Farm-to-School Fun in Southeast Ohio
The Southeast Ohio Food Partners hosted a farm to school conference the first week of March at The Eclipse Company Store in The Plains. After a couple months of planning, the conference came together through a partnership with ACEnet, Rural Action, Community Food Initiatives (CFI) and Live Healthy Appalachia (LHA). The “Food Partners” as we like to call ourselves, aim to work together whenever possible. Funds for this conference were provided through a Rural Community Development Initiative grant. The two day conference hosted several tracks which demonstrated the overlapping work or infrastructure between the four organizations that encourages the growth and health of our communities and local food system in SE Ohio.
Here at ACEnet, we see ourselves as “network weavers”. At times, this may seem a little hard to explain but the work that was accomplished throughout this conference demonstrates how important our networks and collaborations truly are to the local food economy.
The theme of the conference was Partnerships and Innovations for Successful Farm to School Programs. When farm to school is going to be successfully implemented there are a lot of moving components involved. Education for students and staff, procurement, storage, distribution, grant funding, school gardening and curriculum design are a few. Between the four partner organizations we are working together to use our social capital, educational resources and built infrastructure to create lasting connections.
CFI provides school garden support, LHA goes in to classrooms and teaches students how to prepare healthy meals in a way that is fun and engaging to students. Rural Action partners with Hocking College to process and freeze local foods while engaging Hocking College Culinary students in the local food economy. ACEnet provides cooler and freezer storage for healthy food access programming within their Nelsonville Food Hub facility. The freezer and cooler were purchased through funding that Rural Action received to further their farm to school efforts. The Chesterhill Produce Auction is a social enterprise of Rural Action and provides an economic outlet in Morgan County along with local food options for farm to school. Rural Action also owns and operates a refrigerated truck for distribution.
The partnership with Hocking College provided the inspiration to ask Chef Katie McGushin to give the keynote address at the conference. Chef Katie has seen hunger first hand while volunteering at Circle Round the Square Camp in Nelsonville. She believes in the connection of local foods into school cafeterias and is working incredibly hard with area schools and organizations to further develop connections.
Further presenters included Jessica Sparks-Mussulin of Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project (ASAP) in Asheville, NC, staff members from the Athens Foundation presented a track on grant writing for school garden funding, USDA staff members helped break down government regulations for procurement, LHA gave a demonstration of one of their Live Healthy Kids workshops, ACEnet’s Leslie Schaller presented a MarketReady workshop, and Rural Action staff shared highlights from their “School Day at the CPA” and Food Safety Work. Attendees also had the option to tour Green Edge Organic Gardens in Amesville to learn about season extension techniques that could be adapted into school gardens.
The attendees of this event are also a great demonstration of all the partnerships and collaboration necessary to create successful farm to school programming. Local teachers shared their successes and obstacles with school gardening, Superintendents showed their support for farm to school efforts, teachers wishing to venture into farm to school came to acquire resources, Ohio University students represented the Food Studies Theme and Real Food Challenge, working to encourage the University to commit to sourcing local, equitable or fair trade foods through their dining services. Farm to School staff from The Ohio State University Extension and the many Americorps members who provide immense amounts of service and programming support within area organizations were also represented.
The conference stayed true to its theme and created networking space to further develop partnerships and innovations. If you missed the conference and want to view presentations, stay tuned to http://www.ohiofoodshed.org/ where presentations and resources from the conference will be posted. If you are interested in any aspects of farm to school, get in touch with one of our organizations, we would love to partner!
Community Update by ACEnet Food Enterprise VISTA, Grace Kroeger