First California Farm to School Conference a Success!

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Welcome reception to the first, and hopefully biennial, California Farm to School Conference.

From May 4 – 6, 2015, nearly 300 farmers, school food service, advocates, vendors, and more gathered in Pacific Grove, CA, for the first California Farm to School Conference. Held in Julia Morgan designed buildings at the beautiful Asilomar Conference Grounds on the Monterey Bay coast, conference attendees had the opportunity to experience a variety of activities from field trips to engaging presentations.Pre-conference activities included field trips to local farms of various scales, tours of long-standing school garden programs, discussions with distributors and farmers selling to school meals, and a USDA local procurement course designed for child nutrition directors. The official conference kicked off with a post-dinner reception featuring local wine, exhibits from partners, and bluegrass music by the Down Beets. Tuesday’s theme focused on the Farm to School movement past and present, with a dynamic plenary session honoring California leaders. Congressman Sam Farr spoke passionately and challenged all public institutions to buy locally. The original Farm to School duo, farmer Bob Knight (Old Grove Orange Conservancy) and food service director Rodney Taylor (Riverside Unified School District) reflected on their motivations and work together. “Schools matter to local food systems,” remarked Knight. “They offer the critical mass for farmers to leave the global food system.”

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Food Service Director, Sandy Curwood, from Conejo Valley Unified School Services serves up some rotisserie baked chicken with cilantro rice and butternut squash soup.

The energy of day one was sustained as conference attendees made their way over to Monterey High School to sample California Thursday menus prepared by Monterey Peninsula Unified, Oakland Unified, Conejo Valley Unified, and Pacific Elementary. Food service staff worked together to show off what their school can do with all California procured items. School districts and their vendor partners shared Real Good Fish tacos, Rotisserie Baked Chicken from Mary’s with Cilantro Rice, and Community Grains pasta with chorizo and kale, and much, much more. Let’s just say dinner was fantastic!

Over 25 workshops featured programs from up and down the state across five tracks that covered the cross-section of approaches to Farm to School. In the final plenary, the next generation of leaders stepped up to the plate. We heard from young food service director Jenn Gerard and her Chef Stephanie Lip about their innovations in the cafeteria. Mike La Rosa from La Rosa & Sons Distribution Company shared his family’s story of shifting to school markets after 4 generations of farming.

The last day of the conference ended on a high note with all 10 regions of the California Farm to School Network meeting to plan their next steps in working together in the coming year. Don’t miss out on connecting with your region! Whether you were able to attend the breakout meeting or not, you are invited and encouraged to stay connected. Stay tuned for the next CA Farm to School Conference in 2017!

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FoodCorps Service Members, Sara Mendes and Ryan Griffith, and HealthCorps Service Member Nina Waysdorf, display some wonderful flower bouquets.

All of the conference presentations, program, and photos can be found on the CA Farm to School website! Please review and share with your networks.

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