PFPC Sends Cohort of 8 to Farm to Cafeteria Conference
With generous support from the Sampson Foundation, The Pittsburgh Food Policy Council and 8 school food advocates attended the 2018 Farm to Cafeteria Conference in Cincinnati, Ohio. Hosted by the National Farm to School Network, the Farm to Cafeteria Conference brought together ideas, leaders and changemakers in farm to school procurement, school gardens, sustainability and purchasing regulation.
The 2018 event featured keynote speaker Rodney Taylor, of Fairfax County Public Schools, and Haile Thomas, the 17 year old founder of the nonprofit HAPPY (Healthy Active Positive Purposeful Youth). A myriad of workshops during the second day of the conference covered topics including the Farm Bill, student empowerment, equity and access in school gardens, local food Thursdays, evaluation, using food service guidelines to create healthy food environments and methods of engaging state Agriculture departments.
The Pittsburgh Food Policy Council was able to take an enthusiastic cohort of 8 regional advocates to the 2018 Farm to cafeteria Conference. This list included:
- Sarah Buranskas, Food Access Coordinator, PFPC
- Malik Hamilton, Purchasing Coordinator, Pittsburgh Public Schools
- Joseph Beaman, Food Service Director, Deer Lakes School District
- Nolen Fetchko, Food Service Director, Mt. Lebanon School District
- Siobhan Nicklow, Food and Transportation Director, Woodland Hills School District
- Adia Effion, Garden Educator, Grow Pittsburgh
- Barbara Hromiko, Science Teacher, Pittsburgh Obama 6-12
- Nick Goodfellow, Sustainability Coordinator, University of Pittsburgh
Some of the attendees comments and reflections are below:
- Knowledge Acquisition: Our attendees stated that they set aside time from their job to attend this conference in order to learn about best practices, and how they might improve in their respective roles. With regards to this desired outcome, the 2018 Farm to Cafeteria Conference exceeded expectations. Almost all PFPC attendees indicated that they were encouraged and inspired by the work happening in other districts across the country.
- “It was encouraging to see that large districts such as Minneapolis Public Schools are utilizing Farm to Cafeteria initiatives. I was concerned with Mt. Lebanon's size that it would be difficult to implement but I now see that if they can do it, we can do it.” - Nolen Fetchko, Mt. Lebanon School District
- “While my district has been working on incorporating more farm to school nutrition education and opportunities there is so much more that we can do. Education and exposure to these opportunities is key. Networking and group discussions have provided the groundwork for the possibility of increasing our programs.” - Siobhan Nicklow, Woodland Hills School District
- Next Steps: When asked about school food goals for their respective districts, each PFPC Farm to Cafeteria 2018 participant discussed one or two ways they hope to continue this work moving forward.These ideas included expanding on current job responsibilities to implement small procurement changes, increasing education around farm to school among parents/students, using tools acquired at the conference to measure and communicate impact, participation in the Good Food Procurement Program, and incorporating garden and food production knowledge into classroom material.
- “Develop policies that school districts can use to get the produce grown in the garden in the cafeteria.” - Adia Effiong, Grow Pittsburgh Garden Educator
- “We are continuing with our local food procurement program and have a few new tools for measuring and communicating the economic impact of our local procurement.” - Nick Goodfellow, Sustainability Coordinator, University of Pittsburgh
- Barriers: Of the 8 participants, 3 indicated that ‘Authority’ would be the biggest barrier to implementing farm to school at their district - namely, that they are not the primary decision-makers. Two participants stated ‘Time’ (time in addition to current responsibilities) would be most difficult barrier to overcome. One person noted that the current ‘Supply chain/distribution network’ in South West PA was a hindrance in farm to school development. Lastly, two participants said ‘Time, Funds, and Buy-in’ collectively were significant hurdles to farm to school implementation, noting that ‘the initial setup will take much work. Must include the infrastructure to have this be a sustainable program - to have a ten year plan’. This feedback suggests that more outreach is needed at higher levels of authority within the districts, as well as funding for additional dedicated staff support, and research on the SWPA institutional food supply chain.
- Their Role: Our participants had a variety of opinions on how they view their role in the food system, and the primary purpose of their job. A fairly consistent theme, however, was the understanding that their work goes beyond simply putting meals on plates; that each member of the group can play a role in changing the collective mentality around where food comes from, what healthy food is, and how to educate young minds about the importance of food. To this end, 6 out of 8 participants indicated that building relationships with other Food Service Directors, purchasers and/or people involved in food work was ‘Very Important’. One participant responded that relationship building was ‘Important’ and one that it was only ‘Moderately Important’. Thus, sponsoring participation in national, statewide, and local events similar to the 2018 Farm to Cafeteria Conference is highly beneficial to Food Service Directors, teachers, Sustainability Coordinators, and those involved in school garden work. Further outreach is needed to determine which tools and methods could best assist school food stakeholders in program development, implementation and policy.
- ‘My primary purpose is to facilitate change on the plate, in minds, and in curriculum.’ - Malik Hamilton, Purchasing Specialist, PPS
- ‘I am a science educator. I have an indirect role in the food system, providing other views to students so they’re aware of gardening and garden food production.’ - Barbara Hromiko, Science Teacher, Pittsburgh Obama 6-12