Highlights from the National Farm to School Network Annual Meeting

The 2019 National Farm to School Network Annual Meeting was held in Tampa, FL this past April 30–May 2.  This three day event—gathering about 150 people, including partner organizations, stakeholders, and other guests and speakers from across the US—was an opportunity to advance the farm to school and early childhood movement through partnerships, capacity building, and action.  Participants were updated about the current state of the FTS movement nationally, the accomplishments over the past year, lessons learned, and the Network’s commitment to social justice and equity.

Here are some of the most salient highlights of the three days:

Kristen Hyatt, USDA, Office of Community Food Systems spoke about the upcoming Farm to School Census with their survey to be released in September. Collected data will include local food purchasing for school meals and school gardens. The USDA will now conduct a Distributor Survey to obtain the perspectives of large-scale food distributors on the processes and challenges to local food procurement. Kristen also announced another $7.5 million for FTS grants available this fall to support efforts that improve access to local foods in schools.

Betsy Rosenbluth, VT FEED connected with Joanne Bays from National Farm to Cafeteria Canada, who shared an interest in collaboration, looking at US FTS models with the prospect of developing partnerships. It seems like Canada is looking at the National and Vermont FTS Network as a source of inspiration and resource for their own version of FTS Canada.  

Lisa Benson, National Association of State Departments of Agriculture Foundation is looking for model state-level FTS grants and programs.

There were sessions and trainings on topics and opportunities to learn and connect with others with similar interests. I attended a two hour training in Social Justice facilitated by the National Education Association, Human and Civil Rights. Betsy and Amy Shollenberger from Action Circles conducted a short course for participants on FTS advocacy and outreach. There was some terrific Farm to Early Childhood work, including a great model presented by folks from Wisconsin.  

Brandon Seng, a very creative entrepreneur presented, Michigan Farm to Freezer, out of Detroit. This organization acts as a hub for frozen produce and provides product to schools, institutions and consumers year round. Farm to Freezer provides employment for ex convicts who work in the processing end of the enterprise.  

The National Farm to School Network 2019 Annual Meeting was a place to meet old friends, make new ones, and get inspired by connecting with amazing folks engaged in Farm ro School across the country. Save the date for the next Farm to Cafeteria Conference April 20-24 in Albuquerque, NM.

Jorge Yagual
Vermont FEED Professional Learning Coordinator