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:
Greening of Detroit
National Farm to School Network
The Edible School Yard
As we approach another busy Fall season ahead, I look forward to sharing lessons and inspiration from Vermont with you all.