Saturday, August 11, 2012

National Farm to Cafeteria Conference

It was a whirlwind learning adventure last week as I joined over 800 attendees at the 6th National Farm to Cafeteria Conference in beautiful Burlington, Vermont. As a chance to interact with movers and shakers in the farm-to-school movement, the conference could not have been more successful; GUO connected with groups across the U.S. and Canada working hard to bring  healthy and sustainable food to children and youth in and outside the classroom, while connecting schools with their local agricultural community. 

I was particularly impressed with the legislative support and representation at the conference; as many of you know the landscape of farm-to-school in the U.S. is very distinct from the Canadian experience, not least because of the national school lunch program. One of the most striking differences is the engagement of political actors in advancing these important causes: from Michelle Obama's "Let's Move!" campaign, to the very recent implementation of a National Farm to School Grant Program, housed in the US Department of Agriculture. Present at the Digging In Conference were Congressman Welch, Congresswoman Chellie Pingree, Senator Sanders, and Chuck Ross (Secretary of the Vermont Agency of Agriculture); making video appearances were Kathleen Merrigan (USDA Deputy Secretary) and Deborah Kane (USDA National Director of Farm to School) among several others. The depth of knowledge and inspiring messages from these speakers convinced me of the need for similar champions in Canada and the overall importance of government support for programs dedicated to increasing the health of our youth, supporting a sustainable environment, and linking us more closely with our local sustainable agricultural community. Thanks to the support of these individuals and the tireless work and dedication of thousands of educators, not-for-profits, and parents across the U.S., there are farm-to-school programs in over 10,000 schools across the country. Despite the different landscape here in Canada, it's time for Canada to step up to the plate and support the expansion of institutionalized support for similar programs here, including garden- and farm-based education programs such as GUO.

I also brought back a wealth of new ideas to enrich GUO thanks to the connections I made with several individuals and programs doing similar work. On behalf of GUO, I participated in four workshops:
  • The Farm as a Classroom: Conducting Successful Farm Field Trips;
  • Lessons from Field to Table: Engaging Community Partners in Garden and Kitchen Based Education Programs;
  • Regional Partnerships and Approaches to Farm to Institution; and 
  • Using the Food System to Cultivate an Integrated K-12 Curriculum

And also had the opportunity to connect with individuals working in Canada during a special regional meetings session. It was a treat to finally meet Joanne Bayes from B.C, who is leading a new national network of farm-to-cafeteria programs in Canada and her colleague Mary McKenna from University of N.B.; along with staff from Equiterre in Quebec. Check out these other great organizations I met, for heaps of information, resources and inspiration:

Vermont FEED
Greening of Detroit
National Farm to School Network
The Edible School Yard
Life Lab
Shelburne Farms

As we approach another busy Fall season ahead, I look forward to sharing lessons and inspiration from Vermont with you all.  

Friday, August 10, 2012

Documentary Film Screening August 28th!

Fair Trade Ottawa Équitable and COG-Ottawa are excited to announce that we are co-presenting a screening of the new acclaimed documentary film What’s Organic about Organic? on Tuesday, August 28th at 7pm, in the Library and Archives Canada on 395 Wellington Street.  Admission by donation - proceeds will be shared between our two non-profit groups for education and outreach programs. Come on out and enjoy a free, Organic, Fair Trade beverage and chocolate bar! Graciously sponsored by Camino, Loudmouth Design & Printhouse, and Equator Coffee.