Written by: Chelsea Sarg, FoodCorps Service Member with Community Alliance with Family Farmers (CAFF) North Coast
One of the most important lessons I have learned as a Foodcorps service member this past year is the importance of partnerships. The basis of a Foodcorps position is a partnership in itself; I serve as the Foodcorps service member for the non-profit, Community Alliance with Family Farmers (CAFF), which serves their farmer members and local schools. That’s a mouthful for the usually 20 seconds I have to explain to parents or farmers what it is that “I do.” But it’s not all for naught; these partnerships mean I can work across a large spectrum of subjects and with a variety of people.
CAFF runs a Harvest of the Month program in which local farmers’ produce is brought into schools where the students can learn about the farmer and the featured produce item. In running the Harvest of the Month program I jump back and forth between working with local farmers and a local distributor, attempting to memorize how many baskets of strawberries are in a flat, and how many individual servings of beets are in pound; and with schools, teachers, parents, and students, writing 4th-grade appropriate produce-related jokes for their educations packets (Why did the tomato blush? Because he saw the salad dressing!) To top off my hours, I also volunteer with the Ceres Community Project, mentoring teens in the garden and the kitchen preparing healthful meals to be donated to individuals dealing with serious illness. I really think the variety of individuals and organization structures I get to serve with provides me with a larger understanding of what it means to work in the food system.
One of the main takeaways is this idea that within the food system, different organizations speak different (metaphorical) languages. The farmer speaks in pounds, the food service direction speaks in servings, the garden teacher in feet of space, our Harvest of the Month program in kit (classroom) size. And there’s a huge disconnect between some of these key players in the food system. During the month of March, Angie Corwin, my supervisor and CAFF North Coast Farm to School Coordinator, and I decided to put on some workshops to try to address this disconnect. Of course, we didn’t do it alone; we did it with our partners. The Farmer’s Guild is an amazing resource and partner for CAFF here in Sonoma County, and together we hosted a Buyer/Grower Mixer connecting the plethora of food buyers (chefs, distributors, grocery stores, food service directors, and more) with the plethora of local growers (produce, meat, cheese, eggs, etc.). We conducted it speed-dating style, with one buyer speaking to one grower at a time to discuss potential partnerships. The event went over really well with presentations from several of the star partnerships including a local grower’s success selling small apples that wouldn’t be accepted at the grocery store to a local school district because the apples were perfect serving size for kids.
Our second workshop was in partnership with the School Garden Network, another close ally of CAFF and Foodcorps in the region. This workshop was a Garden Enhanced Nutrition Education workshop for teachers. The workshop was held at the beautiful Salmon Creek Garden, and covered topics ranging from: cooking in the classroom, best use of small school garden spaces, a talk from a Kaiser representative on plant-based diets, garden games, Harvest of the Month in the garden, and a collectively prepared meal including hand-ground locally grown blue corn that we pressed into tortillas and pan fried! In the introductory energizer game, we had to introduce ourselves and present one take-away that we wanted from the workshop. The response was nearly unanimous – the teachers wanted connections! The day focused heavily on resource sharing and learning from one another, and I enjoyed being able to speak from my experiences working in gardens, kitchens, cafeterias, classrooms, and behind the scenes in a farm to school program. Hearing about all the successes and challenges of others in the food system, from garden teachers to food service directors, motivates me to keep trying to connect the dots and make sustainable change in the food system. While it might be a mouthful to explain my position and the multitude of partners I serve with, it’s worth it to be working with so many amazing people making real change.
About the Author: Upon graduating form UC Berkeley with a self-designed degree in Food Systems, Culture and Society, FoodCorps Service Member Chelsea Sarg relocated to her home county of Sonoma. Based at the CAFF North Coast office, Chelsea began the year spearheading the region’s Harvest of the Month program by connecting with local family farmers to source seasonal produce for monthly educational tasting kits for nearby schools.
Community Alliance with Family Farmers (CAFF) is a California-based nonprofit that advocates for family farmers and sustainable agriculture. To learn more, please visit their website.
FoodCorps is a nationwide team of AmeriCorps leaders who connect kids to real food and help them grow up healthy. To find out more, please visit their website.