What kind of education or experience has prepared you for working with farm to school?
In the summer of 2010, I was preparing to begin a Master of Science program in nutrition and dietetics to become a Registered Dietician Nutritionist. I wanted to help people eat better for the rest of their lives, and to me, this meant equipping individuals with the knowledge and empowerment to do so. That summer I volunteered with Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE) Ulster County’s Healthy Kingston for Kids coalition, focusing on drafting healthy afterschool snack policy language. It was the first time I had participated in a coalition, and my first introduction to program planning (and logic models). By the end of the summer, I realized that I could have a much bigger impact by improving population health, rather than focusing on individuals. I withdrew from the dietetics program and decided to get my Master's in Public Health. I continued to volunteer with the coalition over the next year, and by the time I was packing for graduate school at the University of Colorado at Denver, I had identified a career goal of doing program planning with Cornell Cooperative Extension.
In graduate school, I concentrated in community and behavioral health, got into the weeds on program planning, and did my practicum with a group implementing a grant that incentivized healthier food choices and active recreation for fifth-graders in the Denver Public School System. A few years later, I was hired by CCE Erie County as the SNAP-Ed Program Manager for the Western NY region. Through this experience, I got to know many of the regional food systems partners, and also participated in the Buffalo Farm to School Team—my first foray into local food systems and farm to school.
What skills do you bring to your work?
I’m really good at Googling stuff. I don’t see this showcased professionally, but it has honestly been really valuable. For example, I started a position as a farm to school coordinator knowing nothing about how schools procure food, so I Googled it and now I’m pretty well versed. Of course, it isn’t always Googling—sometimes it’s digging deep into the archives on a website, or reaching out to someone who I think will lead me to the one person who knows about the specific thing that I need information about. If I need to know more about a topic or want to figure out how to do something, I know I can find the information I need to be successful. Maybe “tenacity” is a more professional way to put it.
What gives you hope for the future of your work?
Foodservice directors give me hope for the future of my work. I have met so many directors who are passionate about improving the food they serve their students. The 30% NY local food procurement initiative lit a fire under a lot of districts, but even in school systems where the 30% goal is not in the cards, directors are still looking for ways to use more locally grown foods and do more scratch cooking. I have met so many directors who go above and beyond to not only serve locally-grown foods but to help students understand where their food comes from.
I know that by connecting institutional foodservice directors and food partners, we can help localize our food system.
In western NY there are also several distributors and vendors who are really passionate about increasing access to locally-grown foods in schools and other institutions, and they give me hope, too. If a school needs a single bell pepper, they will deliver it at a loss because they support farmers and want children to be able to eat food grown in their community. I know that by connecting institutional foodservice directors and food partners, we can help localize our food system.
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