In April 2014, the Food and Health Network’s Farm to Institution Coordinator had the privilege of sending a representative to the National Farm to School Network‘s Biennial Farm to Cafeteria Conference in Austin, TX. The event visually captured the magnitude of the farm to school movement, underscoring the impressive progress that has been made since the movement began as well as all of the innovative and persistent work that continues to grow it. The conference was also an opportunity to connect with others in New York State committed to bringing local, healthy food to  institutional cafeterias. Under the guidance of National Farm to School Network state lead Jim Liebow, everyone at the conference from New York met on two occasions to share stories and models, learn from one another, and form a collective vision for farm to school in New York.

New York State’s size is sometimes seen as a barrier, but the outcome of the conference’s statewide networking sessions proved otherwise. The large area of the state yields a geographic and cultural diversity that has nourished the development of many unique farm to school models, which in turn provides a host of resources and tips for implementing and improving initiatives throughout the state. This diversity sometimes presents different areas with unique challenges. But the state is large enough that an initiative experiencing a particular challenge is likely to find another initiative somewhere else in the state facing the same barrier.  And, of course, everyone shares the same ultimate goal: making nutritious, New-York-State-grown food accessible in schools, hospitals, prisons, and other institutions. This collection of clearly defined challenges and goals–some unique, many shared–set the foundation for farm to school advocates in New York to begin shaping a unified vision for the future.

The need for more regular statewide, farm-to-school-oriented networking and information sharing was continually voiced by most of the New York State conference attendees.  With this in mind, FaHN will be featuring stories on our “Food for Thought” blog about farm to school initiatives throughout our region.  Stay tuned for the first post in the “NYS Farm to School Highlight” series, featuring Finger Lakes Farm to Cafeteria!