At the Farm to Cafeteria Conference, Power in Community

May 30, 2014

Inspiring lessons from last month’s conference

Today we're featuring a special guest blog from Leah Powell, HSC’s AmeriCorps member and School Outreach Coordinator.

By Leah Powell

Last month, I had the privilege to attend the National Farm to Cafeteria Conference: Powering Up. For three days in Austin, Tx., this collaborative meeting of the minds worked to bolster a universal culture towards securing school gardens, local procurement and agricultural literacy across the country and abroad. Akin to our mission here at HSC, the participants at the conference recognized that access to local and fresh foods for all school children should be a right, not a privilege.

This food justice stance reverberated through the fabric of the conference from the opening plenary to simple chats. Throughout the dynamic conference, I sought ways to apply the conference’s lessons to my own work here in Chicago. For example, in increasing kids’ access to healthy school food, HSC recognizes that parents are a key piece of the puzzle. Over the past eight months as an AmeriCorps member, I’ve been dedicated to developing and facilitating a program in the African-American community on the CPS school meal program. We hit the ground running in February with our first School Food 101 workshop — to some success. Parents who attended were inspired by the African-American legacy in advocating and securing free school meals for all children. But our new School Food 101 initiative still has room to grow.

To gain some new insights on increasing engagement, I attended a workshop called “Family Outreach: Innovative Ways to Engage Families in Farm to School Activities.” Although many of the strategies only served to reinforce what we were already doing (newsletters, enticing participation with food, and working with the school’s family resource center) I was inspired by the sense of community and the feeling that others were also devoting their energies to similar missions. I left with a call to action: continue increasing African-American participation in HSC programs through steady grassroots efforts based on earned trust.

Change won’t happen overnight, but with such an amazing network of likeminded individuals, it will happen. The Farm to Cafeteria Conference was an inspiring place for learning how HSC and these dedicated allies can continue “powering up” to a common goal.

Thank you, Leah, for sharing your perspective with us!