Moving Forward Together at the National Farm to Cafeteria Conference

Earlier this month, our farm to school staff and partners joined more than 1,000 food service professionals, farmers, educators, policy makers, entrepreneurs, students, representatives from nonprofits, public health professionals, and others gathered in Madison, WI.

Southern SAWG serves as the Regional Lead Agency for five states in the South region of the National Farm to School Network. Pam Kingfisher represents us in working with state leads in Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas to develop a strong network of farmers and schools participating in bringing fresh, local foods to students in our region. We have seen a sharp rise in the participation of local farmers and food hubs in the food supply chain to cafeterias.

To kick off the full conference day, states divided into their NFSN regions for networking. Our South crew made good use of their time by gathering as States to discuss action plans for the coming year. As a leadership team, we’ll be focused on peer learning as we heard about the wide range of expertise our group holds and the topics folks want to learn more about. Regional attendees were able to discuss their expectations and learning needs with their state leads and make plans together on developing strategic plans for their statewide networks, working with farmers to increase direct sales and engage more farmers with improved pay schedules from school to farm, and increased regional purchasing through DOD Fresh. We also discussed teacher trainings to implement State standards in the school gardens, and better sharing of resources through increased networking.


We also split into focus groups to discuss procurement, school gardens, farmers participation, policy development and early childcare education & evaluations. Our regional networking room had great discussions, fun quizzes with prizes and shared a lot of dreams and laughter.


The 8th National Farm to Cafeteria Conference was inspiring and filled with learning, sharing and networking opportunities in a great conference facility on Lake Monona. The National Farm to Cafeteria Conference is a biennial event, which means the next gathering won’t take place until 2018. About 70% of the attendees were first time conference goers and they said they’ll be back!

In the meantime, our f2s crew in the South have their guidance from attendees at the conference and will continue innovating and connecting with new partners who are interested in the growing farm to school movement.

SOUTH Region participants

SOUTH Region participants

It's Peach Picking Time Y'all!

Last year our farm to school staff visited with the kitchen staff at Two Rivers School District in Arkansas to see how they were working with local farmers. They started with a purchase of 16 bushels of fresh peaches from Peach Pickin' Paradise and they were a great hit with the kids – especially slightly frozen in the salad bar.

Peach Pickin’ Paradise is one of the few long-term peach growing operations left in Arkansas. Johnson County, Arkansas, was once known as the peach capital of America. The Morgan family settled in more than 100 years ago, where they were peach growers during the peach growing boom. James Griffin Morgan originally settled on land in this 1876 and purchased his first peach trees in 1890 for family fruit. The family business went into commercial peach growing during the 1920s, when George Morgan, Jr. returned from World War II in 1947. He is credited with starting the first “pick your own” business in 1977.

Today, the orchards have approximately 120 rows of peach and nectarines growing with four generations currently working together on the land. The Morgan’s’ share a strong commitment to quality produce and to their community. The farm sells at the Johnson County Farmers Market in addition to the U-pick operation. Family farms like the Morgan’s provides so much more than food – they remind us about the commitment required to farm, to support generations of family from the land and to eat locally and support our neighbors.

Here is one of their family recipes:


Makes about 8-10 cups.
Cooking time: approximately 8 hours (allow more time for canning)

  • 8 cups peeled and coarsely chopped peaches
  • ¼ cup fresh lemon juice
  • ½ cup canola oil
  • 1 large Vidalia or other sweet onion, chopped
  • 7 garlic cloves, chopped
  • ¾ cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1 cup dark brown sugar, firmly packed
  • ½ cup honey
  • ½ cup sorghum molasses
  • ½ cup water
  • 1 cup Worcestershire sauce
  • ½ cup tomato paste
  • ½ cup Liquid Smoke
  • 1 (or more) chipotle in adobo sauce
  • 1 tablespoon ground chipotle or ancho chili pepper
  • 1-2 5” sprigs fresh rosemary
  • 5-6 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Kosher salt to taste
  • Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Directions for slow cooking:

  1. Blanch and peel the peaches; coarsely chopped. Add them to the slow cooker and pour the lemon juice over it all.
  2. In a large sauce pan over medium-low heat, warm the oil. Add the onion and cook until tender, stirring occasionally. Add the garlic and cook for about 1 minute. Add to the peaches in the slow cooker.
  3. Add the remaining ingredients to the slow cooker and stir to combine.
  4. Cook on HIGH for 4 hours, stirring halfway through.
  5. When the ingredients are very soft, remove the rosemary, thyme and bay leaf.
  6. Using an immersion blender, blend the peach mixture in the slow cooker until it’s smooth. (Alternately, transfer the peach mixture in batches to a blender and puree until smooth.)
  7. Using a wooden spoon or spatula, prop the lid of the slow cooker open slightly and continue to cook the sauce on HIGH until it has thickened considerably. You will need to stir occasionally to prevent sticking.
  8. Taste for seasonings.
  9. Use as you would any barbecue sauce for basting grilled or smoked meats. Serve alongside, as well.

Directions for canning:

  1. Have ready 4-6 half pint jars and their lids, making sure the jars have been heated thoroughly and the rings and lids warmed.
  2. Prepare a water bath canner by bringing the water to a slow boil.
  3. Have ready a large ladle, funnel and tongs.
  4. Ladle the hot sauce into the jars, leaving ¼-inch headspace. Remove any air bubbles, wipe the rims and seal with the lids.
  5. Process the jars in a boiling-water bath for 15 minutes. Store in a cool, dark place for up to one year.
  6. The sauce may also be frozen.
Fresh peaches from Peach Pickin' Paradise farm in AR

Fresh peaches from Peach Pickin' Paradise farm in AR


A Future Farmer's Conference Experience

by Karen Lanier, guest blogger

I’m not a farmer. I’m a future farmer. I don’t expect to feed the world, or even fill a shelf in a grocery store. I do expect to grow most of my own food and share a surplus. When? Well, starting next week I’ll be eating the sprouts I am soaking today. But the real testament will be this time in 2020. My plan is to steadily increase my skills and growing space until I have a full larder consisting largely of home-grown food. I’m sure I can do it. I want to do it. Do I know how to do it? Well, yes and no. That’s why I went to the 2016 SSAWG Conference, to learn enough to feed myself and share the surplus of information with readers.

In this series of three blogs, I’ll recap what I learned at SSAWG Conference, where a diverse field of topics enticed farmers of all levels of experience to enrich their knowledge, hone their skills, and boost their motivation to farm for the greater good.

Lord of the Rings: Part I

First, the Ring of Knowledge.

Venn diagram.

Venn diagram.

Joel Salatin.

Joel Salatin.

On the first morning of SSAWG conference sessions, Joel Salatin drew a big crowd. I, on the other hand, drew circles. Three rings, overlapping in the middle. This simple Venn diagram would become a symbol of my farming future. “If time and money were not an issue, what would you do tomorrow?” Joel challenged his audience with this question and I followed his instructions. I wrote the word Love inside one circle, Good At inside another, and Know inside the third.

Just because I know a lot about something doesn’t mean I’m good at it. Just because I’m good at something doesn’t mean I love to do it. And vice versa. Joel’s goal with this exercise was to encourage movement toward the center. This simple reminder becomes a compass, guiding me toward the sweet spot in the middle of those three realms. The focus area is the place where what I’m good at, what I know how to do, and what I love to do all come together.

My current relationship with farming falls outside of the center of the three rings. I know a lot about organic farming, I love to work outdoors with plants and animals, but I have far less hands-on experience with growing food successfully.

I was an armchair farmer in the high desert and dusty plains of the West, reading Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle while daydreaming about rain. I made a deliberate move to settle down in Kentucky, a place where green things actually grow pretty readily. I was a short-term volunteer on a few farms and spent two years helping organize and tend community gardens. Then I tried to lead middle school students in creating a permaculture urban farm. That’s when I realized how little I actually know.

Maybe it’s true that those who can, do, and those who can’t, teach. Well, I’d like to become a better do-er. To fit “teach gardening skills” into my three circles, it would have to go inside the Know circle. I know how to do it but am not altogether good at. While I love teaching gardening sometimes, I truly enjoy the act of working alongside colleagues of all ages and sharing experiences. I heard about SSAWG and wanted to absorb more knowledge so I can practice more in the field, on my own at first and potentially with others.

Sessions at the SSAWG conference could fill up my Know circle. Everyone there was an educator in some respect. Expert farmers shared a wealth of knowledge, in the form of practical, useful information. I will definitely refer back to the recommendations from the following presentations.

Pam Dawling.

Pam Dawling.

Intensive Vegetable Production on a Small Scale by Pam Dawling
Intensive is right. While Pam’s title referred to growing a large amount of food on a small amount of land, her presentation was like a graduate-level course jam-packed into 75 minutes. The great thing was that I didn’t take any notes and could absorb her wisdom. She gave a handout with very detailed examples of transplant age and size for a sampling of veggies and spacing for crops for various goals (early harvest, max yield, sizes, etc.). It also summarized biointensive integrated pest management, sustainable weed management, and season extension. Pam’s presentation went into great detail on timing and rotations of crops specifically for her ecoregion. This slideshow and many more are available on Her book Sustainable Market Farming is rich with tables and timing plans to get the most out of a small area.

Permaculture Designs for Small Farms, Shawn Jadrnicek
This was another one that left my head spinning, partly wondering why this guy hasn’t been recruited by NASA to establish a self-contained life system on another planet. I think he’s got what it takes. While I have a decent understanding of permaculture practices, I’m continually amazed at the ways people like Shawn can work with nature to enhance growing systems. Much of his presentation focused on a pond. What does that have to do with farming? Everything about his pond is hosting a life form, impacting a microclimate, building soil, and performing at least ten other functions. This qualifies as bio-integration. The system is alive. If you’re more into chickens than watercress, his flower-petal design for rotating moveable fences just outside his door is impressive - simply elegant and highly efficient. Those were just a couple of samples from his extensive repertoire. Read all about it in Shawn’s book, The Bio-Integrated Farm.

My future farming partner attended these additional sessions and shared his notes, which we will keep and refer back to when the time comes.

Managing Plant-Soil-Microbe Relationships for Better Fertility, Julie Grossman
This presentation focused on managing cover crops for profit, and all the benefits, in terms of chemical composition and microbiology, that come along with nitrogen-fixing cover crops.

Intensive Short Course: Growing Farm Profits by Managing for Profit, Ellen Polishuk and Jim Munsch.
My partner brought home not only pages of notes on how to choose what to grow, profit margins, and markets, but also a jump drive full of spreadsheets. We’ll be off to a great start when we start tracking our data.

One of the biggest benefits from the conference was the abundance of takeaways, literally: Handouts, resources, literature, references on best practices on everything from when to plant to how to sell. SSAWG could compile a thorough sustainable farming library just from the websites and books the session presenters authored.

The sessions mentioned above were ones that I classified as fitting into the Know ring. They provided statistics, percentages, ratios, specific crops and timetables, all of which can be great starting points and troubleshooting guides for my future farm. I may be too green of a greenhorn to really know what good all this accounting, science and engineering will do for my little hobby farm. I don’t want an organic chemistry course to be a prerequisite for planting a potato in my back yard. Thank goodness I don’t have to remember it all now. I don’t even have to understand it all now.

However, maybe I should track my sprouting sunflower seeds on a planner. It’s never too early to start a good habit, and maybe I could sell sprouts in the future. You never know!

Karen Lanier is a freelance writer, environmental educator, and youth photography teacher. She is author of the forthcoming book, Wildlife in Your Garden (i5 Publishers). Read more of her work at Hobby Farms and Urban Farm online.