Can you share a quote or saying that reflects the work you do?
Novelist and farmer Wendell E. Berry said, “Eating is an agricultural act.” This quote means different things to different people, but to me, it aptly and succinctly reinforces the fact that every day, through our food consumption choices, we vote for the type of food system we value; a food system that is inherently tied to the land, a terribly finite resource. Our purchasing decisions drive market development and influence food and agriculture policy for better or worse. One of the many things that inspire me to do this work is witnessing the enormous influence institutions have through their procurement power. The magnitude of their “vote” to shape a healthier food system for our bodies, our land, and our local economy is tremendous.
What kind of education or experience has prepared you for this work?
A love of good food and a belief that healthy food is a right of all, but denied to many, serve as my signature drivers, professionally, academically, and personally. My passion for the food industry sparked in my teenage years, working long hours as “back-of-the-house” kitchen staff. Following that passion, I pursued an undergraduate degree in Hotel and Restaurant Management at Penn State, spending nearly a decade thereafter in the food industry management sector in New York City.
Approaching my thirties, a nagging sense to serve my community and the industry I was so passionate about led me to graduate school at Cornell. During graduate school, I formalized my belief system around the type of food system I wanted to work for and contribute to; a system that values environmental sustainability, equity, and the local economy.
Working for Cornell Cooperative Extension, namely in Farm to School, allows me to transform that belief system into action. Further, during my tenure in the food industry management sector, I gained years of experience in operations and procurement – skills I didn’t realize at the time, would be so beneficial to the local food systems work I do today.
Why is your work important? Why should anyone else care?
At a minimum, farm to school is about financially supporting local farmers and food producers and increasing healthy food access to school-age kids. Let’s unpack that a bit.
On one hand, there’s a potentially grave future-facing small and mid-size farms if we don’t afford them the opportunity to be viable and prosperous. That grave future meaning no local farms.
On the other hand, the NY public school food market is a half-a-billion-dollar industry. What happens when institutions shift their food dollars to local farms and small food producers? A stable, consistent, and reliable market emerges.
Now let’s switch gears to healthy food access. Our public school system serves over 2.7 million students daily, two to three times per day. School meals can be and should be a source of nutrient-dense calories, something particularly important in low-income communities, where affordable, healthy food is hard to come by. These are a few of the many reasons why this work matters. Why people should care.
If COVID-19 taught me anything, it’s that disruptions in the national and global food supply result in shelves devoid of food and that the nutritional value of what we eat really matters. Farm to school supports local food supply chains; an end goal that ends up being a defensive strategy in terms of food security, public health, and economic viability.
What gives you hope for the future of your work?
"Now more than ever, consumers, institutions, educators, policymakers, state agency partners, and funders are recognizing two simple truths: 1) what we eat matters 2) where and how food is grown matters."
That’s reflected in policy, programming, and funding, particularly in the farm to school space, which is beyond encouraging. I am also so inspired by school food professionals from across the state, who already have the arduous job of managing highly complex foodservice operations on the smallest of budgets. Yet, they continually go above and beyond to support local businesses and improve school food. I truly believe this is a critical turning point in which local food isn’t just viewed as a novelty. Rather, it’s looked to as a solution to some of the most pressing issues facing New Yorkers in recent history.
- Agricultural Economic Development Specialist & NY Farm to School Regional Coordinator Program Lead with CCE Harvest NY (on Twitter @Harvest_NY)
- Co-chair of New York State Farm to School Program Work Team
- Member of the NY School Nutrition Farm to School Committee
- Member of the Northeast Farm to School Collaborative
- Leadership team member with Farm to Institution NYS
- Email: cbt32 [at] cornell.edu
- Cheryl’s Cornell Bio
Harvest NY Brings Farm2School to Buffalo
Farm to school grows NY ag, sows seeds for healthy eating
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