Written by: Ally Lemmer, FoodCorps CA Fellow with Life Lab & Community Alliance with Family Farmers
Formally Willits High School and historically a meeting place for farmers, the Little Lake Grange in Willits served as a perfect venue for all farm to school advocates in the North Coast region on Friday, December 11th, 2015. Food service directors, farmers, and educators all convened for the first ever North Coast Regional Gathering on behalf of the CA Farm to School Network, which was just launched a year prior.
Originally known as the CA Farm to School Taskforce, the CA Farm to School Network is a broader network that invites all farm to school advocates including educators, farmers, distributors, food services and policy makers to collaborate on farm to school projects across the state. In order to congregate all key local stakeholders, the Network uses a regional approach so that farmers, educators and food service directors who serve the same area are able to connect and cultivate relationships. As the North Coast Regional Lead, Miles Gordon, along with his colleagues at North Coast Opportunities hosted the regional gathering for the 7-county region.
Approximately 60 participants attended the first ever gathering. The northwestern counties represented included Del Norte, Humboldt, Lake, Napa, Marin, Mendocino and Sonoma. Representatives from the North Coast included food service directors from various school districts including Willits Unified School District, Upper Lake Union Elementary School District and Novato Unified School District along with food hubs such as La Rosa & Sons and MendoLake Food Hub. “I always learn something new and I am even further inspired every time I attend one of these gatherings,” said Miguel Villareal, Food Service Director of Novato Unified after the event.
Attendees were able to network with others by sitting in on sessions that focused on procurement and food hubs, school garden curriculum, farmer direct purchasing, harvest of the month, and other innovative programs on the school district level (see full agenda here). While discussing various farm to school related topics, participants also enjoyed a full seasonal lunch highlighting seasonal crops like persimmons and walnuts featured in Lake County Farm to School Harvest of the Month recipes (see Harvest of the Month Recipe Booklet). “The day was designed to facilitate best practices and resource sharing. Participants were the experts and we all left with new ideas, inspirations, and new colleagues in our goal to elevate farm to school to be just ‘what we do,’” said organizer, Miles Gordon.
Reflecting on the sessions offered throughout the day, many participants looked forward to the next gathering and followed up with networks made during the day (view overview here). While this region is unique in that in not only spans over a 7-county region but it also serves very rural areas and small towns that are 5 hours apart. Despite the distance, participants suggested meeting county by county and continuing these conversations in-person or promoting each other’s projects via social media. Overall, the first gathering was a success — be sure to stay tuned to hear about the next innovative farm to school projects happening throughout the North Coast.
If you would like to participate in your region’s next gathering in the new year, please don’t hesitate to contact your Regional Lead here. Regardless if you are a farmer, educator, distributor, food services, or other farm to school supporter, we invite you to attend and be a part of the ever-growing CA Farm to School Network.