Conference recap: Moving forward together

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February 2, 2021

Photo credit: EaCas Photography

On our final day together at the 8th National Farm to Cafeteria Conference, attendees flooded Dane County Farmers' Market, the country's largest producer-only farmers market, on the Capitol Square. Supporting local farmers and a local food economy is at the heart of our work, and Wisconsin offers an inspiring display of a vibrant and connected local food system.

Such a beautiful assortment at the #farmersmarket! Can't wait to harvest in all of our school gardens! #Farm2Caf16 pic.twitter.com/kzyxCLynUs

— LCPS Cafe (@LCPSCafe) June 4, 2016

The morning opened with a multi-media presentation showcasing farm to cafeteria champions from across Wisconsin. Emceed by Tony Schultz, Farmer, Stoney Acres Farm, and Frankie Soto, Food Service Director, Abbotsford School District Food Service, attendees heard stories of success from farm to cafeteria partners including farmers, school food service directors, a hospital dietician and a local co-op manager. Farmer Chris Blakeney, Amazing Grace Family Farm, shared that his successful partnerships in selling to schools allowed him to quit his full-time, off farm job.

Saturday’s program included two workshop sessions. A total of 48, 90-minute workshops organized into 12 topics were offered during the conference. Among Saturday’s workshops were conversations and hands-on learning opportunities for training classroom educators to be strong school garden users, curricula ideas for early care and education providers, and tips for navigating federal, state and local policy landscapes to maximize farm to cafeteria efforts.



Our food conference would not have been complete without delicious meals featuring locally sourced ingredients. During Saturday’s lunch, we gave a standing ovation to Monona Catering in thanks of their amazing work to serve our 1,000+ attendees fresh, locally sourced meals. Saturday’s lunch included Wisconsin Rice and Wisconsin Cranberry Salad, a local bean salad, roasted local root vegetables, and chilled asparagus soup.



Throughout the conference, we asked attendees to use paper plates to share what they love about farm to school and what child nutrition programs mean to their community. With the Child Nutrition Reauthorization process moving forward, now is an important time to take action and share with Congress why school meals are important. Soon, we’ll deliver these paper plates to legislators on Capitol Hill, sending a message that farm to school and school lunch programs are growing a healthier next generation.

Open Forum, a perennial conference favorite, was held on Saturday afternoon. Open Forum gave attendees the opportunity to create discussion groups around the topics they’re most passionate about. Ideas were submitted and voted on using the conference mobile app. More than 20 discussion topics were selected, including state farm to school policy, farm to summer, forming a farm to college network, farm incubator start ups, state agencies in farm to cafeteria and using farm to school to drive racial equity.

The Closing Plenary included keynote addresses from two food movement leaders who shared inspirational stories and lessons about creating strong and just local food systems. Matthew Raiford, Executive Chef of The Farmer & The Larder and a sixth generation farmer and owner of Gilliard Farms, discussed the importance of meeting everyone - farmers, school boards, chefs, children and more - where they are to continue building systems that bring the bounty of the earth to the cafeteria table. “It takes more than a village,” Raiford said. “It takes villages to build better systems.”



LaDonna Redmond’s address focused on ending systematic oppression in the food system. Redmond, founder of Campaign for Food Justice Now, used a lens of intersectionality (race, class and gender) to describe the impact of the food system on the lives of communities of color, and to promote just solutions. “Every community that you work in has the intellect to heal itself,” she said. “Your job is to use your skill set to uncover that intellect and help people dig deeply.”

While the conference has ended, the work to change the culture of food and agricultural literacy across America has not. We hope this conference was the beginning of new pathways and partnerships that will continue to move the farm to cafeteria movement forward and strengthen local food systems. Read more about the conference on our day 1 and day 2 blog recaps. See social media highlights on our Storify and view pictures from the conference on our Flickr page.

Conference recap: Growing the farm to cafeteria movement

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February 2, 2021

Photo credit: EaCas Photography

The first full day of the 8th National Farm to Cafeteria Conference kicked off on Friday, with more than 1,000 food service professionals, farmers, educators, policy makers, entrepreneurs, students, representatives from nonprofits and government agencies, public health professionals, and many others in attendance. The day started with regional networking sessions, where neighboring states met to build relationships, share ideas and resources, and fuel the farm to cafeteria initiatives in their regions.

Immediately following the networking sessions, regions processed together from their rooms to the opening plenary - and with great fanfare! The festive procession was led by a local marching band, dancing produce and a very large chicken. Madison preschoolers with vegetable crowns danced on stage and welcomed attendees as they arrived.






The opening plenary was kicked off by Anupama Joshi, National Farm to School Network Executive Director and Co-founder. Debra Eschmeyer, Executive Director of Let’s Move! and Senior Policy Advisor for Nutrition to the White House, was the first keynote speaker to take the stage. As one of the farm to cafeteria movement’s true innovators, Eschmeyer’s address reviewed and celebrated the impressive growth that the farm to school movement has achieved in less than two decades. “I am deeply encouraged by our collective progress. In this next phase, we need to be even more creative and innovative. This is not some trendy issue. This is something we have to stay committed to for the long haul,” she said.  



“If we keep working together, we’ll give all children access to fresh healthy food.” -Debra Eschmeyer

First Lady Michelle Obama sent video remarks, celebrating all of the great work this movement has accomplished, and challenging us to think about what’s next. To the First Lady, we say, we’re not going anywhere, and we look forward to continuing this work with you.



Carla Thompson, Vice President for Program Strategy at the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, and Ricardo Salvadro, Director and Senior Scientist, Food & Environment Program, Union of Concerned Scientists, also offered keynote addresses. Salvador discussed how disparities in public health, access, waste and exploitation of people and nature are designed characteristics of the global food system, and challenged us to use justice as the screen through which we do our farm to cafeteria work.


Following lunch, conference-goers viewed 45 posters highlighting exciting projects, innovations, research and trends in the farm to cafeteria movement. Shortly after, 28 presenters offered fast-paced, information-dense, five minutes lightning talks, from building school gardens into social enterprises to how school districts are leading the charge to reform poultry production in the U.S.




The afternoon included two workshop sessions. A total of 48 workshops organized into 12 topical tracks will be offered throughout the conference. These interactive sessions are providing opportunities for participants to build skills, problem solve and innovate.

The day closed with a local foods reception on the rooftop of Monona Terrace. With views of Lake Monona on one side and the Wisconsin State Capitol on the other, conference goers enjoyed a celebratory evening of delicious, Madison-inspired eats, live music and remarks from Madison Mayor Paul R. Soglin.



Find more highlights from the 8th National Farm to Cafeteria conference on our social media channels, including Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Storify. Follow along with the hashtag #Farm2Caf16. To see more pictures from the conference, check out our Flickr. More stories, key learnings and exciting highlight to come - stay tuned!

Conference recap: Exploring farm to cafeteria in Madison

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February 2, 2021

Photo credit: EaCas Photography

The National Farm to School Network is hosting the 8th National Farm to Cafeteria Conference in Madison, Wis., and pre-conference activities kicked off Thursday with hundreds of leaders in the farm to cafeteria movement exploring the Madison area food system and farm to institution landscape.

From aquaponics to urban farms and hospitals to college campuses, more than 370 pre-conference attendees experienced Wisconsin’s farm to cafeteria initiatives first hand through 10 local field trips. One group of learners explored Wisconsin’s deep roots in dairy as they traveled to farms and processors who bring milk, cheese and other dairy products to institutional markets. Stops included a tour and tasting at Crave Brothers Farmstead Cheese, a farm-based education experience at Sassy Cow Creamery and a visit to an Organic Valley dairy farm.

Photo credit: Maryland Farm to School

Another group explored innovative youth gardens across the Madison area that strive to cultivate healthy youth and vibrant communities. Among the stops was Goodman Youth Farm, a community nonprofit/school district partnership program that actively engages students in hands-on, farm-based education in an outdoor classroom. Youth are involved in the entire process of running a small-scale organic farm, from growing, harvesting, cooking and donating thousands of pounds of produce.

Photo credit: EaCas Photography

Back at Monona Terrace Convention Center, another 250 pre-conference attendees gathered for advanced short course trainings with movement experts from the Wallace Center, National Farmers Union, Chef Ann Foundation, Center for Social Inclusion, Spark Policy Institute, Vermont FEED, Farm to Institution New England and more. Courses included trainings on implementing farm to school practices and operations in school kitchens, starting cooperatives, and building racial equity in farm to cafeteria and wider food systems, among others.

The short course on network development welcomed farm to cafeteria practitioners from across the country to share and explore models of collaboration and coordination for creating state-level farm to cafeteria networks. With presenters from Colorado, Vermont and Wisconsin, a range of experiences were shared in describing the formation and success of various network models. At the end of the course, participants brainstormed ingredients for success in building effective farm to cafeteria collaborations.



As the 8th National Farm to Cafeteria Conference program kicks off on Friday, we’re welcoming more than 1,000 food service professionals, farmers, educators, policy makers, entrepreneurs, students and youth leaders, representatives from nonprofits, public health professionals, and others to Madison for a one-of-a-kind opportunity to learn, share, network and build momentum for the farm to cafeteria movement. Among them are the next generation of farm to cafeteria leaders, including students Christina Plyman, Trinity Sinkhorn and Kara Shelton. Accompanied by their teach Toni Myers, they traveled from Boyle County High School in Kentucky to present their farm to school successes and learnings as a National Farm to School Network Seed Change Demonstration Site, as well as to network and learn from other experienced farm to school practitioners.  

“I’ve seen kids in the cafeteria eat healthier foods because their friends grew it, and they know the garden it was grown in,” Plyman said. That’s success these student leaders are eager to see continue. Sinkhorn, a junior, commented, "I’m taking on new leadership in our farm to school program, and I’m interested in learning new approach and finding ways to grow our activities."



With two full days of workshops, lighting talks, networking sessions, poster presentations and  keynote addresses ahead, there will be countless opportunities for learning. Stay tuned to our blog for daily recaps highlighting the day’s events and experiences. We’ll also be sharing live content on our social media channels, including Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Follow along with the hashtag #Farm2Caf16. To see pictures from the conference, check out our Flickr page. There’s lots more great stories, key learnings and exciting highlights to come - stay tuned!

Announcing the 8th National Farm to Cafeteria Conference

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February 2, 2021


Save the date! The 8th National Farm to Cafeteria Conference is coming to Madison, Wis., June 2-4 2016.

Cafeterias in schools, universities, prisons, hospitals and childcare centers serve more than 40 million Americans every day during the school year, placing the farm to cafeteria movement at the forefront of the fight to end obesity and strengthen local food systems. Think of it this way: a single school district often feeds more people in a day than all of a city’s restaurants combined. The National Farm to Cafeteria Conference, hosted by the National Farm to School Network, is the only national gathering of stakeholders from across the farm to cafeteria movement, making it the premiere opportunity to learn, network and collaborate with likeminded leaders from across the country.

This biennial event will convene more than 1,500 diverse stakeholders working to source local food for institutional cafeterias and foster a culture of food and agricultural literacy across America. Attendees will include food service professionals, farmers and food producers, educators, policy makers, entrepreneurs, students and youth leaders, representatives from nonprofits and government agencies, public health professionals, and others engaged in the farm to cafeteria movement.

The program will include 40+ workshops in a variety of topical tracks and formats, exciting plenary addresses delivered by leaders in the farm to cafeteria and local food movements, networking opportunities, a series of 5-minute “lightning talks,” a poster session and resource share fair, entertainment options and an evening reception showcasing Madison’s vibrant local food culture. The 2016 conference theme Moving Forward Together lifts up new and innovative partnerships to continue building momentum and ensure long-term sustainability in the movement.

Do you have farm to cafeteria expertise to share? We’re seeking workshop, poster and lightning talk proposals from individuals and organizations working to improve our food system, strengthen community health, empower youth, build equity and increase opportunities for farmers to share their expertise, successes and learnings with the farm to cafeteria movement. The Request for Proposals (RFP) is open now through Dec. 4, 2015.

Registration for the conference will open Feb. 15, 2016 – mark your calendars now! Learn more at farmtocafeteriaconference.org.  


Conference recap: Advocating for change

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February 2, 2021

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

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February 2, 2021

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

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February 2, 2021

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.