Farm to School Workshops Attract Strong Interest in Iowa

Iowa Farm to School Program logo. Courtesy of the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship.
Iowa Farm to School Program logo. Courtesy of the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship.

A diverse mix of 150 Iowans attended workshops on “Growing Farm to School in Iowa through Partnerships” held in Oelwein, Council Bluffs and Altoona this spring. Participants included parents, educators, school food service staff, producers, food hub entrepreneurs, ISU Extension & Outreach staff, Master Gardeners, local food leaders, and state agency representatives.

The workshops included practical examples of farm to school in action, with discussion of benefits, challenges, and opportunities. Topics included:

Oelwein Vocational Agriculture Teacher Dan Doeing with young farm to school chapter leaders, presenting information about their activities at an Iowa farm to school workshop in spring 2015.
Oelwein Vocational Agriculture Teacher Dan Doeing with young farm to school chapter leaders, presenting information about their activities at an Iowa farm to school workshop in spring 2015.
  • Connecting school gardens to the lunchroom, classroom, and community
  • Working with farmers and food hubs to bring local fresh food to school cafeterias
  • Increasing understanding of food safety guidelines that apply to using fresh produce from school gardens and local farms.
  • Cultivating a strong network of stakeholders to support farm to school efforts.Ann Y. Robinson, NCAT (left), Tammy Stotts, Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship (second to right), and Marlie Wilson, FoodCorps Iowa Fellow (right), with USDA Farm to School Regional Lead Robert Gorman, who visited from Colorado to speak at one of three Spring 2015 farm to school workshops in Iowa. Gorman also toured eastern Iowa to learn first-hand about farm to school activities already underway in the state.

“It was encouraging to see the strong interest and enthusiasm for farm to school efforts and to learn about many exciting initiatives already underway around the state,” says Ann Y. Robinson, Midwest Regional Director for the National Center for Appropriate Technology. Robinson coordinated the set of events with assistance from FoodCorps Iowa Fellow Marlie Wilson, and input from school and community members at each location.

Among the many informative speakers, USDA Farm to School Program Mountain Plains Regional Lead Robert Gorman keynoted the Altoona workshop in early May. He reviewed many reasons why the U.S. Food and Nutrition Service promotes farm to school programs and shared examples of what healthier, more enticing school lunches look like when they feature local products. Farm to school resources “to make it happen” were also discussed by Gorman and other speakers at each workshop.

Iowa farm to school workshop attendees discuss healthy food environments during a breakout session in Oelwein.
Iowa farm to school workshop attendees discuss healthy food environments during a breakout session in Oelwein.

Practical resources about local food on the lunch tray and other aspects of farm to school included the introduction of a new Growing Farm to School in Iowa Resources digital toolkit.

“The new toolkit, tailored to Iowa and the Midwest, is designed to be easily used and shared, whether online or by printed copy. The compilation includes six resource sheets with quick links to topics such as sustaining a healthy school food environment, food and garden-based education, funding and PR, local food sourcing, and more,” says Marlie Wilson, who compiled the toolkit.

Council Bluffs Food Service Director Virginia Bechtold (second from right) shows off a new truck the school district uses to advertise healthy choices while delivering food to locations such as summer feeding sites. Also pictured from the Council Bluffs workshop are Lance Brisbois, Golden Hills RC&D (far left), Ann Y. Robinson, NCAT (left), and Jan Steffen, Iowa Department of Education (far left).
Council Bluffs Food Service Director Virginia Bechtold (second from right) shows off a new truck the school district uses to advertise healthy choices while delivering food to locations such as summer feeding sites. Also pictured from the Council Bluffs workshop are Lance Brisbois, Golden Hills RC&D (far left), Ann Y. Robinson, NCAT (left), and Jan Steffen, Iowa Department of Education (far right).

Both the workshops and toolkit were well received by participants. Many indicated they were leaving with new inspiration and ideas for next steps to benefit student health and engagement, forge new community partnerships, and expand markets for local producers. Participants voiced particular interest in future trainings to learn more about how schools can overcome the challenges of procuring local food and how teachers can connect school gardens to the curriculum.

The farm to school workshops were made possible thanks to support from USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), in collaboration with the Iowa Department of Public Health, and from NCAT, the Principal Foundation and FoodCorps. Assistance also came from other partners including the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, the Iowa Department of Education, Oelwein Community Schools, Council Bluffs Community Schools, Des Moines Public Schools, and the Iowa Agriculture Literacy Foundation.

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