Samia Hamdan and Alison Guzik with the Ohio Feed Our Future taste test event set up.

On October 12, 2023, the School Nutrition Association, Chapter 43, in Cleveland, Ohio hosted a meeting that brought together a diverse group of professionals to discuss Farm to School in Northeast Ohio. In attendance was Samia Hamdan, USDA Midwest Region, Child Nutrition Programs Division Director, Natalie Zammit, USDA Mid-Atlantic Farm to School Specialist and Penny Weaver, USDA Midwest Region, Public Affairs Specialist.

Key note speakers Angie Rupchock-Shafer, USDA Midwest Region Farm to School Specialist, spoke to the historic investment the USDA is making to improve connections between schools and the local food system, celebrating cafeterias, classrooms, and communities.  Key takeaway:  farm to school is flexible and can be whatever a school wants it to be.

Anna Haas from Local Food Connection challenged the audience to be curious this school year.  For us to be the best farm food advocates, we should take the time to consider: 1)  what are my goals in my job and my child nutrition program?; 2) the solutions for each district will look different – what is my local food vision?; and 3) Remember – we are each a member of the food system.  What impact do we want to make?

Other local food highlights included:

  • A pizza dough demonstration from Megan at Dough Go’s, a local business that create child nutrition approved cookies, pizza dough and breakfast bars made with locally-sourced ingredients;
  • The Feed Our Future Totally Tasty event set up was on full display to sample apples from Bauman Orchards:
  • Youngstown City Schools sharing their passion for farm to school and their experience with the USDA Farm to School grant program.  We are so excited to see all the great things that will come from their hydroponic growing systems in their schools!

Local farm to school advocates also had an opportunity to engage in a roundtable discussion with the USDA team, with the goal to share the Northeast Ohio farm to school experience.  While many successes have been achieved, challenges exist in the distribution and logistics of local food in schools, the work force challenges that the pandemic has influenced, and strategies to manage the influence of industry on the local food system.  The collaborative discussion helped attendees brainstorm possible ways to address challenges and understand the USDA support that is available. Conversations such as these are integral in progressing farm to school. Although there is a long road ahead of us to make school lunches as healthy and fresh as possible, big and exciting steps are taken each and every day to bring us that much closer.

To further support schools in beginning or expanding farm to school programs, the USDA has released two additional grants:

  • USDA is accepting applications for the next round of USDA Farm to School Grants – which support local child nutrition programs in serving more fresh and local foods – through Jan.12, 2024.
  • Applications will open soon for the School Food Systems Transformation Challenge Sub-Grants. As the second phase of USDA’s Healthy Meals Incentives Initiative, these sub-grants will fund projects promoting innovation in the school meals marketplace through collaboration between school food producers and suppliers, including local producers and small and disadvantaged businesses.

What a great way to continuing celebrating our community and farm to school month.  Don’t forget to contact the Feed Our Future team if you are interested in support for grants, completing the farm to school census, or to host your own taste testing.  We are so appreciative to be spending this month with our local, state, and national partners to continue elevating the great work that is happening and the opportunities that lie ahead in Ohio.