Connecting the Garden, Cafeteria and Classroom…what’s next?

Written By: Allie Hoffman, Program Manager, Community Alliance with Family Farmers

Three weeks ago, 340 California Farm to School and Garden practitioners gathered in Modesto for three days of field trips, workshops, inspiring keynotes, networking and food.

Helen Dombalis sharing her Farm to School story during the opening keynote

Attendees represented all areas of farm to school, ranging from farmers, to food service professionals, garden educators, government employees, nonprofits and more. It’s hard to focus on any one single moment from the conference to highlight in this article, particularly because there were so many different workshops that one could have attended. So instead, I’m going to share a few of the highlights from my experience planning and attending the conference.

Leading up to the conference, I was fortunate enough to have the job of connecting with so many of you. Whether I was reviewing workshop proposals, connecting with partners on social media or coordinating with the amazing CFSN regional leads, it was such a pleasure to get to connect with farm to school innovators from all around the state.

First up at the conference, I had the opportunity to attend the Elementary School Gardens Tour on Monday. Visiting Ceres Elementary was one of the highlights of the conference for me. Ms. Purdy, a 4th grade teacher and all around garden champion, left me with a renewed sense of excitement for the amazing impact that garden education could have on kids. Confident and inquisitive, Ms. Purdy’s 4th graders made us green smoothies, performed a song about compost and presented their EcoExpert projects.

Networking at the Good Food Showcase

Another highlight was Helen Dombalis’ opening keynote. It was exciting to hear first hand, how the National Farm to School Network is blazing the trail for statewide networks. Her discussion of national policy provided the perfect segue for Tracey Patterson and Amy Gilroy to discuss state and local policy.

And of course, I can’t talk about the Farm to School & Garden Conference without talking about the food. Thanks to local growers from the Central Valley, Turlock Unified Food Service Director, Scott Soiseth and staff, the Center for Ecoliteracy California Thursday’s crew and Ag Link, each meal was a delicious example of how great school food can be!

My other meal highlight was attending the dine-around Modesto regional dinners. In addition to the meal proving delicious, we were excited to support the local economy in Modesto while simultaneously getting to connect with peers and CFSN regional leads.

Center for Ecoliteracy’s California Thursday’s salsa challenge

There is so much more to mention about the conference, including the fabulous workshops (which will be archived on the web), but above all, I hope that you were able to form lasting connections with folks from your region and around the state. My biggest takeaway is how much opportunity we have to support one another’s work through collaboration. As we transition CFSN to the California Department of Food and Agriculture, Office of Farm to Fork, we anticipate that opportunities to collaborate and communicate will continue to grow. If you were able to attend the conference, I hope that you left with the same renewed sense of excitement as I did and have opportunities to carry this work forward.

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