Conference weekend!

Portland rightly has a reputation across the country for it sustainable programs and civic engagement. With chef Cory Schreiber as our state-appointed farm-to-school coordinator, and with excellent organizations like Ecotrust Food & Farms working on The Farmer Chef Connection and their many farm-to-school programs, it’s clear that the local food community forms a cornerstone of our progressive image. This coming weekend, Portland will have a chance to show off all of our hard work for good food by playing host to two food and agriculture conferences!

farm to cafeteria

The 4th National Farm to Cafeteria Conference will bring together policymakers, food producers, cooks, and community activists to share their tips for organizing better school food and improved school food policy. Attendees will visit farms and lunchrooms in between workshop sessions on grant-writing and food education. Put on jointly by the National Farm to School Network and the Community Food Security Coalition, the conference will stress the connection between accessible healthy eating and healthy communities for all residents. If you’re interested in getting connected with the ideas at the conference, Saturday night’s keynote address and dinner is open to the public. In addition to nibbles from local restaurants like EVOE, Tastebud, and Nostrana, the University of Portland’s Bon Appetit catering will serve a locally-sourced dinner to complement Joan Dye Gussow’s address. Gussow is an acclaimed nutritionist and author of This Organic Life, an impassioned argument for growing your own and shortening the distance between the farm and the table. To purchase tickets for the evening, visit the conference site.

Piggybacking on the weekend’s events, the Real Food Challenge has scheduled their Northwest Real Food Summit so that the attending student activists can connect with the National Farm to Cafeteria Conference. The Real Food Challenge is a concerted effort among college students to redirect institutional food purchasing into local, sustainable and fair foods. Through their website, they provide students with amazing tools for organizing change. Dig into their resources page, and you’ll find information on social justice, cafeteria purchasing guidelines, and how to plan a successful activist campaign. You can read a bit more about their efforts on the Slow Food USA blog.

The momentum behind school lunch reform has been steadily building, making this a particularly exciting time to be convening. President Obama has spoken of ambitious goals for eliminating childhood hunger and, to that end, he recently proposed a $1 billion a year increase in funding for child nutrition. In February, the New York Times published an op-ed on school lunches, penned by Alice Waters and Katrina Heron. In “No Lunch Left Behind,” the two authors lamented the quality of most American school cafeterias, which are restricted by tight budgets and commodity ingredients. Shortly thereafter, the New York Times also posted an interview with Dr. Arthur Agatston, in which he argued that the entire “culture” of school lunches needs to change in order to get away from the “fast food” mentality of cafeterias. Taken together, these statements reflect the growing pressure for changing the way we feed our children.

As great as it is to have all of these heavy-hitters weighing in on school lunches, perhaps it’s best to let students speak for themselves about the food (that should be) on their plates. To hear what youth around the country want to eat, take a look at the Real Food Is…” video contest, organized by the Real Food Challenge. There’s a lot of work to be done to fix school lunches, but if these kids are any indication, there are a lot of reasons to make the effort.

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