The farm to school movement is changing the world – or at least the nation – nourishing students with healthier food and school environments, bringing back cooking and gardening skills and nurturing local economic opportunities for farmers. NCAT Midwest team members were glad to bring their own stories to the table, joining NCAT colleagues from Arkansas and Montana, and more than 1,000 other leaders from around the country at the national Farm to Cafeteria Powering Up! Conference, April 14-18.
The week included FoodCorps’ Mid-Year Gathering and the annual meeting of the National Farm to School Network (NFSN), for which NCAT serves as a Regional Lead Agency. On Wednesday, NCAT’s Ann Robinson and Farm to School Fellow Caryl Guisinger from Nebraska’s Center for Rural Affairs facilitated a well-attended Midwest NFSN networking and priority-setting session that included representatives of Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma and South Dakota. Special guest Bob Gorman, Midwest Lead for the USDA Food and Nutrition Service Farm to School Program, helped welcome the group.
The conference featured inspiration by Alice Waters of Chez Panisse fame and Anim Steele, founder of the Real Food Challenge, who are, respectively, responsible for bringing the “real food” movement to restaurants and college campuses nationwide. Much of the excitement, though, came from myriad learning sessions with farmers, cafeteria staff, educators and FoodCorps service members who told nuts-and-bolts stories of how they are bringing fresh, local food and gardening to enthusiastic audiences in schools and beyond, bolstering local economies and enhancing the environment.
A highlight of the conference for NCAT came when Iowa FoodCorps Team Member Ashley Dress won the national FoodCorps Victory Growers Award for a “compelling account of hunger and food insecurity.” Her editorial won a $5,000 prize from C&S Wholesale Grocers for her service site, the Northeast Iowa Food and Fitness Initiative. The award was presented by Curt Ellis, one of FoodCorps’ founders and a filmmaker responsible for the documentaries King Corn and Big River. Congratulations to Ashley! Her article will soon be published and available online as a real food success story.