Local Food Sheroes
By Molly Schintler, Communication Intern
March is Women’s History Month, and to celebrate, I knew that I wanted to write a blog focused on the role of women in food and agriculture. Originally, I envisioned focusing on historical, female leaders whose work laid the foundation for today’s food and agriculture systems. In retrospect, this may have been a bit ambitious. Thankfully, however, I have access to a powerful resource in the many individuals and organizations that make up the National Farm to School Network. When I reached out and asked our partners to share the names of female leaders, past and present, who have played an important role in food and agriculture in the U.S., almost all of those who responded shared the names of women who they know personally.
Many partners mentioned female colleagues, political representatives, and leaders of non-profits as women who have inspired them in their farm to school work. But inspirational women working in food systems existed long before 2018. Throughout history, women have been farmers, researchers, educators, political activists, scholars, marketers, and more in the name of advancing food systems. Who were the original lunch ladies? Who were the first women to champion agriculture education? Which female farmers planted seeds of change, literal and figurative, in their communities a hundred years ago?
To quote Dolores Huerta, a historical food activist who is still leading change in our food system today: “That's the history of the world. His story is told, her's isn't.” Dolores co-founded the National Farm Workers Association alongside César Chávez in the 1960s. For decades, she has championed farmworkers rights, and yet many people recognize Chávez’s name and not Huerta’s. For me, it is not about recognizing a name for the sake of recognizing a name. It is about knowing a women’s name because you’ve heard her story. It is about saying a women’s name because you are teaching others about her contribution to our food system. Dolores Huerta is one of so many female food leaders who our farm to school work can and should be teaching about.
If today’s students are taught about local food sheroes past and present, then we can start to tell a more complete, equitable history of our nation’s food system. In the garden, classroom, and cafeteria, let’s educate our students about the:
Activism of Fannie Lou Hamer, who in 1969, founded the Freedom Farm Cooperative in opposition to the inequitable and pervasive sharecropping system of agriculture. She also led early, grassroots organizing in support of Head Start programs.
Leadership of Denise O’Brien, who, when asked about her life’s work as a farmer and founder of the Women Food & Agriculture Network said, “My life has been devoted to raising women’s voices in agriculture. My dream is that the landscape of industrialized agriculture will change as women become the decision makers on their land. To that end I will devote my time on this earth to women, prairie restoration and seed saving.”
Vision of Chef Ann Cooper, who is devoted to creating a future where being a chef working to feed children fresh, delicious, and nourishing food is no longer considered “renegade.”
Persistence of Karen Washington, who has lived in New York City all her life, and has spent decades promoting urban farming as a way for all New Yorkers to access to fresh, locally grown food.
Initiative of Chellie Pingree, who has been an advocate in Congress for reforming federal policy to better support the diverse range of American agriculture—including sustainable, organic, and locally focused farming.
Talent of M.F.K Fisher, who elevated food writing to poetry as a preeminent American food writer in the 20th century.
Community Organizing of Gloria Begay, a Navajo educator and founding Naat’aanii Council member of the Dine’ Food Sovereignty Alliance to restore the traditional food and culture system on the Navajo Nation.
Trailblazing of Betti Wiggins, who has worked to feed kids healthy food for over 30 years. As the director of food service for the Detroit Public Schools, Betti reformed the school lunch program through championing school gardens and local food. Today, she is still trailblazing for school food as Houston school dictrict’s officer of nutrition services.
Promise of Haile Thomas, who at the age of seventeen, is leading her generation toward a healthier food system. As a health activist and founder/CEO of The HAPPY Organization, Haile has engaged over 15,000 kids in activism since 2010. Haile will be a keynote speaker at the 9th National Farm to Cafeteria Conference this April.
Our network extends our humble thanks to the many women and non-binary identifying people whose work has built and continues our food system toward a more healthy, equitable future. We may never know all of your names, but we certainly know that our work would never be possible without you. Thank you for being local food heroes and sheroes!
Experience Farm to Cafeteria in Action
Field trips aren’t just for kid – they’re for learners of all ages! For the 9th National Farm to Cafeteria Conference, we’re excited to offer a selection of 11 fields trips across the greater Ohio Valley region for local food advocates to experience farm to cafeteria in action. From food hubs and dairy farms, to healthy hospital cafeterias and college campus farmers, there’s something for every interest and level of expertise. Here’s a snapshot of some of the options:
Interested in farm to college? Experience how colleges in Ohio are making sustainable choices on campus and engaging students in local food systems. The first stop is Wilmington College, where you’ll tour learning labs, greenhouses and a 260-acre crop and animal production farm, as well as hear how students are engaging in rural life issues and training to become the next generation of agricultural leaders. Next, visit the Antioch College Farm, where students and faculty explore environmental conservation and food sustainability. The Farm includes a two-acre growing area with a 600-square foot hoop house, pasture for animal grazing, two acres of food forest, and a composting site. Staffed primarily by Antioch students, the Farm produces 28% of the food served on campus. This “farm to college” field trip will offer new insights into how colleges are empowering students to be food movement leaders and changing local food system.
Perhaps your goal is to reduce food waste in your community through food recover. Deepen your understanding of food waste’s connection to food insecurity through our field trip to La Soupe. To bridge the gap between food waste and hunger, La Soupe rescues otherwise discarded produce to create delicious and nutritious meals for customers, non-profits and food-insecure families in Hamilton County. Each week, La Soupe rescues up to 5,000 pounds of perishables and feeds nearly 2,000 servings via 47 partner agencies - which include schools, community groups, pantries and more. On this field trip, explore the La Soupe kitchen, hear lessons learned about cultivating community partnership, and gain insight into how La Soupe has organized and mobilized a network of dedicated volunteers. Attendees will enjoy a delicious lunch prepared by Executive Director and Founder Suzy DeYoung and the La Soupe team.
Curious about alternative school garden models? Sitting atop the fourth floor of a century old building, the Rothenberg Rooftop School Garden is home to raised beds, potted plants and a vast array of fruit and vegetable plants that are tended to and harvested by nearly 450 preschool and elementary students. It’s a unique model that serves both students and community by encouraging engagement with the natural environment and promoting issues of nutrition, healthy eating and sustainability. See some sights of Cincinnati along your 30-minute walk from the Duke Energy Center, then dig in with students during a garden lesson and take a first-hand look at how the garden program enriches and supports teachers and students with their learning.
Learn more about each of the 11 field trip opportunities on our conference website. All field trip options are offered as a part of our Full Registration Pass (Education plus Intensive). Additionally, all 11 field trip options can be selected a la carte. Save on all tickets option when you register before the Early Bird deadline on March 9. Learn more and register today at www.farmtocafeteriaconference.org
Growing Farm to Cafeteria Through Scholarships
The National Farm to School Network staff and partners are busing planning for the 9th National Farm to Cafeteria Conference and we hope you’ve marked your calendars and registered to attend!
As part of our commitment to equity, we’re always thinking about ways to make our movement more accessible and ensuring that it reflects the full diversity of communities across the country. For the National Farm to Cafeteria Conference and the farm to cafeteria movement, we’re committed to increasing access, especially for many “on-the-ground” stakeholders who lack the financial resources to participate in a national conference.
In order to grow the farm to cafeteria movement and increase access to the 9th National Farm to Cafeteria Conference, we’re excited to announce that we’ve secured over 166 free registrations (and counting)! These scholarships will benefit a wide array of individuals as part of the National Farm to School Network focus on increasing attendance from:
- Farmers and producers
- Food service professionals
- Native communities
- People of color
- ECE sites, higher education institutions, hospitals, and prisons
- All regions of the country
Scholarship awards were made possible by the generous support of our scholarship funders. Thank you all for your support to expand access to the 9th National Farm to Cafeteria Conference!
W.K. Kellogg Foundation
Whole Kids Foundation
CoBank (scholarships for farmers and producers)
Farm Aid (scholarships for farmers and producers)
Farm Credit (scholarships for farmers and producers)
Michigan State University Center for Regional Food Systems (scholarships for Michigan residents)
Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina Foundation (scholarships for North Carolina residents)
Aetna Foundation (scholarships for attendees from Native communities)
To learn more about all of the generous supporters making the 9th National Farm to Cafeteria Conference, please visit our Sponsors and Supporters page.