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.