference: The Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems, Community GroundWorks, and the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection. Learn more about them here.

Credit: Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection

As the local hosts of the 8th National Farm to Cafeteria Conference, we are thrilled to welcome you to Madison, Wis. this June for a national gathering of local food leaders, community health professionals and sustainable agriculture advocates working to change the culture of food and agricultural literacy across America.

As a largely rural state, ensuring the economic viability of agriculture has always been a priority in Wisconsin. While historically our farmers have been invested in dairy and vegetable processing (canning), Wisconsin’s current agricultural landscape includes many small and medium-sized diversified farms that increasingly support local food markets. This strengthening of our local food system, and the diverse partnerships that are helping make it happen, exemplify the opportunities and benefits of the farm to cafeteria movement.  

At the center of this vibrant agriculture scene is Madison. In addition to being a hub for local food across the state, Madison was also home to Wisconsin's first coordinated farm to school program in 2003, called the Wisconsin Homegrown Lunch Program with the Madison Metropolitan School District. Since then, the farm to school movement has grown rapidly across the state, with more than 55 percent of all K-12 schools engaging in farm to school activities.

Our state has grown well beyond farm to school, though. In recent years, Wisconsin has seen significant expansion of farm to hospital, farm to college and university, and farm to early care and education activities. “The growth of farm to cafeteria in these sectors has been made possible by strong partnerships across the state,” says Sarah Elliott, Director of Wisconsin Farm to School at the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection. In fact, it’s these collaborative and innovative partnerships that have inspired this year’s conference theme, Moving Forward Together.

With its bountiful school and community gardens, bustling farmers’ markets, and delicious restaurants, Madison is the perfect location for the conference. “We’re sure attendees will fall in love with Madison,” says Beth Hanna, Training and Outreach Specialist for the Wisconsin School Garden Initiative at Community GroundWorks. “It's a great representation of what a strong farm to cafeteria effort can look like. We have great people, good food, and plenty of opportunities to bring those two things together.”  

In addition to sampling local foods at Madison’s restaurants, exploring Lake Monona and Lake Mendota, and visiting the nation’s largest producer-only farmers’ market, conference attendees will be able to immerse themselves in the city’s farm to cafeteria hotspots during hands-on field trips. “Whether you tour the food production center that preps schools meals or the hospitals making local, healthy food a priority, we are confident attendees will be inspired by the local food efforts powering Wisconsin’s farm to cafeteria movement, ” says Hanna.

“We feel lucky to live among such lively and passionate farmers, food service directors, and advocates for local and regional foods,” says Vanessa Herald, Farm to School Outreach Specialist at the University of Wisconsin, Madison - Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems. “There is genuine enthusiasm for the farm to cafeteria movement here, and we can’t wait to share it with conference attendees.”

And share we will! The unique flavors of Madison and Wisconsin will be included in every aspect of the conference, from the menu to the Local Food Reception to the local plenary. But at our core, we’re most excited to highlight the inspired work of our dedicated state and regional farm to cafeteria partners. “The best part about strong farm to cafeteria relationships is that we love to see our partners succeed, and we want to keep lifting up their stories,” Herald says. “We’re so excited for the chance to do that through the National Farm to Cafeteria Conference.”

Come join us in Madison, June 2-4, for three exciting days of skill-building workshops, short courses, lightning talks, keynotes, networking opportunities and a taste of Wisconsin’s vibrant local food scene to help you bring home real food solutions to your community. We look forward to seeing you there!

REGISTER NOWRegistration for the 8th National Farm to Cafeteria Conference is now open. The last conference sold out before registration closed, so secure your spot today! Find more information about the conference program, venue, scholarships and registration at farmtocafeteriaconference.org.

Winter planning for spring chickens

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

By Nora Jungbluth, Programs Intern

Photo credit: Jason Van Haverbeke

Although the ground is still covered in snow and the spring thaw feels distant, students and staff at Bald Eagle Area School District in Pennsylvania are busy preparing for an exciting (and tasty) new project. As a recipient of a Seed Change mini grant, the school district is ramping up its farm to school efforts with a unique “Chicken and Corn to Cafeteria” initiative. Starting this spring, students will be involved in every step of bringing chicken from eggshell to table.

With support from the grant, the district plans to build its agricultural program, with a twist: raising chickens and growing sweet corn to prepare a large batch of chicken and corn chowder to feed students and the wider community.

While teachers and staff have been preparing for the project for months – such as attending a farm to school training last fall with other Seed Change grant recipients – student involvement has recently taken off as the project has been integrated into classroom curriculum. Over the past few weeks, students have been preparing for the arrival of 40 fertilized eggs that will be hatched and raised to adulthood on the school grounds this spring.

When the eggs arrive, kindergarten students will be responsible for watching over the incubators until the eggs hatch. This lesson in caring for the eggs will be integrated into their science curriculum, teaching them the process of hatching eggs and identifying the conditions young chicks need to live and grow.

Middle and high school students in the woodshop and agriculture classes have been constructing brooder boxes that will keep the newly hatched chicks warm and cozy in their infant stage. The classes are also designing and constructing a hen house for when the chicks grow larger. Later this spring, after the birds have grown to full size, both the agriculture and family and consumer science classes will be directly involved in butchering and processing the chickens for chowder.

While the project initially intended for student to grow their own corn for the chowder, an unusually wet summer prevented them from having a successful growing season. Therefore, corn was purchased from a nearby farmer, which family and consumer science classes processed and froze to be used in the chowder later this spring. Currently, the students are researching chicken corn chowder recipes, testing different methods of preparing soup, as well as learning about ways of processing and storing chicken and corn.

Once the chicken corn chowder is made, the district plans to sell the soup as a fundraiser to fund the project’s continuation next year. In this way, they hope the project will become a self-sustaining school tradition.

“Innovative projects like this have a significant impact on entire communities,” says Kelsey Porter, Pennsylvania’s Seed Change state coordinator. “Students are engaging in agriculture in new and exciting ways, teachers are utilizing new tools in the classroom, and communities are renewing their excitement about local food.”  

Learn more about our Seed Change initiative and how we're growing farm to school state by state here.

Seed Change in Kentucky, Louisiana and Pennsylvania is made possible by a generous grant from the Walmart Foundation, which shares the National Farm to School Network’s commitment to improving child and community healthy through innovative partnerships.