By Sunny Young, Mississippi Farm to School Network and NFSN Mississippi State Co-Lead
In April of 2014, Dorothy Grady-Scarborough and I met at the National Farm to Cafeteria Conference in Austin, Texas, to talk about a Mississippi Farm to School Network. Between her work with Mississippians Engaged in Greener Agriculture (MEGA) and relationships with farmers across the state, and my school food reform experience and work with Good Food for Oxford Schools, we felt a partnership would lead to bigger and better things than working alone.
I'm proud to say that one year later, our partnership is thriving. We are working together as co-State Leads for the National Farm to School Network and, with funding from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, are making our state farm to school network dreams a reality through Seed Change, an initiative by the National Farm to School Network to rapidly scale up farm to school at the state level and strengthen partnerships for long-term sustainability.
The intent of the Mississippi Farm to School Network is to build on all of the wonderful farm to school initiatives that have existed for years in Mississippi while increasing statewide efforts to connect practitioners and train new leaders. It's to learn from all the experience of programs and individuals around the state and strengthen partnerships to move forward together. It's to utilize our strengths to set new farm to school activities in motion and, with the support of our state and national farm to school networks, and evaluate our work so it is stronger each year.
So what will the Mississippi Farm to School Network mean for Mississippi schools and farmers? We have outlined a number of goals and priorities for the upcoming three years of funding, including:
Developing the Network: The network will promote farm to school activities as well as bring together a diverse audience of individual stakeholders and organizations from across the state. Within three years, the state network hopes to engage more than 500 active members and an Advisory Board to help guide the future of farm to school in Mississippi.
Request an Expert: A database of experts in farm to school related fields will be developed to provide dedicated support to schools facing questions or barriers. These experts will be deployed to assist schools in starting new activities or expanding existing programs.
Outreach and Networking Events: From local mixers and cafeteria taste tests to the statewide Mississippi Farm to Cafeteria Conference, the Mississippi Farm to School Network will build awareness of and support for farm to school activities with parents, farmers, administrators and students across the state. Trainings and technical assistance will be provided to practitioners on the ground to help expand the number of farm to school sites in Mississippi.
Website and Resources: A new Mississippi farm to school website will serve as an online portal for information and resources on farm to school in Mississippi. This will include new how-to guides, a statewide farm to school mapping project, promotional materials for students, event information and opportunities for schools to engage students and the community with local food.
Be sure to sign up for our monthly Mississippi Farm to School Network e-newsletter to stay in the loop with all these new projects.
Dorothy and I are incredibly grateful for this opportunity to help expand the practice of farm to school throughout the state. We are thrilled to work with partners who have been practicing farm to school since before it had a name. These existing and past projects are our inspiration for what can be, and we look forward to working together to grow. So cheers to farm to school! We look forward to growing together.